Conflict of Wings (1954)

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Aka Fuss Over Feathers and The Norfolk Story.  That great expanse of sky and never a ripple to disturb that ancient garden. A Norfolk bird sanctuary that was the burial ground for children in Roman times is threatened by the Royal Air Force’s plan to use it as a target range for testing their new DeHavilland Vampires with a rocket system. Led by Muriel Pavlow, whose boyfriend John Gregson is an RAF corporal, the community discovers that the land was gifted to the Church by Henry VIII in thanks for assisting quell a rebellion and finds grounds for defending the sanctuary from the rocket tests. The local eel catcher starts squatting on the land, protesting his fishing rights, and everyone forms a human shield around the island to stop a test but they accidentally damage the RAF’s temporary telephone line and the base can’t be told in time to stop a launch just as clouds begin massing and impeding the pilots’ sightlines …  With its story of a community fighting to preserve their historical rights, this has echoes of Passport to Pimlico and can thus be viewed as part of a wider sense of post-war anti-establishment feeling. Nonetheless with the revelation that the squadron will be moving on to Malaya, there’s something of a triumphalist conclusion. Shot in a variety of Norfolk locations – Hickling Broad, Cley-next-the-Sea, Ludham, Wells and West Raynham, which used to have an airfield. Adapted from actor turned screenwriter and director Don Sharp’s debut novel by John Pudney and directed by John Eldridge, there are plenty of familiar faces from the era – Kieron Moore, Niall MacGinnis, Harry Fowler, Guy Middleton – in this small but satisfying drama with its wonderful setting. Planespotters will have a field day. And there’s a charming gull too! Lovely score by Philip Green who was longtime musical director at the Rank Organisation and whose stock music has been used in everything from Ren and Stimpy to Night of the Living Dead. Now that’s versatile. Made under the Group 3 scheme to encourage independent films under the umbrella of the National Film Finance Corporation.

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The Moon-Spinners (1964)

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Classic romance based on the novel by Mary Stewart, one of my favourite writers and one to try if you like midcentury Gothic thrillers. She was huge in the Fifties and Sixties. I didn’t know about this for the longest time and was delighted to find that it starred my Disney heroine, Hayley Mills. Nicky Ferris (Mills) is a teenager spending time in Crete at a small inn called The Moon-Spinners with her Aunt Frances (Joan Greenwood), a musicologist. One day Nicky discovers a handsome young man, Mark Camford (Peter McEnery), wounded in an empty church nearby. They’ve already met at the inn and he makes a very favourable impression, the life of the party and handsome to boot. It turns out that Mark was once a London bank messenger, but he lost his job after a major jewel robbery. Tagged as a suspect, he has made his way to the inn to gather evidence against the inn’s owner, Stratos (Eli Wallach), who Mark thinks is the real jewel thief. It’s run by his unsuspecting sister played by Irene Papas. Nicky and Mark fall in love and decide to capture Stratos together.This is a rather different Peter McEnery than we saw in Entertaining Mr Sloane, which he would make several years later:  he was contracted to Disney and this is really a kids’ movie. Here he distinguishes himself by bestowing upon wonderful Hayley her first proper screen kiss. It’s not a great genre piece by any means, with much  of the villainy of the novel rendered rather juvenile in the adaptation by Michael Dyne:  but it looks great – much of it was shot on location around Elounda at a time when Greece was opening up to tourism;  it sounds good, with Terry Gilkyson’s song and the folk music enhancing a pretty soundtrack; and the cast is extremely personable. If you’re a silent movie fan there’s the opportunity to see the fabulous Pola Negri in her last feature film, as the extraordinarily wealthy Madame Habib who has a particularly charming big cat. There are also terrific supporting roles for John Le Mesurier and Sheila Hancock. All in all, a lovely way to spend your afternoon. Directed by James Neilson.