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Appointment in London (1952)

WWII pilot Dirk Bogarde heads for a nervous breakdown as the strain of losing his colleagues gets to him. 

Script: John Wooldridge, Robert Westerby

Director: Philip Leacock

Players: Ian Hunter, Dinah Sheridan, William Sylvester, Bryan Forbes, Bill Kerr, Anne Leon, Walter Fitzgerald, Charles Victor, Richard Wattis, Terence Longdon, Sam Kydd, Campbell Singer, Donavan Winter, Don Sharp, Anthony Shaw, Tom Walls Jr., Michael Ripper

Appointment with Venus (1951)

David Niven and Glynis Johns try to rescue a prize cow from the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands. 

Although it can't seem to decide between being a thriller and a romp, it's still immensely entertaining, and the scenery is lovely. 

Script adapt.: Nicholas Phipps. (o.a. Jerrard Tickell)

Director: Ralph Thomas

Players: Kenneth More, George Coulouris, Barry Jones, Noel Purcell, Patrick Doonan, Bernard Lee, Jeremy Spencer, Richard Wattis, David Horne, Geoffrey Sumner, Peter Butterworth, Martin Boddey, Anton Diffring, John Horsley, Richard Marner, Michael Ward, Marianne Stone 

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939)

A striker collapses and dies in the middle of the Arsenal and "The Trojans" match. It's murder. Leslie Banks sifts through the suspects to solve the crime. It's a good whodunit with fascinating glimpses of the Arsenal team which dominated 30s football.

Script adapt.: Thorold Dickinson, Donald Bull. (o.a. Leonard Gribble)

Director: Thorold Dickinson

Players: Greta Gynt, Anthony Bushell, Esmond Knight

As You Like It (1936)

This rare excursion into Shakespeare by 30s cinema is a bit front-of-stalls as far as the direction goes, but with a cast that includes Laurence Olivier, Elizabeth Bergner and Moore Marriott it's not going to fail too badly.

Script adapt.: J.M. Barrie, Robert Cullen. (o.a. William Shakespeare)

Director: Paul Czinner

Players: Sophie Stewart, Leon Quatermaine, Henry Ainley, Mackenzie Ward, Felix Aylmer, Austin Trevor, Aubrey Mather, J, Fisher White, John Laurie, Dorice Fordred, Stuart Robertson, Peter Bull, Joan White, Lionel Braham

Ask a Policeman (1939)

Will Hay, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffat - need I say more? The plot is not too dissimilar to Oh Mr Porter (headless horseman instead of one-eyed miller, different sort of station) but this team can get away with anything. Because there's no crime in the village of Turnbotham Round, the chief constable wants to close down the village station. Our three policemen decide to create crime to solve and in the process uncover a smuggling racket.

Script: Sidney Gilliat, Marriott Edgar, Val Guest, J.O.C. Orton

Director: Marcel Varnel

Players: Charles Oliver, Herbert Lomas

Assignment Redhead (1956)

A pile of counterfeit dollars printed by the Nazis is the prize a gang of crooks are after. Richard Denning is the man assigned to stop them getting the loot and Ronald Adam is the head of the gang trying to keep his identity a secret. Glamorous Carole Mathews works for the gang using her cover as a nightclub act (she plays the accordion) to get what she wants from men. It's all very dull.

Script: Maclean Rogers

Director: Maclean Rogers

Players: Danny Green, Brian Worth, Jan Holden

The Astonished Heart (1949)

A simple tale of an adulterous love-triangle. Anxious wife Celia Johnson waits for her husband's mistress Margaret Leighton to arrive. Husband Noel Coward, well-known psychiatrist, is on his death bed and calling for her. Johnson looks back on the events that lead up to this tragedy. And so does the audience. 

The problems were apparent early on in production. Michael Redgrave was originally cast in the lead, but soon became convinced that Coward wanted the role for himself. After two weeks of shooting he made a graceful exit. Somewhere along the line, director Anthony Asquith also bailed.

