Archive for the ‘Honor Blackman’ 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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Quartet (1948)   Leave a comment

quartet poster

The anthology film began as early as the 1920s in Germany and achieved a modicum of fame during the 1940s and 1950s. TALES OF MANHATTAN (1942) dramatizes the adventures of several people who come in contact with a certain tuxedo jacket. DEAD OF NIGHT (1945), a British horror anthology, involves intersecting stories of people who meet at an English country house. Many consider DEAD OF NIGHT the inspiration for the Amicus Studios portmanteau horror films of the 1960s and 1970s. FULL HOUSE features five stories written by O. Henry and introduced by John Steinbeck. Beginning with DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS in 1965, Amicus Productions made several anthology horror films including TORTURE GARDEN, ASYLUM, and VAULT OF HORROR. Neil Simon made the anthology comedies PLAZA SUITE (1971) and CALIFORNIA SUITE (1978). In 1995, Quentin Tarantino and three other directors made FOUR ROOMS which center on a hotel on New Year’s Eve. V/H/S (2012), its sequels, and THE ABCs OF DEATH (2012) use the anthology format for their horror-filled tales as well. Even this film, QUARTET, was followed in 1950 by TRIO, a set of three Maugham tales also introduced by the author.

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Top: Maugham from QUARTET.
Bottom: Steinbeck from FULL HOUSE.

Introduced by W. Somerset Maugham, QUARTET tells four of the author’s stories. All four are set primarily in Britain, but cover a variety of subjects. The first, THE FACTS OF LIFE stars Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford, and Mai Zetterling in the story of a college student who travels to Monte Carlo for a tennis tournament and forgets all the advice his stuffy father gives him. Against Dad’s wishes, he gambles, lends money, and gets involved with a woman. We’re curious how these missteps will affect the young man. Will he fall prey to his vices or emerge from his adventures unscathed?

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“I’ll stay away from women tomorrow, ok Dad?”

THE ALIEN CORN stars Dirk Bogarde as a young man from a wealthy family who dreams of becoming a concert pianist. He has just graduated from Oxford, so naturally his family has plans for him. Bogarde surprises them and the girl who loves him (Honor Blackman) when he mentions his musical desires, but they work out a bargain. Bogarde will study the piano in a French garret for two years. At the end of that time, he will play before a professional pianist. If that pianist thinks he shows promise, Bogarde will continue with his dream. If not, he will begin a career in law or politics as his family wishes. Bogarde does a wonderful job of expressing his passion for music. We watch him practice and dream and we root for him. As with the rest of the stories in this group, THE ALIEN CORN has a solid cast and an unexpected ending.

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“Carry on, Pussy.”

In the third segment, THE KITE, George Cole plays Herbert Sunbury, a man with an unusual hobby. He loves kites. He and his parents, Hermione Baddeley and Mervyn Johns spend every Saturday afternoon at the park flying kites and many hours the rest of the week designing a special kite of their own. When he meets a girl who thinks his kite-flying is immature and silly, George must decide where his priorities lie. This story surprised me. I thought it might be the comic relief segment of the film, but it was a lot deeper than I originally thought. The cast of veteran character actors including Bernard Lee elevated what could have been an average story to something more.

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Go fly a kite.

Lastly, THE COLONEL’S LADY, directed by Ken Annakin tells the story of a dutiful wife (Nora Swinburne) who writes a book. The romantic and sensual tale of a doomed love affair is a surprise hit and booksellers can’t keep it on the shelves. Her stuffy, self-important husband (Cecil Parker) can’t be bothered to read it. He’s too busy drinking at his club and nuzzling his mistress to pay attention to his wife until people begin to theorize that the love story may be her own. Now the colonel takes notice. This last story shows the most restraint and Nora Swinburne does a lovely job as the ignored wife. As with all four stories, the ending might surprise you.

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“My wife has thoughts of her own?”

QUARTET boasts a wonderful cast of British character actors and short stories that hold your interest.  Maugham has a way with angst as do the players.  I’m a big fan of anthology films and this is a good one.

 

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