Archive for the ‘british Invaders Blogathon’ Tag

So Long at the Fair (1950)   2 comments

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Vicky Barton (Jean Simmons) and her brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) arrive in Paris on the eve of the 1889 World’s Fair. They’re traveling through, but Vicky, excited about her first trip to Paris, convinces Johnny to spend the next day in the city and take her to the fair. That night, the siblings dine in Montmartre and see a show at the Moulin Rouge.

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“I’m having so much fun! I hope I don’t disappear.”

The next morning, Vicky waits for her brother to pick her up for breakfast. When he’s late, Vicky visits the hotel desk to get Johnny’s room key and check on him. Not only do they not have his key, but the proprietor tells Vicky no such room exists and Johnny was never there.

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“I’m looking for my oh hello.”

Frantic, Vicky searches for Johnny and tries desperately to prove he was with her. The more she insists her story is true, the more people think she’s crazy. With no money, no friends, and no proof, how will Vicky find her brother?

So Long at the Fair follows the main ideas originated in Anselma Heine’s story “Die Erscheinung” (“The Apparition”), in the Richard Oswald-directed silent anthology film Eerie Tales (1919). The concept appears again in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes in 1938. Based on Ethel Lina White’s 1936 story, “The Wheel Spins”, The Lady Vanishes adds Fascists and spies to the already tense tale of a young woman who meets the elderly Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) on a train and then can’t prove she was ever there. In that film, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) finally convinces Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) she’s not a nut and the two fight fear, indifference, and bad guys to find their friend. Hitchcock recycled the story again for his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series in 1955 in the episode Into Thin Air starring his daughter Patricia. That show involves a daughter searching for her missing mother and gives Alexander Woollcott story credit. The stories mostly feature young women in the lead roles who spend the majority of the stories trying to prove to pretty much everyone that they’re not insane and “Oh, could you please look for my brother/friend/mom?”

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“Have you met Dad?”

So Long at the Fair differs from the other manifestations of this idea in its presentation. The Jean Simmons version was a Gainsborough Pictures production which means lavish sets, period costumes, and pearl-clutching drama. Costume drama is not usually my favorite film genre, but So Long at the Fair is a good film with some genuinely tense moments. That probably has a lot to do with the cast and director.

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This means no vampires.

Jean Simmons carries the film well. She’s a sweet, innocent girl in peril, but she’s smart and strong enough to stand up for herself and find her brother. She could easily have gone all limp and useless, but the story and the actress are stronger and that makes it more fun to watch. Along with Simmons, the cast includes a few other up-and-coming British actors who acquit themselves well and look lovely too. Honor Blackman has a small part as does the wonderful Andre Morel and the gorgeous Dirk Bogarde. Bogarde has a nice supporting role as a well-heeled artist living in Paris who helps Simmons in her brother quest. Bogarde is young and handsome and terrifically appealing in this film. He and Simmons look good together. Did I mention Dirk Bogarde is incredibly attractive? Oh all right. I’ll stop. He is though.

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See?

Another reason So Long at the Fair works as more than a vehicle for young stars is the direction by the talented Terence Fisher. Fisher directed a boatload of noir, thriller, and horror films for Hammer Film Productions from the 1950s through the 1970s and his ability in those genres transforms So Long at the Fair from the usual Gainsborough melodrama to a more thrilling mystery and makes the heroine’s situation that much more frightening.

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When in doubt, ask some nuns.

Unlike Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) and other Gaslight-type films, we know Vicky’s brother exists. We’ve seen him. The question is will Vicky ever see him again?

I wrote this piece for the British Invaders Blogathon presented by Terence Towles Canote and his site A Shroud of Thoughts

Thanks for the inspiration, Terence!

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Victim (1961)   5 comments

opening

Boy Barrett (Peter McEnery) sees a police car pulling up to his job as a clerk on a construction site and runs. Desperate, he goes from friend to friend trying to borrow money or a car to leave London. Boy embezzled money and the police are on his trail. His friends console him and try to help, but Boy gets picked up at a roadside diner and police bring him to headquarters. There, sympathetic Detective Inspector Harris (John Barrie) and his assistant Bridie (John Cairney) attempt to convince Boy to talk to them. During their investigation into the missing funds, the detectives discover that despite his windfall, Boy lives simply and has no cash at his tiny flat. To the police, that means one thing: blackmail. That blackmail and those affected by it on both sides of the law are the focus of director Basil Dearden’s taut drama.

