The Divided Heart (1954)

When is the war going to end? After WW2, three year old Yugoslav child Ivan (Martin Keller) is found wandering around alone in Germany and then adopted from an orphanage by a German couple, soldier Franz (Armin Dahlen) and his wife Inga (Cornell Borchers). When Ivan (now called Toni) (Michel Ray) turns 10, he hears his mother Sonja (Yvonne Mitchell) is alive after surviving Auschwitz concentration camp and she commences a legal battle in Germany to regain custody with a sympathetic Chief Justice (Alexander Knox) arguing against his peers (Liam Redmond and Eddie Byrne) as to her rights and the child’s wishes… You think only blood mothers can have mother love. There’s a plaintive quality to this drama, made within a decade of a war that at that point still had visceral effects in daily issues. All the acting is superior but Mitchell is tremendous as the woman who has lost everything bar the son so cruelly taken from her. And he is a child terrorised by the sight of Germans in uniform – that subplot is very well dramatised in his reaction to the appearance of his adoptive father following barely realised memories of what happened to his real family:  his father was a Slovenian partisan executed by Nazis and his sisters were murdered by them. Based on a real-life case, this isn’t just realistic, it’s true in the best sense, filled with conflicting emotions and confused loyalties. Ray is astonishing as the child torn between the adoptive parents he loves and the mother he has forgotten. He would also appear in The Brave One, The Tin Star and Lawrence of Arabia but perhaps his most memorable role would be in cult fave The Space Children. He later became an investment banker and a champion skier, a renaissance man in every sense. Beautifully shot by Otto Heller with an exquisite dramatic score by Georges Auric. Written by Jack Whittingham and Richard Hughes, this is very effectively directed by Charles Crichton. Look out for future director John Schlesinger as the ticket collector on the train in the last scene. This is life. This is what we’re born for

Turn the Key Softly (1953)

Turn the Key Softly

I’m saying goodbye to regulations. Well-spoken burglar Monica Marsden (Yvonne Mitchell), pretty prostitute Stella Jarvis (Joan Collins) and elderly shoplifter Granny Quilliam (Kathleen Harrison) are released from Holloway Women’s Prison on the same day and venture out in London, meeting up for an early dinner in the West End as they negotiate their first day of freedom. Monica returns to her flat where she promises her friend Joan (Dorothy Alison) not to meet up again with David (Terence Morgan), a ne’er do well for whose crime she took the fall. She secures a job in an office with a start on Monday, despite her prison record. But when she returns to the flat David is waiting for her and wines and dines her, with the promise of a night at the theatre. Stella meets up with her busdriver fiancé Bob (Glyn Houston) and promises to get a room to stay in at Canonbury but spends his money on earrings. meeting up with her former working girl friends. Granny returns to her rundown Shepherds Bush room to her beloved special friend Johnny – who turns out to be a dog – and after cooking him food visits her daughter in the suburbs to the delight of her grand daughter but they weren’t expecting her and she has to return to town where she goes for a posh dinner at Monica’s expense, champagne included. Stella takes off with a man who took a fancy to Monica on the Tube earlier, and Monica leaves in a taxi with David for an evening that she hadn’t counted on … Sooner or later they’re sure to find out. This post-war British crime drama is a fantastically atmospheric show and tell about London society and its war-damaged physicality – between rainy Leicester Square where The Snows of Kilimanjaro is playing (and La Collins would co-star with Gregory Peck within just a few short years) and the council flats sitting cheek-by-jowl with semi-derelict terraces, you can practically sniff the desperation, the spivvery and the desire for something better in the documentary-style location shooting by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth. Mitchell is the real star here and has the better part of the narrative which turns upon her desire for her dastardly lover who manages to deceive her once again following an afternoon in the sack;  but Harrison has a marvellous role (you just know it won’t end well) and plays it beautifully; while Collins is well cast as the good time girl who has found a decent man and she makes the most of some smartly written moments. When she makes her decision about which way to go in life there’s a decidedly odd shot at Piccadilly Circus with her former prostitute colleague featuring close on camera. It’s a terrific film for women, this exploration of an array of femininity of differing ages and types re-entering the world on its tricky terms. What starts as a kind of melodrama with a social message about stigma turns into a suspenser, high on the rooftops of a city theatre, with a rather tragic ending. Very satisfying indeed. Adapted by Maurice Cowan from John Brophy’s novel, this is written and directed by documentary veteran Jack Lee, the elder brother of novelist Laurie.