The Astonished Heart was made using Rank's snazzy new production technique Independent Frame. This was a complex combination of pre-production planning, storyboarding and back projection. In essence the process imposed some discipline on the film makers and made them decide what to shoot before they got on the studio floor. Thus only the bits of the sets that would appear on screen were built.

This is very apparent in the exterior scenes, which were shot in the studio with various bits of the set replaced with back projection. It's not unsuccessful but, as many people pointed out, if you're going to send cameras out to capture real scenery you might as well take the actors with you. Still, speculating on which bit of the set is real is more fun for the viewer than paying attention to the actors. 

The technical demands of Independent Frame meant that not enough effort was put into making the actors look good. Celia Johnson wouldn't look this old again until she played the nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Noel Coward is positively ancient and would later describe himself as looking like a Chinese character actress. Margaret Leighton gets off lightly and occasionally looks fabulous. All too often however she wears a strange, faraway look as though she's just been stunned by a brick - or maybe she's just thumbed through the script.

And what a script! Coward's dialogue is always artificial but the best of it is brilliant. However, what we have here is the worst of it and you can almost see the actors cringe as they spout such clichés as "I'm in too deep" or "I feel cheap". 

At least you know where you are with a cliché. Some of the more fanciful dialogue is unsayable. How's this for irresistible seduction from Coward: "Oh you're so foolish up on your romantic high horse. How often have you ridden it wildly until it went lame and you had to walk home?". Leighton soon kisses him to shut him up.

There's more fun to be had with Coward's psychiatric practice as he dispenses wisdom to his patients. He trots out the sort of cheap pop psychology that would even have had Hitchcock blushing.

On the plus side there are some lovely sets and really nice frocks for Johnson and Leighton. But these are the only plus sides, unless you count the schadenfreude of watching Coward get his just desserts.

The Astonished Heart opened to universal derision and none of the participants could look back on it without a shudder. Its only claim to fame rather than infamy is that it was the first British film to premiere in the US instead of here. Revenge for Operation Burma perhaps?

Script adapt.: (o.a.) Noel Coward

Director: Antony Darnborough, Terence Fisher

Players: Joyce Carey, Graham Payn, Amy Veness, Ralph Michael, Michael Horden, Patricia Glyn, Everley Gregg, Alan Webb, John Salew, Gerald Anderson, John Warren

Atlantic (1929)

Unsinkable transatlantic liner - inadequate number of lifeboats - talk of icebergs ahead. Yes, there's a disaster waiting to happen. But none of the brave souls who got on board Atlantic could have foreseen it would get this bad.

The early days of sound were fraught and uncertain for film makers. The technical demands of the new equipment imposed restrictions them. Noisy cameras needed to be heavily muffled and locked in place to avoid interfering with the microphones, destroying the fluidity of movement that characterised the late silent period. Editing film took on a whole new dimension when sound needed to be synched to action. A whole new grammar had to be developed to handle conversations and exposition.

Life was not much easier for the actors. Those with cinema experience had to get used to keeping still, remembering their lines and speaking clearly. Other actors with stage experience were rushed into the studios to be greeted with chaos and a whole new set of techniques to learn.

German director E.A. Dupont had already produced a pair of the best British silents (Moulin Rouge, Piccadilly) so he must have seemed a safe pair of hands for this production, particularly since it was to be filmed in three languages. But though he supplied plenty of imagination and ingenuity in overcoming the technical limitations, when it came to getting adequate performances from the actors he was - if you'll pardon the expression - all at sea.

The scene where ship's officer John Longden tells wheelchair-bound Franklin Dyall that the ship is doomed has been included in many a documentary on the transition to sound, and quite rightly too - it's dreadful. With long drawn-out pauses, the officer is cross-examined until carefully, slowly, painfully he admits that the lifeboat drill isn't a drill at all. Longden has since said that Dupont insisted on the pauses, without adequately explaining why they were there. In Dupont's defence it has to be said that Longden isn't much better in Hitchcock's Blackmail. Whatever the reason, the scene rarely fails to reduce audiences to helpless laughter - and there are loads more like it.

