Archive B


Broken Journey (1947)

A small passenger plane is ready to take off for its journey across the Alps. Among the passengers are a promising boxer and his manager, an opera singer, and an ageing film star - oh, and a man in an iron lung. Now you or I, being brought up on seventies disaster movies, would take one look at our fellow passengers and get off that plane! But these are more innocent times and the passengers and crew seem genuinely surprised when their plane develops engine trouble and they are forced to crash land.

They end up on a snow covered plateau largely unhurt. However they know that they have little food and worry about dying up there in the cold. Let's review their situation: they're on a scheduled flight, they aren't too far off course, the food's a bit low but there's plenty of snow for water, and the plane is intact so they have shelter. Therefore the sensible course of action is to wait where they are for help. Naturally they send a small party out into the snow to get help.

This ends in disaster with one chap injured and another missing. They manage to contact civilisation when the man in the iron lung sacrifices his batteries to get the radio working and food supplies are dropped by parachute to them. Despite this, they make another attempt to send a small party out just in case no one knows where they are. This time they insist the fat, middle-aged opera singer joins the party. Do these people want to survive?

Things get worse when the boxer's manager tries to signal to a passing plane by setting the plane's fuel alight. I've seen some stupid things done in the movies - women who go down into a darkened cellar when they know there's a serial-killing monster about, swimmers who ignore shark warnings - but this has to be the stupidest. Naturally the plane goes up in flames and their only shelter is wrecked.

Through all this trouble bustles Phyllis Calvert as the no-nonsense stewardess. It's the perfect Calvert role: sensible, competent, caring. She's heading for a relationship with the co-pilot but she still hasn't got over the death of her previous man during the war. The first thing we notice about her is her unsuitable hairstyle. It's dreadful, particularly when topped by an unbecoming stewardess hat. Hair was always a problem for Calvert. She never seemed to get a style that really suited her. In fact, she always looked better in a turban. In this film she looks much more fetching when she's got a shawl over her head.

The film is very much a period piece with most of the passengers being affected by the war which had just ended. Chief of these is Gerard Heinz' concentration camp survivor. The film takes a surprisingly grown-up view of his stealing from the depleted food supplies - reasoning that having spent years trying to survive the Nazis he must have done worse things.

Broken Journey is no classic, but it is a fascinating prototype for all subsequent disaster films. It's also an interesting reminder of a time when air travel was glamorous, despite the in-flight meal being a round of sandwiches in cellophane.

Script: Robert Westerby

Director: Ken Annakin

Players: Margo Graham, James Donald, Francis L Sullivan, Raymond Huntley, Derek Bond, Guy Rolfe, Sonia Holm, David Tomlinson, Andrew Crawford, Charles Victor, Bonar Colleano

Broth of a Boy (1958)

Plans to turn the 110th birthday of Ireland's oldest man into a media event are disrupted when it turns out he's nowhere near that age.

Barry Fitzgerald twinkles merrily in a jolly slice of Irish whimsy.

Script adapt.: Patrick Kirwan, Blanaid Irvine (o.a. Hugh Leonard)

Director: George Pollock

Players: Tony Wright, June Thorburn, Harry Brogan, Maire Kean, Eddie Golden, Godfrey Quigley, Dermot Kelly, Josephine Fitzgerald, Bart Bastable

Brother Alfred (1932)

Celebrating his engagement, a man kisses a maid just as his fiancée walks in. In order to win her back, he poses as his own non-existent twin brother - and then things get complicated.

Typical PG Wodehouse fluff that now struggles to hit the mark.

Script adapt.: Henry Edwards, Claude Gurney. (o.a. PG Wodehouse, Herbert Westbrook)

Director: Henry Edwards

 Players: Gene Gerrard, Molly Lamont, Clifford Heatheley, Elsie Randolph, Bobbie Comber, Blanche Adele, Hal Gordon, Hugh E Wright, Henry Wenman, James Carew, Harvey Braban, Tonie Edgar Bruce, Maurice Colbourne, Jane Seymour, Marie Burke 

The Brothers (1947) 

Why is there a man floating in the loch with a herring tied to his head? Because he's about to be murdered and this is The Brothers, one of the battiest of the Gainsborough melodramas.

Lovely young orphan Patricia Roc is sent to be housekeeper for the Macraes: a family of men on a small Scottish island. The household is headed by Finlay Currie with Maxwell Reed and Duncan Macrae as his sons. Soon the lads are lusting after Miss Roc, as is Andrew Crawford from a rival family. Crawford's attempt on Roc's virtue re-ignites a long-running feud between the families. The stage is set for a series of tragedies that will destroy the Macraes.

This film is a bit of an oddity among the Gainsborough melodrama canon. Its setting in a poor turn-of-the-century fishing community sets it apart from its more glamorous rivals. The extensive location shooting makes a difference too. It's also more gruesome and ambiguous.

Much of the ambiguity comes from Patricia Roc's performance. Though many of the characters are irresistibly drawn to what we should take to be her devastating sexual power, she comes across as a nice healthy girl. Most Gainsborough heroines are in the grip of a desperate need which must be satisfied at any cost. Roc doesn't seem to want anything for most of the film. 

