Archive W

The Wicked Lady (1945)

The most popular film of its year. This archetypal Gainsborough melodrama was loathed by critics - who may have had a point. It's silly and badly made but it has an energy rarely found in British costume dramas. Margaret Lockwood has the title role as the woman who steals her best friend's fiancée in order to get rich and then, when she gets bored with country life, becomes a highwayman. Along the way she gets to shag fellow highwayman James Mason.

Still from The Wicked Lady

Script adapt.: Leslie Arliss, Aimee Stuart, Gordon Glennon. (o.a. Magdalen King-Hall)

Director: Leslie Arliss

Players: Griffith Jones, Patricia Roc, Michael Rennie, Enid Stamp-Taylor, Felix Aylmer, David Horne, Martita Hunt, Emrys Jones, Jean Kent 

Wide Boy (1952)

A spiv decides to branch out when the opportunity to blackmail a surgeon arises.

It takes a while to get going, and then ends too soon. Still, it's not often a low budget 50s crime story leaves you wishing it were longer.

Script: Rex Rienits

Director: Ken Hughes

Players: Sydney Tafler, Susan Shaw, Ronald Howard, Melissa Stribling, Colin Tapley, Laidman Browne, Helen Christie, Glyn Houston

A Will and a Way (1922)

A life-long bachelor discovers he's due an inheritance only on condition he agrees to accept the first woman to propose to him.

Hugely enjoyable rural comedy. 

Script adapt.: Lydia Hayward. (o.a. W.W. Jacobs)

Director: H. Manning Haynes

Players: Ernest Hendrie, Polly Emery, Johnny Butt, Cynthia Murtagh, Charles Ashton

William Comes to Town (1948)

William and the Outlaws try to break into 10 Downing Street as part of their campaign for shorter school hours

Simple-minded fun for kiddies.

Script adapt.: Val Guest. (o.a. Richmal Crompton)

Director: Val Guest

Players: William Graham, Garry Marsh, Jane Welsh, Hugh Cross, Kathleen Stuart, Murial Aked, A.E. Matthews, Brian Weske, James Crabbe, Brian Roper, Michael Medwin, Jon Pertwee, David Paige, Michael Balfour, Norman Pierce, Eve Mortimer, John Powe, Mary Vallange, Peter Butterworth, Donald Clive, John Warren, Alan Goford, Basil Gordon, Claude Bonsor, Ivan Craig, John Martell, Pinkie Hannaford, Jumble, Marquis

Windbag the Sailor (1936)

A pub bore, who's navigated nothing more challenging than the local canal, is tricked into taking charge of a rusty old ship so that its owner can scuttle it for the insurance.

Windbag the Sailor is a pleasant comedy which passes the time easily enough, but its real significance is that this is the first film featuring British comedy's dream team: Will Hay, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt. Like many of the best cinema teams, they came together purely because they were under contract to the same studio at the same time. Though they're not at the top of their game here, it's clear that they work well together.

Will Hay has the title role as man whose boasts and blather get him into a position of authority for which is is entirely unsuited. It's a part that plays to his strengths - hardly surprising given his above-the-title status. The film opens with one of his tall stories, so blatantly ridiculous that no one in their right minds would believe it, and the whole audience knows he's just riding for a fall. Even at this early stage of the film Marriott and Moffatt, a.k.a. Harbottle and Albert, are there undermining his authority and puncturing his pomposity.

Soon he's off on a voyage to Norway - via the South Seas - ready to face mutineers, cannibals and stowaways (no prizes for guessing which pair of ne'er-do-wells stow away!). Much of the action is filmed on location, which might surprise those who insist that British films of this period were studio-bound, though admittedly the south sea island coastline looks strangely British. This certainly helps the shipboard sequences, though it does show up the island sequences when the production finally abandons the effort to dress Britain to look exotic and moves back into the studio.

Windbag the Sailor is too leisurely to really hit the comic heights, but it points the way to future glories. 

Script adapt.: Leslie Arliss, Robert Edmunds, Marriott Edgar, Val Guest

Director: William Beaudine

Players: Norma Varden, Dennis Wyndham, Amy Veness, Kenneth Warrington, Napoleon Florent, George Merritt, Arthur Marshall

Windjammer (1930)

The voyage from Australia to Britain by one of the last of the Windjammers, and with a crew of thirteen bad luck is sure to follow.

