Archive S

S O S Pacific (1959)

An assorted bunch of fifties stalwarts (Attenborough, Gregson, Bartok etc.) crash land on a Pacific island. Their relief is short-lived when they realise they are in the middle of an H-bomb testing site. Silly, but it keeps going.

Still from S O S Pacific

Script: Robert Westerby

Director: Guy Green

Players: Richard Attenborough, John Gregson, Pier Angeli, Eva Bartok, Eddie Constantine, Clifford Evans, Jean Anderson, Cec Linder, Gunnar Moller, Harold Kasket

Sabotage (1936)

Great version of Conrad's The Secret Agent, with Oscar Homolka as the shabby terrorist using a cinema and wife Sylvia Sydney as his cover.

Script adapt.: Charles Bennett, Alma Reville, Ian Hay, Helen Simpson. (o.a. Joseph Conrad)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Players: John Loder, Desmond Tester, Joyce Barbour, Matthew Boulton, S.J. Warmington, William Dewhurst, Austin Trevor, Torin Thatcher, Aubrey Mather, Peter Bull, Charles Hawtrey, Sara Allgood, Martita Hunt, Frederick Piper

Safari (1956)

High adventure during the Kenya Mau Mau period featuring Hollywood stars Victor Mature and Janet Leigh.

Scarcely a cliché unused.

Script: Anthony Veiller. (o.a. Robert Buckner)

Director: Terence Young

Players: Victor Mature, Janet Leigh, Roland Culver, John Justin, Earl Cameron, Orlando Martins, Estelle Brody, Liam Redmond, Juma, Lionel Ngakane, Cy Grant, Brian May, John Cook, Bob Isaacs

"Said O'Reilly to McNab" (1937 )

When the States proves too hot for his schemes, Irish-American conman O'Reilly skips out to Britain to meet the girl his son wants to marry. He finds her father, McNab, is an easy target for his scams. But McNab has a few scams of his own up his sleeve.

It's easy to write a long review about a bad film, but it's much harder to do one for a good film (as, for example, the reviews of The Astonished Heart and Brief Encounter will testify). The real difficulty comes when reviewing a totally indifferent and unmemorable film. This is such a film.

There's nothing you can put your finger on and say "that's why it doesn't work". There's nothing inept, nothing embarrassing, no obvious mistake. This is your standard "rogues double-cross each other" comedy. And never for a second does it spark into life.

Star Will Fyffe as McNab seems subdued, and doesn't have the energy to give the film the drive it needs. For modern audiences his performance has dangerous echoes of Peter Sellers's nasty Scottish entertainer in The Naked Truth - right down to the moustache.

The rest of the cast are virtual unknowns; for most of them, this is their only film and it's easy to see why. Fyffe's co-star Will Mahoney is adequate, but it's only when he does a comedy tap-dance that he shows any talent.

The only laugh occurs when McNab's wife pulls one of those vibrating-belt slimming machines from the wall. Okay, fat woman falls on face - it's not witty, it's not clever, but it made me laugh. The best line comes from O'Reilly's secretary to an annoying child: "Hush Jock, or Sophie will kick your teeth out". Again, not witty, not clever; but that is one annoying child and no audience is going to protest.

If we're going to apportion blame then director William Beaudine has to take a fair share. His direction often looked like he had just pointed the camera at the set and let the performers get on with it. A sound strategy, maybe, when the performers are pros at the top of their game; but a big mistake here when so many of the performers had never been in a film studio before. 

Script: Leslie Arliss, Marriott Edgar

Director: William Beaudine

Players: Ellis Drake, Jock McKay, Jean Winstanley, James Carney, Marianne Davis, Robert Gall

Sailor Beware! (1956)

Ronald Lewis jilts Shirley Eaton because he's terrified at the prospect of Peggy Mount as a mother-in-law in this well-made farce. The stage role made Mount a star and the film version consolidated her position as a classic Battleaxe. Naturally she dominates the film, but Esma Cannon as her scatty sister-in-law also puts up a good showing and Shirley Eaton makes it all too believable that she'll turn into her mother in twenty years.  

Script adapt.: o.a. Philip King and Falkland L. Cary

Director: Gordon Parry

Players: Cyril Smith, Gordon Jackson, Thora Hird, Geoffrey Keen, Jack MacGowran, Joy Webster, Peter Collingwood, Henry McGee, Eliot Makeham, Charles Houston, Anne Blake, Fred Griffith, Douglas Blackwell, Edie Martin, Alfie Bass, Barbara Hicks

Sailors Three (1940)

Three drunken sailors (Tommy Trinder, Michael Wilding and Claude Hulbert) accidentally board a German battleship. Oops! Cheerful romp that was popular with wartime audiences.

