Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels ("Hollywood's Happiest Couple") were Proper Film Stars who fetched up on these shores as their Hollywood careers declined. Unlike most ex-Hollywood stars they had more to offer than just a glittering past and a faded name: they had verve and wit and the sort of comic timing only twenty years of professionalism can give you. When war broke out they stayed here and started the radio show "Hi, Gang!" - the only major rival to ITMA in popularity.
The film version makes the couple rival New York radio reporters continually double-crossing each other in search of a scoop, which puts a strain on their marriage. Ben is egged on by Vic Oliver (the other star of the radio show) who keeps getting things disastrously wrong. When Bebe decides to give a home to a British evacuee as part of a radio stunt, Vic stops Bebe's child but gets one for Ben. Unfortunately, the "child" is Graham Moffat who has his uncle (Moore Marriott) in tow. Following a fund-raising effort they all end up in England to do a broadcast which Vic manages to louse up again.
At the time, the film was a flop. With hindsight it's easy to see why: the US radio rivalry isn't interesting for British audiences, the evacuee stuff borders on the tasteless, and the final gag where they climb some church bells and accidentally set off an invasion alert couldn't possibly have been funny in 1941. The "fighting for democracy" tone of some of the rhetoric also sits uneasily with the British love of understatement.
Still there are pleasures to be had. It's fun watching Bebe Daniels trying to do Hollywood glamour on a wartime British budget (you could sweep the backyard with her eyelashes!) and Marriott and Moffat do a great version of "Susanna's a funniful man". Best of all is the broadcast near the end of the film which turns into a ten minute version of their radio show. This is the only point in the film where you can see what made them so special for wartime audiences.
With a script by Val Guest, Marriott Edgar, J.O.C. Orton and Howard Irving Young, and direction from Marcel Varnel this should have been a winner. Maybe if this had been a partial success they would have persevered and got the formula right, but it wasn't so they didn't. File it under "Historical Interest Only".
Script: Val Guest, Marriott Edgar, J.O.C. Orton, Howard Irving Young
Director: Marcel Varnel
Players: Felix Aylmer, Sam Browne, The Green Sisters, Jay Wilbur and His Band
Complicated tale of a blackmail which corrupts two generations of a military family. The main interest lies in Thorold Dickinson's direction and an early performance by James Mason.
Script adapt.: Katherine Strueby, Walter Meade, Val Valentine. (o.a. Lewis Robinson)
Director: Thorold Dickinson
Players: Lionel Atwill, Lucie Mannheim, Steven Geray, Allan Jeayes, Wally Patch
In a futuristic 1940, members of a peace organisation try to prevent a war between Europe and America.
Until the Atomic 50s, science fiction was a relatively scarce beast in cinema. High-profile flops like Metropolis and Things to Come put filmmakers off committing to large scale projects and the genre was usually confined to B-pictures designed for the horror crowd. High Treason was a rare big budget attempt at the genre.
The film was based on a play by the right-wing Independent MP Noel Pemberton-Billing. He had two main obsessions: the possibility of air raids and the corrosive power of homosexuality on society. Thankfully, only the first obsession made it into the movie.
Science fiction films stand or fall on their vision of the future and High Treason is a bit of a mixed bag. The cityscapes modelwork is impressive, but unconvincing both in scale and in vision. It's Metropolis-lite with the usual skyscrapers, helicopters and monorails. In 1940, leather and PVC uniforms are the in thing, and those of us with our own transport will be going around in tinny little torpedoes. There's very little imagination on show except for an assumption that the sexes will be equal - and that there'll somehow be a land border between Europe and America.
There's more imagination in the scenario which plugs into the horror of WWI. There's power in the sequences depicting the slide to war and conscription. Most of those involved with the film could draw on memories of the real war and the pain shows. Less convincing is the role of "paid agitators" in sparking off the conflict in the first place. Their bomb outrage on the Channel Tunnel is well staged but most wars have causes that run deeper than a few naughty men with a bomb. But that was another Pemberton-Billing hobby-horse.
As in many sci-fi films, the acting is robust, and this isn't a film to show if you want to convince someone of the subtlety of the acting in late silent era films. Best of the bunch is Benita Hume, mainly because she's so lovely who cares if she can act? Humberston Vibart as the Vicar-General of the peace movement overdoes the saintly angst to the point where you root for the warmongers.