The older actors come across best. Many of them would have learned their acting technique in Victorian theatre, and it shows. Still, at least they are clearly audible. The younger actors gabble and shriek and make complete fools of themselves. Worst by far is Madeleine Carroll who was yet to discover the light touch that was a feature of her more distinguished work.

The action scenes are well handled, but it's very apparent that, thanks to the difficulty of filming three casts, few of the principles get beyond the state rooms and into the thick of things. The bulk of the action shots are filmed on board a real liner, which looks great in the early part of the film, but means we don't get to see the boat actually sink. A few sets get flooded, but this effect is ruined by the camera being tilted to suggest a listing ship: water doesn't rest at an angle.

Atlantic seems to have gone down well with audiences eager to experience the new fad of sound, but now looks hopelessly compromised by the new technology. Still, it's good for a laugh.

US poster for Atlantic

Script adapt.:  Victor Kendall. (o.a.) Ernest Raymond

Director: E.A. Dupont

Players: John Stuart, Donald Calthrop, Sydney Lynn, Monty Banks, D.A. Clarke-Smith, Joan Barry, Helen Haye, Francis Lister, Elleline Terriss, Arthur Hardy, Syd Crossley, Dino Galvani, Danny Green, René Ray

Aunt Clara (1954)

Elderly social worker inherits a brothel and nightclub and proceeds to use them for good. 

Lovely comedy with Margaret Rutherford shining in her favourite role.

Script adapt.: Kenneth Horne, Roy Miller. (o.a. Noel Streatfield)

Director: Anthony Kimmins

Players: Ronald Shiner, Fay Compton, Nigel Stock, Jill Bennett, Raymond Huntley, A.E. Matthews, Eddie Byrne, Reginald Beckwith, Sidney James, Garry Marsh, Diana Beaumont, Gillian Lind, Ronald Ward, Jessie Evans, Eileen Way, George Benson, Stringer Davis, Jean St Clair, Vivienne Martin, Joss Ambler

Aunt Sally (1933)

A feast of laughter or a tedious pain - it all depends on how much Cicely Courtneidge you can stand.

Mike Kelly (Sam Hardy) is a Broadway producer who comes to England because he is sick of paying protection money to gangsters.  Naturally, the gangsters follow him to extort more money, but that's not his biggest problem. Sally (Courtneidge) is determined to be a star and tries every trick she knows to get a part in the show. She even becomes his maid. When she learns he wants a Continental star she pretends to be Madame Zaza - a French cabaret singer. She gets hired but the gangsters kidnap her and demand a ransom from Mike. Can she escape from her captors and get back in time to save the opening night? What do you think!

Director Tim Whelan handles the action competently. He learnt his trade as scriptwriter to Harold Lloyd so had plenty of experience at orchestrating comic mayhem. He also manages the musical numbers well and, though they feel very influenced by Busby Berkeley, there are enough little glimmers of inventiveness to avoid feeling like a total rip off.

The numbers feature many obscure thirties performers such as The Carlyle Cousins and The Three Admirals. The songs are jolly but there are no classics here and none stay in the memory. 

Courtneidge is in good form but is let down by the script which hasn't enough logic to create great farce. It also doesn't allow us much of a rest from the star and there is scarcely a glimmer of a sub-plot to distract us from her antics. She's at her best in a mad apache dance where she beats up an assassin disguised as a dancer.

Script: Austin Melford, Guy Bolton

Director: Tim Whelan

Players: Hartley Power, Ben Welden, Leslie Holmes, Phyllis Clare, Billy Milton, Enrico Naldi, Ann Hope, Ivor McLaren, Rex Evans, Val Rosing, The Naldi Trio, Reilley and Comfort, Debroy Somers and His Band, Tubby Cipen