Crime & Passion: Pool of London (1951)

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To view Pool of London click here.

I, along with some of my fellow StreamLine colleagues, have been modestly building a case for the reassessment of Basil Dearden’s career during the past year by spotlighting many of his films including Sapphire (1959), The League of Gentlemen (1960), Victim (1961), All Night Long (1963), Frieda (1947), The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) and The Captive Heart (1946). Despite the fact that the British director has been the subject of a Criterion DVD box set, Dearden is still relatively unknown in America outside of academic circles where he is typically regarded as a message filmmaker or competent craftsman. I think his body of work merits more consideration so I decided to dive into another Dearden film recently and came away even more impressed by his ability to combine challenging social commentary with dynamic filmmaking.

In Pool of London (1951), Dearden explores the shadowy environs of the London docklands where sailors from around the world mix, mingle and struggle to make a decent living. We get to know two of these sailors intimately; an American merchant seaman named Dan (Bonar Colleano) and his Jamaican pal Johnny (Earl Cameron). This noir-infused drama unfolds during a shore leave excursion where the mischievous Dan gets entangled with some unsavory smugglers and sensitive Johnny becomes smitten with a sweet-natured blond (Susan Shaw). Dan’s dilemma becomes increasingly difficult as the film spirals towards its nail-biting conclusion but Johnny’s interracial romance comes with its own set of problems.

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Die Laughing: Carry On Screaming! (1966)

CARRY ON SCREAMING, Joan Sims, Tom Clegg, 1966

To view Carry On Screaming! click here.

“The usual charge to make against the Carry On films is to say that they could be much better done. This is true enough. They look dreadful, they seem to be edited with a bacon slicer and the comic rhythm jerks along like a cat on a cold morning. But if all these things were more elegant, I don’t really think the films would be more enjoyable: the badness is part of the funniness.”
– Critic Penelope Gilliatt, “In praise of Carrying On” from a 1964 issue of The Observer

FilmStruck has made a batch of the Carry On films available for streaming and if you’re unfamiliar with these British comedies it’s a great opportunity to become acquainted with one of the U.K.’s most popular film franchises. Beginning with Carry On Sergeant in 1958, director Gerald Thomas and producer Peter Rogers teamed up with a rotating cast of regulars to make an impressive 31 films before the series ended in 1992 with Carry On Columbus. During their 34-year run, the Carry On films never won any awards and were typically dismissed by critics but they were beloved by audiences who appreciated how these funny farces satirized respected British institutions such as the military, law enforcement and the medical establishment. The Carry On franchise also regularly lampooned popular films such as the James Bond series with Carry On Spying (1964) and 20th Century-Fox’s big-budget Cleopatra epic in Carry On Cleo (1965).

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Moorland Suspense: A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)

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To view A Cottage on Dartmoor click here.

“The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one’s soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm. When you are once out upon its bosom you have left all traces of modern England behind you, but on the other hand, you are conscious everywhere of the homes and the work of prehistoric people. On all sides of you as you walk are the houses of these forgotten folk, with their graves and the huge monoliths which are supposed to have marked their temples. As you look at their grey stone huts against the scarred hillsides you leave your own age behind you, and if you were to see a skin-clad, hairy man crawl out from the low door, fitting a flint-tipped arrow on to the string of his bow, you would feel that the presence there was more natural than your own.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

I thought of these lines from The Hound of the Baskervilles (my favorite of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels) while watching A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929). Anthony Asquith’s silent film begins with the introduction of a wild looking man (Uno Henning) as he scampers like a scared rabbit across the English moors. He is clad in a frayed prison uniform and a mop of untamed hair rests uneasily on his head. As his feral eyes searched the bleak landscape I began to wonder: Was he hunting something or was he being hunted?

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Went the Day Well? (1942): A Special Kind of War Film

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To view Went the Day Well? click here.

It always warms my heart to see how many Ealing Studios films we have stacked around here at FilmStruck. Rivaled perhaps only by Hammer Film Productions, it’s one of the most-loved brand names in British cinema, especially in its native country, and one I’ve happily brought up in the past. Most people associate Ealing with the classic run of comedies that became major international successes (often starring Alec Guinness), but its legacy runs so much deeper than that. One of the very best Ealing films, Went the Day Well? (1942) is a perfect example of how to make a wartime message film that goes so far beyond propaganda and still works like a charm today. [...MORE]

A Forgotten Film to Remember: Green for Danger (1947)

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To view Green for Danger click here.

One of the advantages of streaming is having an entire catalogue of films at your fingertips to explore titles that would otherwise go unnoticed. This summer I decided to focus my viewing attention on British films, partly because so many of them were unknown to me and partly because British movies are my least favorite national cinema. I thought that I would apply the Man Ray Challenge (see my post dated July 24) to some of the British films in the FilmStruck library: What can I find to recommend in a body of work I am predisposed to dislike?

So far, so good. Over the summer, I dusted off two forgotten films that I thought movie-lovers might enjoy (All Night Long [1963] and Obsession [1949]), and, while I was sorely tested to find something to recommend about Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), eventually I did in the previously mentioned Man Ray Challenge post.

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Question Authority: The Ruling Class (1972)

The Ruling Class (1972) Directed by Peter Medak Shown: Peter O'Toole

To view The Ruling Class click here.

If you want a lesson in how awards are inadequate indicators of talent look no further than the case of the late, great Peter O’Toole. Before his death in 2013, O’Toole was nominated for an Oscar 7 times but he lost on every occasion. In 2002, when the British actor was 70-years-old, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally found it in themselves to give O’Toole an Honorary Award for his professional achievements but he wanted no part of it. The proud thespian sent a letter to the Academy reminding them that he was “still in the game and might win the lovely bugger outright” and requested that they “please defer the honor until I am 80.” His children finally convinced him to accept the Honorary Award and you can currently watch his acceptance speech on YouTube.

