Archive S

So Long at the Fair (1950)

Jean Simmons has lost her brother in Paris and everyone claims he never existed. Even his hotel room has disappeared. Dirk Bogarde lends her a hand and falls for her in the process. Nice period mystery. 

Script adapt.: Hugh Mills, (o.a.) Anthony Thorne

Director: Antony Darnborough, Terence Fisher

Players: David Tomlinson, Honor Blackman, Cathleen Nesbitt, Felix Aylmer, Betty Warren, Marcel Poncin, Austin Trevor, Andre Morell, Zena Marshall

Soap-Box Derby (1957)

Battersea kids get together to build a car for a soap-box derby, but a rival gang is prepared to stop at nothing to win.

Lively comedy-drama from the Children's Film Foundation which has oodles of 50s location shooting as compensation for the adults.

Script: Darcy Conyers

Director: Darcy Conyers

Players: Michael Crawford, Keith Davies, Alan Coleshill, Roy Townshend, Carla Challenor, Denis Shaw, Harry Fowler, Mark Daly, Malcolm Kirby, Raymond Dudley, Jean Ireland, David Williams 

Soho Conspiracy (1950)

His attempt to put on a charity show puts a restaurateur's business at risk from ruthless property developers.

 The main conspiracy here is against the cinema-going public. There are some big names in the cast list, but their bits have been culled from other films and stitched together with a bargain basement plot and cheap production values.

Script: Cecil H Williamson

Director: Cecil H Williamson

 Players: Jacques Labreque, Zena Marshall, John Witty, Peter Gawthorne, Syd and Max Harrison, Tito Gobbi, Tito Schipa, Benjiamino Gigli, Gino Bechi

Soldiers of the King (1933)

Cicely Courtneidge plays two roles in this backstage musical. She is Jenny Marvello an old music-hall star and Maisy her daughter, a current star. At the start of the film Jenny passes her leadership of the family troupe to Maisy, who takes under her wing a young ingénue (Judy - Dorothy Hyson). Judy is courted by a young officer (Anthony Bushell) and this rekindles Maisy's memories of the young officer she was forced to give up by her mother.

Stephen Bourne's book Brief Encounters makes the relationship between Maisy and Judy one of unrequited lesbian love. There's no denying Maisy's fierce protectiveness of Judy and the potency of Maisy's image as a male impersonator but the book doesn't give the whole story. Maisy is courted by the ineffectual stage manager (Edward Everett Horton) but can't give up the memory of the big, strong soldier she lost. When Horton finally stands up to this soldier like a man, she (and the film) loses all interest in the girl and she and Horton end with a kiss during her curtain call.

It's not too bad as it goes and looks expensive but some of Courtneidge's clowning is self-indulgent. One song in particular, when she stands in for Judy at a rehearsal, seems to go on forever. The glimpses of her on stage, leading the audience in a sing-song or getting mixed up with an acrobatic act are much more satisfying.

Still from Soldiers of the KingStill from Soldiers of the King

Script: Douglas Furber, W.P. Lipscomb, Jack Hulbert, J.O.C. Orton

Director: Maurice Elvey

Players: Frank Cellier, Leslie Sarony, Bransby Williams, Olive Sloane

The Solitary Child (1958)

The second wife of a well-off landowner uncovers the connection between the death of his first wife and his disturbed daughter.

The odd creepy moment doesn't make up for the acres of dull chat.

Script adapt.: Robert Dunbar. (o.a. Nina Bawden)

Director: Gerald Thomas

Players: Philip Friend, Barbara Shelley, Rona Anderson, Jack Watling, Sarah Lawson, Julia Lockwood, Catherine Lacey, Violet Farebrother

Someone at the Door (1936)

Reporter pretends to have murdered his own sister in order to get a scoop. But what looks like a simple plan gets complicated by a gang of crooks looking for some hidden jewels.

Ridiculous material badly handled.

Script adapt.: Jack Davies, Marjorie Deans (o.a. Dorothy and Campbell Christie)

Director: Herbert Brenon

Players: Billy Milton, Aileen Marson, Hoah Beery, Edward Chapman, Hermione Gingold, John Irwin, Charles Mortimer, Edward Dignon, Lawrence Hanray, Jimmy Godden, Eloit Makeham

Something Always Happens (1934)

Unemployed car salesman Ian Hunter romances Nancy O'Neil unaware that her father owns a car company. 