Script: Angus Macphail, John Dighton, Austin Melford

Director: Walter Forde

Players: Carla Lehmann, Jeanne de Casalis, James Hayter, Henry Hewitt, John Laurie, Harold Warrender, Alec Clunes, Olaf Olsen

The Saint in London (1939)

The Saint indulges in a bit of burglary in order to bring a counterfeiting gang to justice.

A cut above the usual B-picture stuff.

Script adapt.: Lynn Root, Frank Fenton. (o.a. Leslie Charteris)

Director: John Paddy Carstairs

Players: George Sanders, Sally Gray, Gordon McLeod, Henry Oscar, John Abbott, Ballard Berkley, David Burns, Ralph Truman, Carl Jaffe, Norah Howard, Charles Carson, Athene Seyler, Ben Williams, Hugh McDermott

The Saint Meets the Tiger (1943)

Simon Templar stumbles across a murder and uncovers a smuggling racket.

Routine entry in the series.

Script adapt.: Leslie Arliss, Wolfgang Wilhelm, James Seymour. (o.a. Leslie Charteris)

Director: Paul L Stone

Players: Hugh Sinclair, Jean Gillie, Clifford Evans, Wylie Watson, Gordon McLeod, Dennis Arundell, Charles Victor, Louise Hampton, Eric Clavering, Ben Williams

The Saint's Vacation (1941)

Simon Templar uncovers a spy ring in Switzerland.

After half a dozen Hollywood B-pictures, RKO moved production of the series to England to use up some of their frozen profits. That, and the change of star from George Sanders to Hugh Sinclair, is about the only notable thing about the production.

Script adapt.: Jeffrey Dell. (o.a. Leslie Charteris)

Director: Leslie Fenton

Players: Hugh Sinclair, Sally Gray, Arthur Macrae, Cecil Parker, Lueen McGrath, Gordon McLeod, John Warwick, Ivor Barnard, Manning Whiley, Felix Aylmer

Sally in Our Alley (1931)

A soldier goes off to the Great War leaving his sweetheart behind. When he is wounded and disabled, he decides she's better off believing him dead. Several years later, she's working in an East End coffee shop and still grieving for him. He's now cured and goes looking for her. A misunderstanding keeps them apart, but it's soon cleared up in time for a happy ending.

A hay wagon wends its way through the English countryside. Riding on it is a young lady with her beau. She's all blissed out from being in love. This bucolic idyll is the extremely untypical film debut of one of the country's greatest entertainers, Gracie Fields.

Never mind, she's soon in the city, moping over an impossible love, back-chatting all-comers and trilling away at the drop of a hat - a strong, resourceful working-class woman. British cinema had rarely seen anything like it before (and rarely would again). Of course, the metropolitan-based critics at the time were sniffy, but audiences lapped it up. Looking back at the film over all these years we can see that both sides had a point.

The critics saw a rather rough film with several disconcerting lurches in tone and a couple of very iffy performances. Chief among the bad performances is that of Florence Desmond as the sort of borderline-psychotic teenager who could have come straight out of Eastenders. It's an impossible role to play. The script gives her character a background of parental abuse to explain her actions but rarely bothers to give motivation for her individual acts of maliciousness.

The audience saw "Our Gracie" and that was enough for them.

Fields hated filming. The hours were similar to the sort of mill job she striven all her life to get away from, and the endless retakes robbed her of her spontaneity. She soon put her foot down and insisted that if the filmmakers didn't get what they wanted on the first or second take - tough! It was this spontaneity that connected with her audience and set her apart from her competitors.

The other factor in the film's success was the title song. There are several tales of the song's genesis. The most likely is that it was adapted from Mistinguett's French song Mary Marie. It was found for Fields as filming progressed and, since it seemed easy to adapt, it was used for the climax. It became her theme tune and she sang it at every concert for the rest of her life.

Sally in Our Alley isn't Fields' best film by a long chalk, but it does show how she arrived in the film business a fully-formed personality. In later vehicles, the studios would try to glam her up but here she's in the raw.

Still from Sally in Our Alley

Script adapt.Miles Malleson, Alma Reville, Archie Pitt (o.a. Charles McEvoy) 

DirectorMaurice Elvey

Players: Ian Hunter, Ivor Barnard, Fred Groves, Gibb McLaughlin, Ben Field, Barbara Gott, Renee Macready, Helen Ferrers, Florence Harwood.