Director Maurice Elvey's finest moment is in the climactic standoff between the women pilots trying to stop the bombing raid that will start the war and gun-totting soldiers. It's a huge crowd scene, and with the women all in white and the men all in black it's visually arresting.
High Treason was released in both a silent and a part-talkie version. It didn't hit big and it's now largely forgotten. Today it still entertains.
Script adapt.: L'Estrange Fawcett. (o.a.) Noel Pemberton-Billing
Director: Maurice Elvey
Players: Jameson Thomas, Basil Gill, Henry Vibart, James Carew, Alf Goddard, Milton Rosmer, Walter Patch, Irene Rooke, Kiyoshi Takase, Hayford Hobbs, Judd Green, Clifford Heatherley, René Ray, Raymond Massey
A butterfly collector is sent behind the Iron Curtain to investigate a biological weapons research centre.
Comedy thriller which was another nail in the coffin of Margaret Lockwood's career.
Script: Eric Ambler
Director: Roy Baker
Players: Dane Clark, Marius Goring, Naunton Wayne, Wilfrid Hyde White, Eugene Deckers, Olaf Pooley, Gladys Henson, Paul Hardtmuth, Michael Horden, George Benson, Eric Pohlmann, Joan Haythorne, Patric Doonan, Anthony Newley, Jill Balcon, Ernest Butcher, Lance Secretan, Toni Frost, Michael Ritterman, John Gabriel, John Horsley, Anton Diffring, Noel Johnson
A small patrol gets cut off and has to survive behind enemy lines. A rare example of a British Korean War film filled with the usual cast of British actors.
Script adapt.: Ian Dalrymple, Anthony Squire, Ronald Spencer. (o.a. Max Catto)
Director: Julian Amyes
Players: George Baker, Ronald Lewis, Harry Andrews, Stanley Baker, Michael Medwin, Stephen Boyd, Victor Maddern, Harry Landis, Robert Shaw, Michael Caine
Version 2 of Stanley Houghton's classic drama of the consequences of a mill girl's dirty weekend with the boss' son. Director Maurice Elvey was a shoddy worker during the sound era, churning out films as if he was more concerned with doing it on time than with doing it properly. But there was a time when he cared - a time when he could make wonderful films like Hindle Wakes.
The first half takes advantage of the mobility of the camera during the silent era, first showing us the working lives of the characters and then showing the fun of the Blackpool holiday. If you want to know what Blackpool was like in the twenties then this is the place to find out. The amusement parks and dance halls are shown in detail. Hundreds of ordinary people go about the business of having fun. There's one extraordinary shot which is held for what seems like minutes and just consists of a sea of dancers at the Tower ballroom.
The second half of the film, which is the play proper, is a social drama and fraught with difficulty for a silent adaptation. However the film transcends the limitations of the medium and manages to bring out the humour as well as the drama in Houghton's play. Like version 3 of the play, the film ends with a hint of a romance for the heroine.
Director: Maurice Elvey
Players: Estelle Brody, Norman McKinnel, Humberstone Wright, Marie Ault, John Stuart, Irene Rooke, Peggy Carlisle, Graham Soutten, Arthur Chesney, Gladys Jennings, Jack Rowal, Alf Goddard, Cyril McLaglen
Stanley Houghton's play was something of a shocker in 1912. It's the story of a young Lancashire mill girl who is caught after having a dirty weekend in Llandudno with the mill owner's son.
Victor Saville directed this third (of four) screen version. This is probably the best. The pacing could be a little faster for modern tastes but the first scenes of the town going off on holiday to Blackpool is the best depiction of British seaside culture in cinema (with the possible exception of Carry On at Your Convenience's day trip sequence).
The performances are a bit uneven. Belle Chrystall as the girl is suitably spunky and Edmund Gwenn as her father gives a typical Edmund Gwenn performance. The two standouts are the mothers: Mary Clare trying to keep her social status and get her son a good marriage, and Sybil Thorndike as the girl's ferocious mother - determined that her daughter isn't ruined and then seeing a great chance for social betterment. She's one of British cinema's great monsters - a harpy in black bombazine. Incidentally, she was in the original production of the play as the son's posh girlfriend.
Because of the play's classic status the censors seem to have left it alone. There's even a suggestion of a romance between the girl and a young mill hand at the end which is quite unnecessary, but at least she doesn't come to a bad end for her sins.