Despite her lack of desire, she has a healthy sex life. She has it away with at least two of the islanders without any qualms. This of course means she has to die in the last reel, but this doesn't feel like the punishment of a Wicked Lady. She seems caught by circumstance rather than morality.

As part of the publicity for the film, actor James Woodburn is quoted as saying of Roc: "If you close your eyes and listen, her Scots accent is perfect: if you open them her accent doesn't matter". He's only half right. Her accent is a pick-and-mix effort which takes in all the Celtic nations, but it really doesn't matter. Whether skinny-dipping in the loch or running through the lovely Skye scenery she's totally gorgeous. She effortlessly gives off the sort of natural charm that Jennifer Jones would struggle to achieve in Gone to Earth.

Sadly, her suitors are a dreary bunch. Not one of them is worth having. Duncan Macrea as the creepy, mad brother gives a great performance, but he's not noticeably less attractive than Maxwell Reed who's a total pudding. In a bad light Reed could pass for James Mason if you discount the lack of acting talent and sex appeal.

Apart from Roc, what most people who saw it at the time remember is the scene where Reed looks for crabs in a rock pool and gets his finger trapped by a conger eel. He has to cut it off before the tide comes in and drowns him. Many a media studies thesis has been written about this metaphor for castration.

The other gruesome bit is the herring murder where a man is floated in the loch with a herring on his head. A passing goose sees the herring and plunges down, cracking the man's skull. This is punishment for blabbing to the revenue about the bootlegging activities of the community. Apparently if a goose does the killing it's an act of God and doesn't count. Despite the silliness of the method, the execution is surprisingly chilling.

The Brothers has too many faults to be a classic, but it's certainly a fascinating oddity.

Script adapt.: David Macdonald, Sydney Box, Muriel Box, Paul Vincent Carroll, (o.a.) L.A.G. Strong.

Director: David Macdonald

Players: Will Fyffe, Finlay Currie, Morland Graham, Megs Jenkins, Patrick Boxall, Donald McAllister, David Keir, John Laurie

Brothers in Law (1956)

Ian Carmichael joins forces with the Boulting Brothers to ridicule the legal profession. Chock full of the cream of British character actors.

Script adapt.: Frank Harvey, Jeffrey Dell, Roy Boulting. (o.a. Henry Cecil)

Director: Roy Boulting

Players: Richard Attenborough, Miles Malleson, Jill Adams, Terry-Thomas, Raymond Huntley, Eric Barker, Nicholas Parsons, Kynaston Reeves, John le Mesurier, Irene Handl, Olive Sloane, Leslie Philips, Brian Oulton, Kenneth Griffith, Michael Ward, Everley Gregg, John Schlesinger, Peggy Ann Clifford

The Browning Version (1951)

Michael Redgrave is the inadequate teacher heading for retirement with Jean Kent as his bitch of a wife in this adaptation of Rattigan's play. 

Script adapt.: (o.a.) Terence Rattigan

Director: Anthony Asquith

Players: Nigel Patrick, Ronald Howard, Wilfrid Hyde White, Brian Smith, Bill Travers, Paul Medland, Ivan Samson, Josephine Middleton, Peter Jones, Judith Furse, Russell Waters

Bulldog Jack (1934)

Bulldog Drummond dashes to London to make an appointment with a damsel in distress, but some fiendish villains have other ideas and they sabotage his brakes. He survives (and thankfully so does his dog) but is too injured to continue, so he persuades a passer-by to take his place. And the passer-by he persuades is Jack Hulbert.

So begins one of the best comedy thrillers ever made. Director Walter Forde had developed the genre over the previous five years and was, at this point, at the top of his game. He knew exactly what his audience wanted, and he certainly gave them their money's worth. Thrills and chuckles were perfectly blended together to exactly hit the 30s funny-bone and produce one of the biggest hits of the year.

Much of the credit for this must go to producer Michael Balcon who always put quality first. Thus Bulldog Jack has an expensive, glossy look to it which still impresses. Alfred Junge's sets provide the perfect background for the action, from glamorous Mayfair flats to disused Underground stations.

Star Jack Hulbert carries off the role well, though it's his brother Claude who really impresses. He's dim but sweet, useless in a crisis but terribly endearing. Fay Wray has little to do but look beautiful and helpless, but she was always world-class where that's concerned so it was worth importing her from the States. Chief villain is Ralph Richardson: getting in a bit of practise for the mad, old gits he'd play towards the end of his film career.

Modern audiences may need a bit of indulgence when it comes to the early section of the film. It's got too much non sequitur word-play for comfort. But once the action really starts, it's fun all the way.

Script: J.O.C. Orton, Gerard Fairley, Sidney Gilliat

Director: Walter Forde

Players: Gibb McLaughlin, Atholl Fleming, Cyril Smith, Paul Graetz, Harvey Braban, Ernest Sefton, Matthew Boulton