Saloon Bar (1940)

With the barmaid's boyfriend due to hang for a murder he didn't commit, the regulars at the Cap and Bells gather to try to work out whodunit.  

Lovely cast of mid-range stars (Gordon Harker, Elizabeth Allen, Mervyn Johns etc.) excel in Walter Forde's comedy thriller.

Script adapt.: Angus Macphail, John Dighton. (o.a. Frank Harvey Jr.)

Director: Walter Forde

Players: Alec Clunes, Cyril Raymond, Joyce Barber, Judy Campbell, Anna Konstam, Al Miller, Norman Pierce, Mavis Villiers, Felix Aylmer, O.B. Clarence, Manning Whiley, Torin Thatcher, Aubrey Dexter, Lawrence Kitchin, Helena Pickard, Gordon James, Annie Esmond, Roddy Hughes, Judy Kelly, Eliot Makeham, Julie Suedo, Roddy McDowall, Robert Rendel

San Demetrio - London (1943)  

The titular oil tanker is attacked by the Germans and the crew abandon her. After drifting for some days they sight her still afloat, but burning, and decide to recover her and her cargo. On its release it was one of the greatest of war films, but its lustre has faded a little now that the story is no longer topical. The lack of big star names helps keep it real.  

Script adapt.: Charles Frend, Robert Hamer. (o.a. F. Tennyson Jesse)

Director: Charles Frend

Players: Walter Fitzgerald, Mervyn Johns, Ralph Michael, Robert Beatty, Charles Victor, Frederick Piper, Gordon Jackson

Sapphire (1959)

Police investigate the murder of a young woman. When they find she was "passing for white" the investigation takes on a whole new dimension.

Though it's not as brave as it thinks, this marks an important step forward in the depiction of British race relations. It also provides a template for the many police procedurals which proliferate on TV.

Still from SapphireStill from SapphireStill from Sapphire

Script: Janet Green, Lukas Heller

Director: Basil Dearden

Players: Nigel Patrick, Michael Craig, Yvonne Mitchell, Paul Massie, Bernard Miles, Olga Lindo, Earl Cameron, Gordon Heath, Robert Adams, Jocelyn Britton, Orlando Martins, Rupert Davies, Yvonne Buckingham, Freda Bamford, Harry Baird, Ronald Adam, Vanda Hudson, Peter Vaughan, Basil Dignam

Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948)

Joan Greenwood is the wife of the Elector of Hanover, but she has the hots for Stewart Granger. Ealing studios were looking for the success the Gainsborough melodramas had, but the need to stick to the facts gets in the way. It just doesn't have the right streak of madness, but it does have lovely production design and an evil Flora Robson.

Set photo of Saraband for Dead LoversStill from Saraband for Dead Lovers

Script adapt.: John Dighton, Alexander Mackendrick. (o.a. Helen Simpson)

Director: Basil Dearden, Michael Relph

Players: Francoise Rosay, Frederick Valk, Peter Bull, Anthony Quayle, Megs Jenkins, Michael Gough, Jill Balcon, Cecil Trouncer, Miles Malleson, Allan Jeayes, Guy Rolfe, Noel Howlett, Anthony Steel, Christopher Lee, John Gregson, Sandra Dorne, Barbara Murray

Saturday Island (1951)

A nurse and a young marine are stranded on a desert island during World War Two. Their romantic idyll is interrupted by the arrival of a wounded RAF pilot.

Romantic tosh fatally compromised by casting Linda Darnell as a starchy middle-aged career woman when she never looks less than gorgeous. Still, the scenery looks lovely in Technicolor and that includes Darnell and Hunter. 

Script: Stephanie Nordli, Stuart Heisler

Director: Stuart Heisler

Players: Linda Darnell, Tab Hunter, Donald Gray, John Laurie, Russell Waters, Sheila Chong, MacDonald Parke, Diana Decker, Peter Butterworth, Michael Newell, Lloyd Lamble, Harold Ayer, Hilda Fenemore, Joan Benham, Brenda Hogan, Katherine Blake

Save a Little Sunshine (1938)

A nincompoop accidentally buys a missing fossil at auction, then uses the reward money to buy a share of the guesthouse he lives in. He turns the business into a posh hotel and nightclub but his partner plots to take it all away from him.

The huge success of George Formby prompted producers to search for other regional comedians who could be moulded into stardom. One of those given a shot was Scots comedian Dave Willis. Save a Little Sunshine was the first attempt to put his personality on film. It didn't click.

His co-star also made her debut in the film. Pat Kirkwood was already on her way to becoming a bright West End star. Gorgeous and talented, she should have been an absolute cert for film stardom. Somehow she never quite made it, possibly due to the lack of British musical films during the peak of her career in the 40s.

