Archive B


The Baby and the Battleship (1956)

You can more or less guess the plot from the title. Sailor gets lumbered temporarily with a kid and has to smuggle it aboard. Cue helpless blokes trying to feed and change the little dear. John Mills and Richard Attenborough are the leads with Michael Horden as the captain kept in the dark. It's better than Three Men and a Baby but then few things aren't.

Script adapt.: Jay Lewis, Gilbert Hackforth-Jones, Bryan Forbes. (o.a. Anthony Thorne)

Director: Jay Lewis

Players: Lisa Gastoni, Bryan Forbes, Andre Morell, Michael Howard, Ernest Clark, Harry Locke, Thorley Walters, Kenneth Griffith, John le Mesurier, Gordon Jackson, Patrick Cargill, Barry Foster, Sam Kydd

Bachelor of Hearts (1958)

Hardy Kruger is the German exchange student at Cambridge finding out how the Brits live and copping off with Sylvia Syms (and most of the rest of the female students). Pleasant romantic comedy.  

Script: Leslie Bricusse, Frederic Raphael

Director: Wolf Rilla

Players: Ronald Lewis, Charles Kay, John Richardson, Barbara Steele, Miles Malleson, Eric Barker

A Bachelor's Baby (1922)

A young man finds a baby and uses it to play matchmaker to an elderly couple.

If you can get past the extremely unlikely set of events that kick off the plot, it's a charming comedy.

Script: Lydia Hayward (o.a. Rolfe Bennett)

Director: Arthur Rooke

Players: Constance Worth, Malcolm Tod, Tom Reynolds, Haidee Wright, Maud Yates

Back Room Boy (1942)

Arthur Pilbeam has one of the most important jobs at the BBC. It's Work of National Importance, but his girlfriend is sick of him abandoning her for his job and gives him the elbow. He goes mad and completely messes the job up. He gets another job as far away from women as possible: lighthouse keeper. But he soon discovers he's not alone.

So far, this is quite close to the plot of Thunder Rock, but the star is Big-hearted Arthur Askey and instead of ghosts he's assailed by a precocious child, sinister Nazis and a boatful of beautiful models. It's actually a lot closer to Oh, Mr Porter!, Askey's earlier remake of The Ghost Train and a great many other British comedy films of the period where villains pretend to be ghosts in order to scare people away. Here it's Nazis who are secretly cutting a path through a naval mine field. The resemblance to Oh, Mr Porter! is increased by having Moore Marriott and Graham Moffat pop up halfway through.

As the star of the film, Arthur Askey gives a good account of himself. He carries the film without overpowering it, leaving plenty of space for his side-kicks to make an impression. The best of these is child actress Vera Frances who is common, stroppy and cynical. Her scenes with Askey are the best thing in the film, and it's a shame when she is replaced as side-kick first by Googie Withers and then Marriott and Moffat.

Withers rarely looked lovelier. She spends a lot of time in wet clothes or in her underwear. It's charming to see an actress who normally looks so tight and together look so free. However, she doesn't have much to do other than parade around in her underwear and tower over Askey.

As an example of the spooky house genre, Back Room Boy is good. It's creepier than many, but not as funny as it should be. The middle section where the cast start disappearing is too long (there's about a dozen to get rid of) and there's an awful lot of going up and down stairs to get through before we're down to just Askey and Marriott. Still, it's entertaining and must have pleased wartime audiences looking to be cheered up.

Script: Val Guest, Marriott Edgar

Director: Herbert Mason

Players: Joyce Howard, John Salew, George Merritt

Background (1953)

A couple head for a civilised divorce, but the children take it badly.

There are some films you approach with a heavy heart. It's sometimes hard to show enthusiasm for yet another stiff-upper-lipped war film or a quota quickie mystery set in a stately home knowing, before the titles even roll, exactly how things are going to unfold. It's certainly hard to anticipate a 50s marital drama starring Valerie Hobson at the fag end of her career with anything other than a sense of duty rather than pleasure. However, Background manages to surprise.

There's certainly few surprises when it comes to Background's milieu. This is all very upper-middle class: the husband's a barrister, the house is grand, the children have their own nursery and are shipped off to boarding school each term. There's even a faithful old retainer to deal with the messier aspects of life. It's all very predictable and artificial and a million miles away from the realities of most cinemagoers lives. 

Hobson and husband Philip Friend snipe at each other at dinner parties and bicker genteelly about trivia in private. Their marital rows are well-handled by the script within the film's constrictions but it's difficult to avoid wondering why no one swears at each other or complains about inadequate sexual technique. Family friend Norman Wooland is on hand to offer Hobson a route out of the marriage but since both male roles are undercast it's a case of out of the frying pan and into another equally dreary frying pan.