Script: Brock Williams

Director: Michael Powell

Players: Peter Gawthorne, Johnny Singer, Muriel George, Barry Livesey, Millicent Wolf, Louie Emery, Reg Marcus

Somewhere on Leave (1942)

A group of soldiers visits a friend's home and puts on a show.

It gets off to a very bad start. Two young women have a chance meeting in a cafe and they catch up on their news. It's a bad-acting masterclass. Anyone can embarrass themselves in a big dramatic moment, but it takes a special kind of genius to deliver a bit of exposition this appallingly. Never mind, no one's interested in the plot or these women anyway. For this is a Mancunian picture, and we're all waiting for Frank Randle.

Wild, anarchic, priapic Frank Randle was a one-off. In his north of England heartland, he was the King of Comedy. The rest of Britain scarcely knew he existed. This is a shame, because whether he's demolishing the piano he's cleaning or the partner with whom he's "jitter-buggering" he's a comedy powerhouse.

He's joined in this film by his usual collection of stooges and grotesques. Little Robbie Vincent gets to be gormless, Dan Young gets to be posh, and Harry Korris gets to be long-suffering. Korris is the best of the bunch, a big, sweet man who overuses his catchphrase ("If ever a Sergeant suffered!") but with good reason given the provocation.

The comedy is basic and the direction even more basic. Characters converse by standing at 90 degrees to each other facing out as though they were on stage. The comic set pieces are strung together with a plot so flimsy you can hardly see it.

It's strange that such a sunny, silly comedy is set in an army camp. However, unlike most other comics of this era, Randle isn't interested in uncovering a Nazi spy ring or foiling invasion plans. He'd need a proper plot for that. The only fighting is done by the women of the ATS who shoot down a German plane while the men blunder about in the blackout.

As the third in the "Somewhere On..." series, the comic invention is beginning to wear thin, but it's still well worth a look.

Script: Roney Parsons, Anthony Toner

Director: John E. Blakeley

Players: Pat McGrath, Toni Lupino, Noel Dainton, Tonie Edgar Bruce, Percival Mackey and His Orchestra

Song of Freedom (1936)

One of Paul Robeson's best despite the plot which first turns Robeson from a London docker to an opera singer (believable) and then to an African Prince (hm!). He gets to sing "Sleepy River" with Elisabeth Welsh which is worth the admission price alone.

Script: Fenn Sherie, Ingram d'Abbes, Michael Barringer, Philip Lindsay

Director: J. Elder Wills

Players: George Mozart, Esme Percy, Joan and Fred Emney, Arthur Williams, Alf Goddard

Song of the Road (1937)

A London council has finally decided to enter the modern age and get rid of all its horse-drawn vehicles. The workers are to be retrained but Bill (Bransby Williams) refuses to learn new ways. He spends his last month's pay buying his old horse Polly and they go to the country looking for work. He finds that the countryside is also becoming mechanised. He helps a side-show medicine man for a while and then works on an old-fashioned farm. Finally he becomes a groom at a home for retired horses where he and Polly can live out their days together.

Director/producer John Baxter believed in making British films about British people and he used the quota-quickie to do this. He delighted in the working class culture of the music halls and directed four of Old Mother Riley's better films as well as Flanagan and Allen and George Robey. He also made more serious films such as Love on the Dole and Doss House. In Song of the Road he tries to present a panorama of the changing countryside.

In this he is partly successful: there are lots of pretty shots of the English countryside in summer and lashings of sentiment about the pace of modern life. What lets it down is the script. It lacks drive and most of the dialogue is annoyingly arch. The acting's not up to much either. Bransby Williams plays Bill like one of those wide-eyed, soulful spaniels you long to kick. Next to him, the other actors might not be up to much but at least they aren't too irritating. Tod Slaughter, blackmailing the medicine man's wife for sex, is more subdued than usual (though a subdued Slaughter is still wonderfully over-the-top).

Bill forever sticks his nose into other people's business. He forces the medicine man to join a modern circus in order to save his marriage, and he forces the old-fashioned farmer to modernise and to make a play for the local widow. He is, in turn, found a job by the widow and settles down in what is a surprisingly emotional climax after the dullness of most of the film.