Fascinating docu-drama. Two Australian journalists (R.J. Walker and A.J. Villiers) decided to sign up for the voyage and take a camera with them. Walker died on the voyage and Villiers sold the footage to British Instructional Films who tried to make a talkie feature from it. The result is clearly two films jammed together, but they're good films. The below deck scenes have a naturalistic feel and the attempt to portray a working-class male environment is appreciated. Above deck, the footage is impressive and laden with nostalgia for those who regret the passing of sail.

Script adapt: A.P. Herbert. (o.a. A.J. Villiers)

Director: John Orton

Players: Michael Hogan, Tony Bruce, Hal Gordon, Roy Travers, Gordon Craig, J. Baker, Charles Levey, J. Cunningham, P. Russell, Hal Booth, C. Christie, G. Thomas 

Windom's Way (1957)

End-of-empire tale with Peter Finch as the dedicated doctor trying to persuade Malay villagers to oppose a communist take-over. Not bad if you like that sort of thing.

Script adapt.: Jill Craigie. (o.a. James Ramsey Ullman)

Director: Ronald Neame

Players: Mary Ure, Natasha Parry, Robert Flemyng, Michael Horden, John Cairney, Gregoire Aslan, George Margo, Kurt Siegenberg, Olaf Pooley

Wings of the Morning (1937)

A gypsy girl has ambitions to train a Derby winner.

The plot comes across as a cross between National Velvet and a Gainsborough melodrama, but if you're in an indulgent mood it can pass the time. Its chief claims to fame are as Britain's first Technicolor feature, and for featuring an impossibly young Henry Fonda.

Script: Tom Geraghty, John Meehan, Brinsley Macnamara, Donn Byrne

Director: Harold Schuster

Players: Annabella, Leslie Banks, Edward Underdown, Stewart Rome, Harry Tate, Irene Vanbrugh, Helen Haye, Mark Daly, Sam Livesey, John McCormack, Steve Donohue, Hermione Darnborough, E.V.H. Emmett, D.J. Williams, Pat Noonan, Philip Frost, Emmanuelo, Nicholas Nadejine, Evelyn Ankers

The Winslow Boy (1948)

Anthony Asquith's film of Terence Rattigan's play about a stolen postal order is one of cinema's great courtroom dramas. It also gives Robert Donat one of his best ever roles as the battling QC defending young naval cadet Neil North.

Script adapt.: (o.a.) Terence Rattigan, Anatole de Grunwald, Anthony Asquith

Director: Anthony Asquith

Players: Margaret Leighton, Cedric Hardwicke, Basil Radford, Francis L. Sullivan, Marie Lohr, Jack Watling, Frank Lawton, Walter Fitzgerald, Wilfrid Hyde White, Kynaston Reeves, Ernest Thesiger, Lewis Casson, Stanley Holloway, Cyril Ritchard, Mona Washbourne, Dandy Nichols, Noel Howlett, Aubrey Mallalieu

Witness in the Dark (1959)

A blind woman is the only witness to the identity of a neighbour's killer.

Pretty standard B-movie plot enhanced by the performances and music.

Script: Leigh Vance, John Lemont

Director: Wolf Rilla

Players: Patricia Dainton, Conrad Philips, Madge Ryan, Nigel Green, Enid Lorimer, Richard O'Sullivan, Stuart Saunders, Ian Colin, Noel Trevarthen, Maureen O'Reilly, Larry Burns, Ann Wrigg, Frazer Hines

The Woman for Joe (1955)

Look for it in film histories and you won't find it mentioned. It made little impact on its first release and hasn't been championed by trendy academics since. Even Halliwell didn't bother to list it (though his successor has added it the current issue). This is a pity because The Woman for Joe is one of those rarities: a truly, irredeemably, awful film.

Joe (George Baker) runs a carnival side-show, but business is bad. He gets his acts together and persuades them to stump up enough money to buy a new attraction: a midget. The midget, George (Jimmy Karoubi), soon becomes a big hit and he and Joe become firm friends. George discovers barmaid Mary (Diane Cilento) and persuades Joe to hire her. This is because George has the hots for her, but naturally she goes all gooey-eyed over Joe. When Joe realises that he, too, loves Mary he has to decide whether to betray his friend or deny his love.

