A trawler catches fish. And that's about it really. Lots of shots of waves, gulls and fish gutting. Due to the limitations of sound equipment at the time the sound track is an abstract mixture of sea shanty, engine noises and incomprehensible cries from the sailors. Despite this novelty, it's a dull trip.
Director: John Grierson
One of Britain's few Westerns, this concerns Richard Arlen's attempt to build a railway across the Rockies. Lilli Palmer provides the love interest.
Script adapt.: Ralph Spence, Michael Barringer, Milton Rosmer. (o.a. Alan Sullivan)
Director: Milton Rosmer
Players: Antoinette Cellier, Barry Mackay, Jock McKay, Ben Weldon, Roy Emerson, Ernest Sefton
Probably the best Dickens adaptation in cinema. Like the book the first third is the best but the rest is still pretty good.
Script adapt.: Ronald Neame, David Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Kay Walsh. (o.a. Charles Dickens)
Director: David Lean
Players: John Mills, Valerie Hobson, Alec Guinness, Martita Hunt, Jean Simmons, Anthony Wager, Bernard Miles, Francis L. Sullivan, Freda Jackson, Hay Petrie, Everley Gregg, Edie Martin
The Chairman of the local football club is so obsessed with running the club he neglects his printing business.
The Great Game is a fascinating snapshot of professional football before the big money arrived. The main problem for the Chairman is enticing a star player to join the club when there's a limit of £15 a week on a player's wages. James Hayter as the Chairman plays a blinder. This is essentially his film and he gives it all he's got.
Thora Hird gets the bulk of the rest of the action as Hayter's right-hand woman. She tried to keep the printers running and gets a bit of romance as one of the customers comes sniffing around. Glyn Houston as the star player and Sheila Shand Gibb as his not-so-simple fiancée also get some moments to shine.
The biggest moment belongs to Diana Dors. She plays a secretary and doesn't get to do much except swan around being Diana Dors and scarcely touches the plot. However she does get to attend one of the football matches. In order to get a better view she pretends to faint and gets passed down the crowd to the front of the stand. This is filmed at an actual match and shows just what a game girl she was to trust herself to a stand full of strangers.
Script adapt.: Wolfgang Wilhelm. (o.a. Basil Thomas)
Director: Maurice Elvey
Players: John Laurie, Geoffrey Toone, Jack Lambert, Meredith Edwards, Alexander Gauge, Frank Pettingell, Glenn Melvyn, Roddy Hughes, Sydney Vivian, Charles Leno, Tommy Lawton, Brentford Football Club
Beset by creditors and ill-health, has-been composer George Frederick Handel goes to work on his greatest work: The Messiah.
J. Arthur Rank was a man with a mission: to use film to spread the good news about religion. When distributors and exhibitors proved less than keen on The Turn of the Tide, Rank did what any multi-millionaire would do - buy a cinema chain so it could get seen. This laid the foundation for Britain's greatest film empire. Of course, the demands of the business soon meant that the company concentrated on more secular projects, but from time to time Rank produced something with a bit more religiosity. The Great Mr Handel was the biggest, and last, of these projects.
It was conceived as a war-time morale booster, and as a tie-in to the 200th anniversary of the first Messiah performance. Rank gave the production his favourite director and actor (Norman Walker and Wilfrid Lawson, both from The Turn of the Tide), and splashed out on Technicolor. What he forgot to provide was a decent script.
A series of tableaux gets us through the machinations of Georgian society without once convincing us that real people were involved in the action. Walker can only get poses out of most of his actors rather than performances. Lawson does well enough, but can't disguise the unchanging nature of this Handel: sometimes kindly, sometimes grumpy, always right. Hay Petrie manages to produce some spark of life from the character of Handel's servant, but he's alone.
It's hard to see how this could ever have been seen as a morale booster. Its lead character is a German hero whose main obstacle in life is a fickle Royal family that wouldn't recognise genius if it bit them on their upper-class arses. Of course, the film is quick to point out that Handel took British citizenship but that doesn't nullify the effect of the thick, German accent Lawson uses throughout this very talkie film.
With about half an hour to go, Handel finally gets down to composing his Oratorio. Many films have failed to convey the creative process, but The Great Mr Handel does at least give us a glimpse of the sheer effort it takes: if only because it dwells on it at bum-numbing length. Every so often, Handel's window is replaced by a tableau featuring a scene from the life of Jesus which spurs him on to greater effort. These are only marginally less static than the rest of the film, and are not exactly inspiring for the rest of us.