O’Toole’s speech was short and snappy but also eloquent and deeply touching. I suspect that the working-class lad who had fought long and hard to get onto that stage was thinking of the back rows of the Kodak Theatre and the poor folks at home who could only view the events on TV. To accommodate those of us in the cheap seats he was well-prepared, on point and most of all, entertaining. O’Toole’s professionalism is unsurpassed and to this day it remains one of the most memorable and moving Oscar speeches I’ve seen. It also slyly illustrates how wrong the Academy had been for neglecting the man and his unique talents during the previous 40 years.

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Frieda (1947): One of the Best Films You Probably Haven’t Seen

FRIEDA, holding hands from left: Mai Zetterling, David Farrar, 1947

To view Frieda click here.

It’s funny how little things can make us happy, and I’m pretty giddy that we have a wealth of cinematic riches available on FilmStruck right now highlighting the very underappreciated work of director Basil Dearden. We’ve got eleven of his films, running the entire spectrum of his career, and you may recall we’ve featured several of this titles on Streamline over the past few months including Sapphire (1959), The League of Gentlemen (1960), Victim (1961), and All Night Long (1963).

However, Dearden got his start as a secret weapon of sorts for the beloved Ealing Studios, whose remarkable run of British classics spans multiple genres with an incredible arsenal of actors and directors at its disposal. Though he’d proven his dexterity with silly wartime comedy thanks to the well-crated The Goose Steps Out (1942) for Ealing, Dearden really proved his value with a pair of back-to-back anthology films: the evocative fantasy The Halfway House (1944) and the most influential horror omnibus ever made, Dead of Night (1945). In the latter case, Dearden was just one of four directors brought on board, but his helming of the flawless framing device (with a group of strangers in a country house swapping stories of the uncanny) couldn’t have been more perfect. Dearden also directed the shortest of the tales about a creepy premonition involving an old-fashioned horse-drawn hearse, but it’s the connective tissue that really shows off Dearden’s early talents as he slowly winds the audience up to a nightmarish finale no viewer has ever forgotten, a virtuoso concerto of disturbing visuals that must have left postwar attendees gasping for air. [...MORE]

Spies Among Us: Another Country (1984)

ANOTHER COUNTRY (1984) To view Another Country click here.

“And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,

Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;

We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;

Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,

And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.”

I Vow to Thee, My Country, Sir Cecil Spring Rice & Gustav Holst

In the early 1930s, a group of upper-class British university students were recruited as Soviet spies. Today they’re referred to as the Cambridge Five although it’s likely that their numbers were much larger. At the time that they became Soviet sympathizers, Britain and Russia were still allies but the United Kingdom was facing a monumental crisis. Millions were jobless and the economy was in the throes of a deep depression while imperialism and fascism were on the rise. The Cambridge Five responded by embracing Marxism, championing the working classes and opposing fascism, which was particularly rampant within the privileged social circles they traveled in. But times changed and as WWII erupted the alliance between Britain and the U.S.S.R. began dramatically shifting and morphing according to the winds of war. The spies were eventually found out and between 1950 and 1980 their crimes made headlines. The news stunned the British public and sent shockwaves through the establishment. What compelled these sons of fortune to adopt Marxism and become spies for Russia? Another Country (1984) scrutinizes the autocratic British school system that may, or may not, have motivated their betrayal of king and country. [...MORE]

An Unusual Friendship: Tiger Bay (1959)

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To view Tiger Bay click here.

Tiger Bay is one of my all-time favorite films that I made. I still can’t get over the thrill I got when I first saw Hayley on the screen, with those wonderful big eyes … She was an ideal little person to work with because you knew … when you just looked through the lens at her that the camera loved her … You just knew that she had such a rapport with the camera and that’s what filmmaking is about – the rapport between the camera and the artist. It’s that magic that you can not explain. You either have it or you don’t. The very best actor or actress in the world, if the camera doesn’t love her, half the performance has gone.” – J. Lee Thompson

Twelve-year-old Hayley Mills made her screen debut in Tiger Bay (1959) playing Gillie, a rambunctious doe-eyed orphan living with her aunt in the British working-class neighborhood of Tiger Bay. When Gillie unwittingly witnesses a Polish sailor (Horst Buchholz) shoot his girlfriend (Yvonne Mitchell), she steals the gun to impress her young playmates and protect the charismatic killer. Over the course of the film Gillie and the murderer develop an unusual bond while trying to evade a determined police superintendent (John Mills) and escape prosecution.

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Equal Shares for All: The League of Gentlemen (1960)

LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, THE (1961)

To view The League of Gentlemen click here.

The League of Gentlemen (1960) contains one of my favorite moments from postwar British cinema; a group of ex-soldiers carrying submachine guns plow through London’s narrow streets with their faces concealed behind gas masks. Instead of dodging an attack they are preparing to rob a bank and their military uniforms have been replaced by civilian clothing. These masked figures are the stuff of nightmares and conjure up horrific images associated with two world wars that nearly brought the British empire to its knees. Despite their ferocious appearance and felonious behavior, the men are not monsters. They are the forgotten casualties of war. Battle-scarred and bitter, they have returned home to discover that their prospects are dwindling. Jobs are scarce and survival is difficult during peacetime when your skill set is limited to sharpshooting, military strategy and bomb construction. Is it any wonder that they have chosen a life of crime to secure a future for themselves?

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