The film opens with footage of a real fair (Nottingham Goose Fair) but soon cuts to the studio set. This cruelly shows up the sort of painted backdrops that even Alfred Hitchcock would have been embarrassed by. Even without this unfortunate juxtaposition, Technicolor and Vistavision would have exposed the poverty of the production design.

Casting in these sort of films is always difficult. You can either get non-acting circus folk or you dress up actors to look the part. Thus veteran actress Violet Farebrother has to don a fat-suit to play the fat lady while the strong man is played by Man Mountain Dean, who couldn't even act "Man who stands still and says nothing" let alone the dialogue the script gives him.

Among the well-known actors in this mess are David Kossoff, doing his familiar kindly, old buffer act; and an unintentionally hilarious Sydney Tafler as a punch-drunk boxer. Actors Miriam Karlin, Joan Hickson and Terence Longden get lucky - they're uncredited.

Mention should go to one of those middle-class stage-school brats playing a cockney urchin who breaks in at one point to deliver some bad news. He only has two lines but they're both delivered in such a dreadful "Gor Blimey, Strike a light" accent that you know he grew up to be Dick Van Dyke's dialogue coach.

Of the three principals, Diane Cilento comes off worst. She's saddled with a middle-European accent and more make-up than Lily Savage. She also has to do an act singing to a bunch of performing lions that gives kitsch a bad name. Dietrich might have pulled it off, Cilento looks like she's praying to be eaten.

Even the best performers need a decent script. Shame they got this one. Here's the moment when Joe and Mary declare their love for each other:

JOE: Ma says you're in love with me.

MARY: Yes Joe. And Ma says you're in love with me too.

JOE: That's right.

MARY: Oh, Joe.

The guilty person is Neil Paterson on whose short story the script is based. Let's hope the actors beat him up at the wrap party.

In a love triangle where the principals are all such decent people there is only one way out: the midget has to die. He does this not by heroically saving Mary's life as you might expect, but by falling during his trapeze act. This is the shoddiest piece of business in the film. The film cuts from Karoubi falling (towards a net out of shot) to a reverse angle shot of him doing a handstand from which he quickly collapses onto the ground. Even without the benefit of video playback it's laughably obvious.

It's possible that his fall was suicide rather than an accident, since he probably got the message that Mary didn't love him when she hired the same midget whore he'd previously rejected as his 21st birthday present from Joe (Don't ask - you don't want to go there!). At least it means we only have a quick deathbed scene to get through and the film is over.

Poetic realism in the movies is a tough trick to pull off. Few films have tried and failed so totally as The Woman for Joe.

Pressbook for The Woman for Joe

Script adapt.: (o.a.) Neil Paterson

Director: George More O'Ferrall

Players: Earl Cameron, Patrick Westwood, Derek Sydney, Verna Gilmore, Martin Miller, Meier Tzelnicker, Frank Paulo, Amy Veness, Jill Ireland, Arthur Lowe

The Woman From China (1930)

A mysterious woman colludes with a Chinese criminal mastermind to kidnap a sailor's fiancée.

One of the last of the all-silents is a fast-moving sub-Fu Manchu thriller.

Script: Edward Dryhurst

Director: Edward Dryhurst

Players: Julie Suedo, Gibb McLaughlin, Frances Cuyler, Tony Wylde, Kyoshi Takase, R Byron-Webber, George Wynn, Clifford Pembroke, Laurie Leslie

Woman Hater (1948)

A young lord has a habit of persuading his friends to avoid matrimony because he believes women are not to be trusted. When a French actress arrives in town declaring she's though with men, he decides to prove she's a liar by allowing her the opportunity to seduce him.

It must have seen like a winner on paper. Who better to play the arrogant chap who thinks he's God's gift than Stewart Granger then at the peak of his British career? And who better to play the enchanting French actress than Edwige Feuillere in her first English language role? Yet Granger would look back on the film as a total disaster and Feuillere would never make another English language film. So what went wrong? Well, nothing. 

Woman Hater is a perfectly competent comedy. It's no classic, but it's a fair way of passing an afternoon in front of the telly. Its faults are minor – the pace could be a bit snapper, and someone should have told Granger that since we already had a Cary Grant there was no need to try quite so hard to be another – but there's certainly nothing here that would explain its failure.