This is not a film to use to advertise the merits of the quota-quickie. It has most of the faults of low-budget film-making but it does at least get out into the countryside and look for real life. The fast, modern machinery now looks wonderfully quaint, and the old-fashioned stuff is loaded with nostalgia. But these compensations are weak compared with the awfulness of the film in general. One to miss.

Script: John Baxter

Director: John Baxter

Players: Ernest Butcher, Muriel George, Davy Burnaby, John Turnbull, Edgar Driver, Fred Schwartz, Percy Parsons, Peggy Novak, H.F. Maltby, Jonnie Schofield, Ernest Jay, Robert English, F.B.J. Sharp, Phil Thomas

The Song You Gave Me (1933)

A singer falls for her male secretary despite already having three suitors in tow.

Bebe Daniels gives it her all, but is defeated by a dull script and direction that does nothing to lift the material.

Script adapt.: Clifford Grey. (o.a. Walter Reisch)

Director: Paul Stein

Players: Victor Varconi, Claude Hulbert, Lester Matthews, Frederick Lloyd, Eva Moore, Iris Ashley, Walter Widdup

Sons of the Sea (1939)

Arriving late at his new post as commander of a Royal Naval college, a Captain discovers his predecessor has just been bumped off. The search for the killer is complicated by the arrival of a mysterious stranger and the determination of the Captain's son to quit the college.

Sons of the Sea is a talkie whodunit in which the who is blatantly obvious. It would be a shock if he didn't do it. The interest in Sons of the Sea is not the script or the performances but in the film stock. For it holds the unique honour of being a feature film shot on Dufaycolor.

Dufaycolor was a three-colour process developed out of the work of Louis Dufay. In essence, light was projected through the image, then the film stock base and finally through a pattern of coloured lines on the back of the stock to produce a coloured image on screen. The system had two major disadvantages: a lot of light needed to be produced through the projector in order to get the on-screen image bright enough, and people sitting close to the screen could see the pattern of lines. On the plus side, it was cheaper than Technicolor and the result was considered to be less garish.

Because one of the strengths of Dufaycolor was its suitability for outdoor shooting, a lot of Sons of the Sea was shot on location. Dartmouth Naval College was used as the primary location and full use was made of its facilities, particularly the seemingly endless supply of naval cadets. If shots of young lads in uniform marching up and down to a military band is your thing, then this film is a treasure trove; for the rest of us, these sequences just slow down an already slow film. Of more interest is a chase sequence through the countryside where the Dufaycolor gives the landscape a pleasingly nostalgic glow.

Maurice Elvey doesn't get much out of his cast. That same year Leslie Banks, the Captain, played the detective in The Arsenal Stadium Mystery with wit and energy; here he's at best listless and, because of the higher level of lighting needed for colour, wearing far too much makeup. Kay Walsh is utterly wasted in a role that any bimbo under contract could have managed.

The Dufaycolor labs were used for other work during the war so only two further shorts were made in the process before it disappeared. Sons of the Sea is therefore our only full-length chance to appreciate its virtues.

Script: Maurice Elvey, Gerald Elliott, William Woolf

Director: Maurice Elvey

Players: Simon Lack, Mackenzie Ward, Cecil Parker, Ellen Pollock, Peter Shaw, Nigel Stock, P Kynaston Reeves, Charles Eaton, Gordon Begg, Robert Field 

The Sound Barrier (1952)

The attempt to break the sound barrier breaks apart a family of aviators. David Lean gets the best out of a cast that includes Ann Todd and Ralph Richardson. The flying stuff is a must for fans of old aircraft (with Comets, Vampires and others in the cast list) and for the rest of us the script provides a neat study in obsession and repression English-style.

Script: Terence Rattigan

Director: David Lean

Players: Nigel Patrick, John Justin, Dinah Sheridan, Denholm Elliott, Joseph Tomelty, Jack Allen, Ralph Michael, Donald Harron, Vincent Holman, Douglas Muir, Leslie Phillips, Robert Brooks Trevor, Anthony Snell, Jolyon Jackley

South of Algiers (1952)

Eric Portman and Van Heflin are the rival archaeologists searching the Sahara for a golden mask. Good adventure yarn with great shots of the desert in Technicolor.

Script: Robert Westerby

Director: Jack Lee

Players: Wanda Hendrix, Charles Goldner, Marne Maitland