The film's secret weapon is the children. The men may be undercast, but the children are the best child actors the 50s could offer in what was a golden age for child actors. At first Jeanette Scott, Jeremy Spencer and Mandy Miller are typical middle-class film kids: well-mannered and slightly dull. Like the adult actors, they give the artificial dialogue a sense of naturalness but this is not a home life anyone would recognise outside of a breakfast cereal commercial. Then the parents break the news of the upcoming separation and all hell breaks loose.

Scott reacts with mercenary zeal, more interested in the new pony she'll get from new dad than anything else. Miller just wears a baffled pout. And Spencer reacts with blind fury. The sheer force of his anger gives the film the jolt it needs to lift it out of the humdrum. First there's a really believable fight with his sister over a photo she has of Wooland, then he disappears from school for a few days only to turn up with a gun he's pointing at Wooland. These two scenes make the film.

Sadly the parents see the error of their ways, get back together and it's all one big happy family again. It's as though none of the trauma, which included a murder attempt don't forget, ever happened. It's the ending one would have expected but, given the mad action, not an entirely convincing one. 

Script adapt.: (o.a.) Warren Chetham-Strode, Don Sharp

Director: Daniel Birt

Players: Valerie Hobson, Philip Friend, Norman Wooland, Janette Scott, Jeremy Spencer, Mandy Miller, Lilly Kann, Helen Shingler, Richard Wattis, Thora Hird, Jack Melford, Louise Hampton, Joss Ambler, Brian Harding, Lloyd Lamble, Barbara Hicks, Ernest Butcher, Rory (the dog)

The Bad Lord Byron (1948)

Dennis Price was never cut out to be a star and this is the film that proves it. This muddle concerns Byron's trial by a heavenly court reviewing his life. It was loathed by critics and audience at the time, and hasn't improved much with age.

Pressbook for The Bad Lord Byron

Script: Terence Young, Anthony Thorne, Peter Quennell, Lawrence Kitchin, Paul Holt

Director: David Macdonald

Players: Joan Greenwood, Mai Zetterling, Linden Travers, Sonia Holm, Raymond Lovell, Leslie Dwyer, Ernest Thesiger, Wilfrid Hyde White, Zena Marshall

Band Waggon (1940)

The hugely popular radio show is brought to the screen with most of its anarchy intact. Arthur Askey and Richard "Stinker" Murdoch are saddled with a haunted castle/German spy plot but director Marcel Varnel keeps the action moving.

Script: Marriott Edgar, Val Guest

Director: Marcel Varnel

Players: Patricia Kirkwood, Moore Marriott, Jack Hylton and his band, Peter Gawthorne, Wally Patch, Donald Calthrop, Freddy Schweitzer, Bruce Trent, Michael Standing, C. H. Middleton, Jasmine Bligh, Jonah Barrington, James Hayter, Michael Horden, Bernard Miles, Forsythe Seamon and Farrell, The Sherman Fisher Girls

Bank Holiday (1938)

The stories of a group of day-trippers to Brighton: the nurse and her boyfriend having a dirty weekend, the Cockney family whose kids run wild, the girls entering a beauty contest. Carol Reed's direction and a great Rodney Ackland script gives us one of the most fondly remembered views of life before the war.

Script: Rodney Ackland, Roger Burford

Director: Carol Reed

Players: Margaret Lockwood, Kathleen Harrison, Wally Patch, John Lodge, Hugh Williams, Linden Travers, René Ray, Merle Tottenham, Wilfrid Lawson, Felix Aylmer, Alf Goddard, Michael Rennie

Barnacle Bill (1957)

Alec Guinness plays the last in a long line of sea-farers. Unfortunately, this one gets sea sick. So he takes charge of a pier instead. 

This is the last in a long line of Ealing comedies. Unfortunately, this one isn't up to much.

Script: T.E.B. Clarke

Director: Charles Frend

Players: Irene Browne, Maurice Denham, Victor Maddern, Percy Herbert, George Rose, Lionel Jeffries, Harold Goodwin, Lloyd Lamble, Warren Mitchell, Jackie Collins, Richard Wattis, Frederick Piper, Eric Pohlmann, Donald Pleasence, Miles Malleson, Max Butterfield, Mike Morgan, Donald Churchill, Joan Hickson, Sam Kydd

The Battle (1934)

Big budget war film set among European diplomats in turn-of-the-century Japan.

Script adapt.: Nicolas Farkas, Bernard Zimmer. (o.a. Claude Farrere)

Director: Nicholas Farkas

Players: Charles Boyer, Merle Oberon, John Loder, Betty Stockfeld, Valerie Inkojoff, Miles Mander, Henri Fabert

The Battle of the River Plate (1956)

The pursuit of German battleship Admiral Graf Spee was one of the most dramatic navel engagements of the war. This re-enactment by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger lacks their usual flare and falls down badly with the model work. 

Written Produced and Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Players: John Gregson, Peter Finch, Anthony Quayle, Ian Hunter, Bernard Lee, Jack Gwillim, Anthony Bushell, Christopher Lee, John Chandos, Douglas Wilmer, Roger Delgado, Barry Foster, Edward Judd