Audiences shunned The Great Mr Handel. Though the film looked and sounded lovely, it didn't have the action and humour the wartime audience was looking for. Even J. Arthur Rank thought it was dull and needed more "Rita Hayworth". His proselytising days were over and he never again attempted a religious feature film. Walker was shunted off to the new "Sunday Thoughts" series of short sermons which was meant to instruct and edify audiences, but was actually used to stifle criticism about keeping the cinemas open on Sundays. Audiences hated them too.
Script: Gerald Elliott, Victor MacClure
Director: Norman Walker
Players: Elizabeth Allen, Malcolm Keen, Michael Shepley, Morris Harvey, Max Kirby, A.E. Matthews, Frederick Cooper, Robert Atkins, H.F. Maltby, Andrew Leigh, Michael Hunt, Alan Wren, Ivan Samson, Charles Groves, Alfred Sangster, D.J. Williams, Amy Dalby, Trefor Jones, Alfred Harris, Dorothy Vernon, Charles Doe, Frank Atkinson, Len Sharr, Judith Nelmes, Victor MacClure, Jean Stanley
In 1910, Captain Scott lead an expedition in a race to be the first to the South Pole. It failed.
The British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition was a major undertaking and left New Zealand with all the latest equipment on board. Part of that equipment was a motion picture camera and it was operated by Herbert Ponting. Ponting documented the expedition voyaging to the Antarctic, it settling into the base camp to see out the winter and the start of the final journey to the Pole. When he returned to Britain, Ponting used his footage as the basis of a series of lectures and in 1924 compiled it into the feature-length The Great White Silence.
The film starts with the expedition leaving New Zealand and we quickly get the sense that this really is a journey to the unknown. Mountainous seas give way to looming icebergs as the ship get closer to its goal. Camp is established and Ponting shows us the ultra-modern equipment that will aid the explorers on their long trek. Of course, to today's eyes they look ridiculously underprepared but there's a charming optimism about the scenes despite us knowing what happens.
Ponting skips over the long winter they spend waiting for the start of the long trek, presumably because he was unable to use artificial light with his film stock. He also doesn't get to go on the big push to the Pole. Instead the final journey is recreated with model work, animation, extracts from Scott's diary and most poignantly a shot of Scott, Wilson, Bowers and Evans acting the way they would live in the tiny tent they took with them.
Of course, it would be difficult for Ponting's footage not to achieve iconic status given the fame of Scott's expedition, but even so he clearly has an eye for a great shot. The image of the expedition's ship as seen through an ice cave is still stunning today. Other aspects of the film are less impressive particularly the obsession with the local penguins - a strange and wonderful novelty in 1910, but over-familiar today.
The film has recently been restored by the BFI and looks near-mint.
Director: Herbert Ponting
Christianna Brand's wartime whodunit is brought to the screen by Launder and Gilliat, giving Alastair Sim one of his best roles as the too-cocky-by-half Inspector Cockerill.
It opens with hands at a typewriter as Cockerill types out what will be his resignation letter. He introduces the village postman/air raid warden Joseph Higgins: "I begin with him because he was the first to die". On closer inspection he turns out to be played by an almost unrecognisable Moore Marriott. It's a pity he gets bumped off because Marriott plays it wonderfully straight - a mean, grumpy git who sets himself up to be a victim.
We then meet the hospital staff around an operating table. "By August 22nd two of these people would be dead, and one of them a murderer". Tensions abound in this hospital and they come to a head when Higgins is brought in - a victim of a doodle bug. He dies on the operating table.
No one thinks it's anything other than an accident until Sister Bates (Judy Campbell) gets drunk and jealous at the staff party and announces to the crowd that it was murder and she has the evidence. At this point the film takes off. She dashes out to get the evidence and is murdered in a wonderfully atmospheric sequence.
Finally, half an hour into the film, Inspector Cockerill makes his appearance. He strolls down a country road looking more like a stereotypical Art Critic than a policeman. His urbanity is disturbed by another doodle bug and he falls over various things trying to find shelter from the blast. He recovers his equanimity by the time he reaches the hospital and announces himself: "Scotland Yard, I'm afraid. Sickening, isn't it".
He spends the rest of the film annoying everyone. "My presence lay over the hospital like a pall - I found it all tremendously enjoyable". After another murder attempt leaves a nurse dangerously ill he re-stages the operation in order to unmask the murderer. Things don't go according to plan - hence the resignation letter.