There's no mystery why Dave Willis didn't make it - he's creepy. With his silly Bowler, too-tight suit and Hitler moustache he comes across like Charlie Chaplin's Tramp playing Hannibal Lector. He does a lot of busy actions during the course of the film but not a single humorous thing. He has less than zero chemistry with Kirkwood. Early in the film there is an unsettling suggestion that they may be sweethearts. Mercifully this is abandoned at the end and we're spared a closing kiss.

The rest of the cast play the usual collection of oddballs to be found in any guesthouse: elderly opera singer, precocious child, young lovers etc. The pick of these are a couple of struggling music hall performers played by Tommy Trinder and Max Wall. These familiar faces provide a smile or two. Certainly the chief interest of the film is to see Max Wall before he developed his legendary grotesque act (and while he still had a full head of hair).

The action is punctuated by some of Noel Gay's duller songs. The film climaxes with a production number for Kirkwood in which she gets to show off her lovely figure in a sparkly dress. The production spent a lot of money hiring a large chorus line to back her up - but seems to have forgotten to timetable sufficient rehearsal time. Their lack of coordination would make Busby Berkley weep.

The script also seems to have been knocked up too quickly. It lurches from scene to scene with little logic and no charm. Many British comedy scripts are ramshackle affairs, only existing to fill the space between one comic set-piece and another. The problem here is that there are no comic set-pieces and whatever Dave Willis's strengths were, the script certainly doesn't play to them.

It's hard to see how Dave Willis could have made it in film, but Save a Little Sunshine killed any chance he may have had.

Script adapt.: Victor Kendall, Vernon J Clancey, Gilbert Gunn. (o.a. W Armitage Owen)

Director: Norman Lee

Players: Ruth Dunning, Peggy Novak, Roger Maxwell, Annie Esmond, Marian Dawson, Aubrey Mallalieu, Annabel Maule, Rosemary Scott, Charles Lefeaux, Naunton Wayne

Say It With Flowers (1934)

When a popular flower seller falls ill, her friends and customers organise a concert to raise money for a seaside convalescence.

Well, so much for the plot. That really is about it. Despite this, Say It With Flowers manages to pack in a whole load of entertainment.

The film opens with a picture of some rural idyll while a tenor sings Thank God for a Garden on the soundtrack. A fascinating little montage shows us the journey blooms make from the country to the London markets. Then we're into the studio for the rest of the picture.

At the wholesale market, Kate is negotiating a price for her purchases. It's clear that Kate is queen of the markets - an energetic bundle of Cockney wit and charm. Luckily, she's played by Mary Clare, so the Cockney wit and charm don't get too annoying. Back at the retail market, Kate arranges her stall and settles down to a day's trading.

And what a busy market it is! All life is here – snotty housewives, sneaky traders, good honest salt of the earth diamond geezers, lords, ladies, Stagedoor Johnnies. There are even gay characters; among Kate's customers are a mannish lesbian and an effeminate cissy. "Boys will be girls and girls will be boys," says Kate with a baffled smile.

The camera roams from stall to stall picking up little vignettes and saucy one-liners. This section of the film feels in spirit like a Robert Altman film as we get little bits of the characters' lives. Unlike in an Altman film, characters rarely have more than a couple of lines and there's certainly little sense that they have back stories worth exploring.

After a day of serving the public and sorting out other people's problems, our Kate falls ill. The doctor recommends a seaside holiday for Kate and her husband, but of course that's beyond their means. Luckily their friends rally round, and the concert is organised.

With Kate such a popular character, it's only natural that the cream of London's music halls turn up to do their stuff. The concert features an incredible line-up of original artists singing the songs they made famous. Even the I-pod generation will be able to sing along. An elderly Charles Coburn pops up to give us "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo", Tom Costello does "Sons of the Sea" and Marie Kendall does "Just Like the Ivy". The big star turn is Florrie Forde who leads us in a Cockney melody which includes "Hold Your Hand Out You Naughty Boy" and "The Old Bull and Bush". Once the concert ends, Kate is put in a carriage and heads for Brighton.

Say It With Flowers is probably the purest expression of director John Baxter's obsessions: real life and music hall turns. It's a time capsule of popular culture and with a running time of less than an hour and a quarter, never outstays its welcome.

Script: Wallace Orton, H Fowler Mear

Director: John Baxter

Players: George Carney, Mark Daly, Edgar Driver, Freddie Watts, Edwin Ellis, Percy Honri, Fearney and Browning, Wilson Coleman