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Early in the film we learn the reason behind the blackmail is Boy’s homosexuality and his desire to shield another from both blackmailers and police who could still arrest gays until 1967. When Harris finds clippings about a prominent barrister in a scrapbook Boy attempted to destroy, he summons subject Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) to the station to learn if Farr knew of the plot. When he hears of the police’s theory and the consequences, Farr decides to root out the cowardly criminals even if it means the ruin of his own highly successful marriage and career. We see Farr as a man of great integrity who lives by his principles. He has a lovely wife, Laura, played with restraint by Sylvia Syms (The World of Suzie Wong), a wide circle of friends, and a tremendous future in the law. His investigation threatens all that and yet he continues, trying to help others ensnared by the thieves without implicating them. As Farr learns more about the crimes, he sees many of the men victimized by the blackmailers and their reasons for paying off without seeking help from police. An older shop owner tells Farr he’s already been in jail three times and couldn’t bear it a fourth. A colleague of Farr’s must keep his activities under wraps or lose his career. A well-known stage actor, placed by Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets) just wants the whole thing to go away.
The film shows us the attitudes of those on the periphery as well. During Boy’s early attempt to flee, he meets friends who obviously care for him and one who find his sexual orientation loathsome. One of his true friends jokes “Well, it used to be witches. At least they don’t burn you.” One friend promises to send him money and another begs him to go to the police and offers to accompany him. In the pub where many of Boy’s friends congregate, we see knowing glances and rolled eyes along with sympathy and indifference. The two policemen on the case feel differently too. In response to Bridie’s negative comment about homosexuals Harris says “I see you’re a true puritan, Bridie, eh?”
Bridie: “There’s nothing wrong with that, sir.”
Harris: “Of course not. There was a time when that was against the law you know.” Farr’s family and close associates differ in their attitudes as well. His wife knows her husband’s history but trusts him. Laura’s heartbreak is based more on a feeling of betrayal and less about who Farr may have betrayed her with. Her brother, who shows disgust about Farr’s homosexuality makes a salient point. If Farr stays outside the law in his investigation of the blackmailers, he becomes as dishonest as those who would hurt him. These moral ambiguities make Victim a deeper, more satisfying watch.

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Written by Janet Green and John McCormick to call attention to a law the authors hated, Victim’s strength is that it shows homosexuals as people, and not stereotypes. The victims of the nasty blackmailers have families, friends, jobs, and feelings. They’re not portrayed as predators or corruptors of the young, but men who love other men, a fact which leaves them at the mercy of unscrupulous criminals. Characters in the film mention the law against homosexuality quite a bit. One of the victims says “Consenting males in private should not be pillaried by an antiquated law.” Later Detective Inspector Harris tells Farr “Someone once called this law against homosexuality the blackmailer’s charter.”
Farr: “Is that how you feel about it?”
Harris: “I’m a policeman, sir. I don’t have feelings.”

thought

Basil Dearden and director of photography Otto Heller shot Victim in glorious black and white and the Criterion version looks crisp and gorgeous. Phillip Green’s spare music with piano punctuation blends seamlessly with the action on screen. The acting by the entire ensemble of veteran stars and character actors including Norman Bird, Derren Nesbitt, and even an uncredited Frank Thornton (Are You Being Served) looks natural and never over the top. Dirk Bogarde plays Farr brilliantly. He is stoic, but not unfeeling. The calm, subtle way he speaks with his wife, the police, and his fellow victims belies knowledge of the tragic turn he expects his life to take. Bogarde as Farr shows great strength of character and his resignation makes you believe him. As Farr says to Laura when they discuss his uncertain future, “My friends are going to lower their eyes and my enemies will say they always guessed.” I love this film. A decent man risks everything to fight something he knows is wrong. It doesn’t get much better.

I wrote this review as part of the British Invaders Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote on his site A Shroud of Thoughts http://mercurie.blogspot.com/
I write a blog called Prowler Needs a Jump: Films of Every Stripe prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com
You can talk to me on twitter too @echidnabot

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