Script adapt.: Victor Saville, Angus Macphail. (o.a. Stanley Houghton)
Director: Victor Saville
Players: John Stuart, Norman McKinnel, Muriel Angelus
It was too much to ask that the fourth version of Stanley Houghton's classic play would be as great as versions two and three. But it really shouldn't have been this bad. Stanley Houghton's 1912 play is about a young woman's growing independence; this film is about a girlie who thinks she loves a rich man but really loves a poor one.
The girlie is an inadequate Lisa Daniely and she has the hots for aging juvenile Brian Worth. Since poor-but-gorgeous Bill Travers is waiting in the wings there's absolutely no surprise about which one she ends up with in the end. The only real surprise is that she puts up with Brian Worth long enough to lose her virginity.
The other actors make no impact. Even Mary Clare, so good in the same role in the 1931 version, has little to do but look motherly (or, to be strictly honest, grandmotherly). The only memorable performance is that of Diana Hope as the posh girlfriend. It's probably the most difficult role in the play and none of the actresses in the other versions rise to the challenge, but they don't fail as spectacularly as Diana Hope. Instead of being a dignified ice maiden she seems certifiable. She's almost indecently pleased that her boyfriend has to marry someone else, but then maybe she's caught sight of Bill Travers in his overalls and realised life has more to offer than Brian Worth.
Few of the cast attempt a Lancashire accent and any attempt at dramatic acting is undermined by the stagy direction and a script that states the obvious. The script isn't afraid of clichés either: when the girl finally gives up her virginity the film cuts to - yes, you've guessed it - waves crashing on the shore!
The Blackpool scenes are largely shot on location. Like the other films the focus is on the Tower Ballroom but there's plenty of action on the beach and the lido. However, in this version Blackpool is a very sedate place with none of the kiss-me-quick energy one would associate with the town.
Like the other versions, the film's setting is contemporary. However 50s Britain was a very different place to the Britain of the 20s and 30s. And 50s films had no room for a sparky heroine with a mind of her own.
Script adapt.: John Baines (o.a. Stanley Houghton)
Director: Arthur Crabtree
Players: Leslie Dwyer, Joan Hickson, Sandra Dorne, Michael Medwin, Ronald Adam, Lloyd Pearson, Tim Turner, Beatrice Varley, Rita Webb, Ian Wilson, Cyril Smith, Alistair Hunter, Lionel Greene
Union leader is made a colonial governor.
Even in the 50s this felt patronising, though it now has some historical interest.
Script: Robert Hamer, W.P. Lipscomb. (o.a. Dorothy and Campbell Christie)
Director: Robert Hamer
Players: Eric Portman, Cecil Parker, Helen Cherry, Susan Stephen, Edward Chapman, Clive Moreton, Geoffrey Keen, Alec Mango, John Salew, Robin Bailey, Eric Pohlmann. Howard Marion Crawford, Paul Demel, Elspeth March, Henry Longhurst, Gerard Heinz, Barbara Leake, Barbara Cavan, Basil Dignam, Laurence Naismith, Victor Maddern
Jerry Verno plays a Cockney plumber who's a peer. Sadly, girlfriend Polly Ward has fallen in with a bunch of Bolsheviks and Verno's attempts to hide his shameful secret from her are complicated by the arrival of a Hollywood star looking to get some publicity out of marrying into the aristocracy.
This musical was one of the films turned up by the Missing Believed Lost search and it was booed by audiences on its original release. It's no masterpiece but it has a fair bit of charm particularly from Verno and Ward, and can now be seen as the first flowering of Michael Powell's interest in combining music and film.
Script adapt.: Ralph Smart. (o.a. Oliver Maddox Hueffer)
Director: Michael Powell
Players: Janet Megrew, Ben Welden, Muriel George, Peter Gawthorne, Michael Hogan, V.C. Clinton Baddeley, Patrick Ludlow, Ian Wilson
A draper chucks over his dull old life and goes in search of something better.
Script adapt.: Anthony Pelissier. (o.a. H.G. Wells)
Director: Anthony Pelissier
Players: John Mills, Betty Ann Davies, Sally Ann Howes, Finley Currie, Megs Jenkins, Edward Chapman, Diana Churchill, Gladys Henson, Miles Malleson, Moore Marriott, Shelagh Fraser, David Horne, Ernest Jay, Edie Martin, Dandy Nichols, Wally Patch, Lawrence Baskcomb, Juliet Mills, Wylie Watson, Doris Hare, Irene Handl, Grace Arnold, Cyril Smith, Dennis Arundell, Victor Platt, Cameron Hall, Michael Ripper, Muriel Russell