The supporting cast is adequate enough, with Jeanne de Casalis and Ronald Squire shining as Feuillere's worldly maid and Granger's unflappable butler respectively. Georgina Cookson makes such an impact in the opening of the film as a gloriously stroppy bride that it seems a pity the plot has no room for more of her.

Maybe the failure of the film could just be put down to its being wrong project at the wrong time. Granger had just come to the end of a run of costume pics and would go on to excel in several others. Feuillere was best known, if she was known at all by the Brits, for her Camille rather than comedy. Woman Hater just wasn't quite good enough to generate enough word of mouth to overcome audience indifference.

Pressbook for Woman Hater

Script: Robert Westerby, Nicholas Phipps, Alec Coppel

Director: Terence Young

Players: Mary Jerrold, David Hutcheson, W.A. Kelly, Henry Edwards, Stewart Rome, Valentine Dyall, Richard Hearne, Cyril Ritchard, Graham Moffatt, Miles Malleson, Dino Galvani, Vernon Greeves, Rosemary Treston, Diana Chandler, Margaret Thorburn, Barbara Gurnhill, Diana Hope, Doreen Lawrence, Jeremy Annett, Peter Cotten, Vida Hope, H.G. Stoker, Michael Medwin, John Stevens, Anne Holland, Irene Handl, Dandy Nichols

Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957)

The demands of being a stay-at-home wife prove too much for a woman, and her slatternly ways drive her husband into the arms of another woman.

Fabulous domestic melodrama with Yvonne Mitchell in top form as the woman who can't get a grip on her life.

Script adapt.: (o.a.) Ted Willis

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Players: Anthony Quayle, Sylvia Syms, Andrew Ray, Carole Lesley, Olga Lindo, Harry Locke, Marianne Stone, Michael Ripper, Norah Gordon, Max Butterfield, Roberta Woolley

The Woman in Question (1950)

. . . is murder victim Jean Kent. The five suspects tell police about her life, and show us five different versions of her character.

Jean Kent gets a great chance to show her acting range in this interesting precursor to Rashomon.

Still from The Woman in QuestionPressbook for The Woman in Question

Script: John Cresswell

Director: Anthony Asquith

Players: Dirk Bogarde, Susan Shaw, John McCallum, Hermione Baddeley, Charles Victor, Duncan Macrae, Lana Morris, Joe Linnane, Vida Hope, Bobbie Scroggins, Duncan Lamont, Anthony Dawson, John Boxer, Julian D'Albie, Richard Pearson, Richard Dunn, John Martin, Ian Fleming, Josephine Middleton, Everley Gregg, Helen Goss, Nora Gordon, Merle Tottenham, Tom Macauley, Albert Chevalier

The Woman in the Hall (1947)

A woman brings up two daughters on her own by using them as props in her business conning wealthy people out of money. As they grow up they start to question the morality of the family business.

In 1947 it was clear who the next British film star would be: Jean Simmons. After featured roles in Black Narcissus and Great Expectations it was obvious she had what it takes. In the post-war years, Rank tried to take the business of star making seriously and Simmons was one of the main beneficiaries of this new approach. Her first starring role was the costume melodrama Uncle Silas and The Woman in the Hall was her opportunity to show she could handle contemporary scripts.

There are a number of ways of approaching The Woman in the Hall: as a melodrama, a morality tale, a reflection of Austerity Britain, a Woman's Picture. The latter term, though often used as a pejorative, is perhaps the best description - this is very much a woman's picture. In the first half an hour there's scarcely a man to be seen and when the girls grow up and start to get interested in men, the men they meet aren't worth bothering about. The women run their own households, work in predominantly-female workplaces, and talk to each other. This is a film that triumphantly passes the Bechdel Test.

Simmons' character is finally caught stealing - she's grown up with the belief that it doesn't count as theft if you steal to give to someone else - and is put on trial. And suddenly we're in a male space - judge, barristers, reporters. Sadly this is where the film falls over, with the most badly conducted trial in the history of the movies stretching credulity to breaking point. The mother insists on being heard and the judge allows her to cross-examine her daughter in the dock! At least they manage between them to carve out a little all-female space in the courtroom in order to get at the truth.     

Though the mother is clearly meant to be a crook, the film takes great delight in the outrageous nature of her scams. Ursula Jeans grabs the role with both hands. Some actresses might suggest with a flicker of the eyes and a little nod to the audience that they're about to tell a whopper, but not Jeans. She plays every lie straight which pays off beautifully at the end when she finally enters the dock herself and swears on the bible to tell the truth.