Apart from a few shots of the postman on his bicycle the film is all studio based, even the outdoor scenes. Careful production design makes this less obvious than it might have been and the atmosphere of the hospital is brilliantly realised. Little touches like sheets on a line or a workman's cart partially obstructing the corridor make the hospital a living place. Even in daylight it looks creepy.
The film's set up is a little slow. It's not until the staff dance that it gets going but once it does, it's brilliant. The cast is solid without being particularly exciting - a bland background to set off Sim's turn to perfection.
By the time the film was in production, the war was over and so they could make fun of doodle bugs and Lord Haw Haw. This makes it a curious mixture of contemporary drama and period piece and maybe that's what gives it such a unique flavour. It's one of the all-time classic whodunits and it should be better celebrated.
Script adapt.: Sydney Gilliat, Claude Guerney. (o.a. Christianna Brand)
Director: Sydney Gilliat
Players: Trevor Howard, Rosamund John, Sally Gray, Leo Genn, Megs Jenkins, Henry Edwards, Ronald Adam, George Woodbridge, Wendy Thompson, Elizabeth Sydney, John Rea, Frank Ling, Hattie Jacques
A riff on the Whisky Galore theme, this Kent-set comedy was made by the film technicians union but was refused distribution for many months. The cast is interesting enough (Roger Livesey, Honor Blackman, Richard Burton) but it just hasn't got enough of a personality to be anything other than an Ealing imitation.
Script adapt.: (o.a.) Howard Clewes, Derek Twist
Director: Derek Twist
Players: Frederick Leister, John Salew, Geoffrey Keen, Eliot Makeham, Vida Hope, Bryan Forbes, Arnold Ridley
Alastair Sim is the hitman trying to bump off politician Raymond Huntley staying at the pub of the title. George Cole is the hapless salesman who keeps getting in the way. The script is by Launder and Gilliat, though the direction is by Robert Day. Basically, it's a comedy acting masterclass by Sim. Unfortunately, he's not on screen often enough and the action is largely carried by George Cole in a role Brian Rix would have been better suited for.
Script adapt.: Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat (from their play)
Director: Robert Day
Players: Jill Adams, Terry-Thomas, Avril Angers, Dora Bryan, John Chandos, Colin Gordon, Cyril Chamberlain, Doris Yorke, Vivienne Wood, Arthur Brough, Marie Burke, Peter Bull, Willoughby Goddard, Arthur Lowe, Michael Ripper, Terence Alexander, Lucy Griffiths
Novelist investigates a sensational old murder case and discovers more than he bargained for.
The 50s rage for horror brings Boris Karloff back to Britain for a bit of scenery-chewing.
Script: Jan Read, John C. Cooper
Director: Robert Day
Players: Elizabeth Allan, Jean Kent, Vera Day, Anthony Dawson, Tim Turner, Dianne Aubrey, Leslie Perrins, Dorothy Gordon
Oik gets sent to public school as part of a social experiment. The oik is a 26-year old Richard Attenborough but he's not too unconvincing as a 14-year old. What is unconvincing is the film makers' commitment to social change. They might be saying we can all get on together but you know they all went to decent schools themselves and they aren't going to suggest abolishing the system. Or am I being cynical?
Script adapt.: (o.a.) Warren Chetham Strode, Bernard Miles, Roy Boulting
Director: Roy Boulting
Players: Sheila Sim, Robert Flemyng, Bernard Miles, Cecil Trouncer, Edith Sharpe, Joan Hickson, Peter Reynolds, Timothy Bateson, Clive Baxter, Maureen Glynne, Brenda Hogan, Herbert Lomas, Anthony Newley, Anthony Nicholls, Wally Patch, Hay Petrie, Kynaston Reeves, Olive Stone
Wild gypsy lass Melina Mercouri marries Regency rake Keith Michell for his money, but discovers his sister has the dosh.
A Gainsborough-type melodrama ten years too late with director Joseph Losey way out of his depth.
Script adapt.: Janet Green. (o.a. Nina Warner)
Director: Joseph Losey
Players: June Laverick, Flora Robson, Patrick McGoohan, Mervyn Johns, Clare Austin, Helen Haye, Lyndon Brook, Newton Blick, John Salew, Gladys Boot, Edna Morris, Catherine Feller, Laurence Naismith, David Hart, Louis Aquilina, Nigel Green, Lawrence Taylor