The Woman in the Hall is well worth watching if only for Jeans and Simmons and the little glimpse it affords of 40s Britain.

The Woman in the Hall pressbook cover

Script: (o.a.) H.E. Fowle, Ian Dalrymple, Jack Lee

Director: Jack Lee

Players: Jill Raymond, Jean Simmons, Edward Underdown, Cecil Parker, Joan Miller, Nigel Buchanan, Ruth Dunning, Russell Waters, Terry Randall, Lily Kann, Martin Walker, Barbara Shaw, Dorothy Truman Taylor, Hugh Pryor, Everley Gregg, Alexis France, Susan Hampshire, Tania Tipping

Womaneater (1957)

Mad scientist returns from the jungle with what he believes is the secret of raising the dead: feeding nubile young women to a deadly tree!

Barking-mad horror with George Coulouris and Jimmi Vaughan as scientist and henchman giving it far more dedication than it deserves. However, no one can fight against the shoddy script and a tree so laughable.

Script: Brandon Fleming

Director: Charles Saunders

Players: George Coulouris, Vera Day, Peter Wayn, Joyce Gregg, Jimmi Vaughan, Joy Webster, Sara Leighton, June Ashley, Rachel Lofting, Maxwell Foster, Edward Higgins

Women of Twilight (1952)

Unmarried, pregnant and with her boyfriend on trial for murder, a woman seeks refuge in the only boarding house that will accept her. But the house isn't the respectable place of safety she imagined.  

Women of Twilight has a tiny place in the history of British cinema as the very first 'X' film, back in the days when that meant adult rather than horror or porn. Certainly by the standards of 1950s British cinema, Women of Twilight is very adult. We have unmarried mothers, attempted murder, baby farming and lots more besides.

The original play was a hot property, having only opened the previous year and still running when the film went into production. Several of the cast it picked up on its journey from fringe theatre to West End were included in the film. Naturally the film was opened up, and that meant giving a large role to Laurence Harvey as the boyfriend diluting the original's all-female cast with a bit of "love interest" for the posters.

Freda Jackson had already carved out a place for herself in British cinema playing monstrous women, particularly in No Room at the Inn. Here she's magnificent as Helen, the queen of the boarding house, manipulating everyone into funding her respectable lifestyle. She's matched by René Ray as the woman with nowhere else to go who gradually realises the full extent of Helen's crimes.

As a full-on melodrama, Women of Twilight pulls a few punches but even with an X cert there were some things the censor wouldn't allow. The story of a rape gets downgraded to being "taken advantage of", for example. An act of violence is only heard. Childbirth is very much off-screen and abortion scarcely even hinted at. Still, enough gets through to deliver a kick to British cinema's respectable image.

Women of Twilight is not overtly campaigning for a change in attitude to unmarried mothers, but in documenting some of the worst horrors caused by society's attitude it makes its point. There's even a little subversive kick in the cheerful way Ingeborg Well's character goes back to Germany with her "little present" because life is so much better there. To British audiences still coping with post-war rationing, that little dig must have hurt.

Still from Women of Twilight     

Script adapt.: Anatole de Grunwald. (o.a. Sylvia Rayman)

Director: Gordon Parry

Players: René Ray, Freda Jackson, Laurence Harvey, Lois Maxwell, Vida Hope, Joan Dowling, Dora Bryan, Mary Germaine, Ingeborg Wells, Dorothy Gordon, Clare James, Cyril Smith, Betty Henderson, Ben Williams, Bruce Beeby, Marguerit Brennan, Katherine Page, Edna Morris, Dandy Nichols, Michael Corkran, Arnold Bell, Gordon Craig, Cyril Conway, Geoffrey Goodhart, Harry Brunning, Robin Dowell, Liam Gaffney, Roy Russell

The Wooden Horse (1950)

True-life POW tale about an attempt to dig an escape tunnel in plain sight of the German guards. Stirring stuff.

Still from The Wooden Horse

Script: (o.a.) Eric Williams

Director: Jack Lee

Players: Leo Genn, Anthony Steele, David Tomlinson, David Greene, Peter Burton, Patrick Waddington, Michael Goodliffe, Anthony Dawson, Bryan Forbes, Franz Schaftheitlin, Hans Meyer, Peter Finch, Bill Travers