A top secret research station somewhere in England. With security as tight as can be, two people go missing after the launch of an experimental rocket. Has one of the scientists murdered his wife and her lover and shoved the bodies into the rocket? Can he prove his innocence? And will the audience stay awake long enough to find out?
Spaceways was yet another attempt by low-rent studios Hammer to revive the spirit of the quota quickie. They took a relatively hot (and cheap) property ripe for exploitation and pushed out a film as quickly as possible. It was a trick that would later pay off spectacularly with their remake of the Quatermass TV series, so now Spaceways (a remake of a radio show) is just seen as a dry run for that, if it's remembered at all.
Hammer had a co-production deal with US company Robert Lippert Productions, which insisted on each film having an American star. The Yank who drew the short straw this time was Howard Duff, probably best known to British audiences at this time as Mr Ida Lupino. He'd eventually mature into a good character actor, but shows little evidence of that here. He generally settles for looking intense whether he's worrying about the rocket, his marriage or the murder charge hanging over him.
He decides to set off in a second rocket to retrieve the first one, and thus prove his innocence. Remarkably, a project which can scarcely get one rocket off the ground has the facilities to recover a large object from space with a manned space mission. Still, if they can run a top secret rocket site in the middle of the Home Counties, they're capable of anything.
Eva Bartok plays a glamorous mathematician who has the hots for our hero. Occasionally her accent is unintelligible, but she has such gorgeous big, dark eyes she can be forgiven anything. Even the barking plot which has her sneaking aboard the second rocket to "help".
Cecile Chevreau as the unfaithful wife, on the other hand, has remarkably tiny eyes. She gets no forgiveness. Indeed, she gets shot dead at the end. This is remarkably good fortune for Howard and Eva, since they end the film stuck up in space with not even a pack of cards with which to entertain themselves. They don't seem to mind.
Spaceways comes across as a low-budget version of The Net which itself was hardly a classic.
Script: Paul Tabori, Richard Landau. (o.a. Charles Eric Maine)
Director: Terence Fisher
Players: Andrew Osborn, Michael Medwin, Alan Wheatley, Philip Leaver, Anthony Ireland, Hugh Moxley, David Horne, Jean Webster-Brough, Leo Philips, Marianne Stone
An unjustly convicted man curses those responsible for his plight. When the bodies start to pile up, is his curse to blame? Or is the real murderer still at work.
Unmemorable whodunit, but entertaining enough for fans of the genre.
Script adapt.: Kenneth Hyde. (o.a. Edith Pargiter)
Director: Ralph Kemplen
Players: Michael Horden, Tony Wright, Lee Patterson, Susan Beaumont, Basil Dignam, Henry Oscar, Ralph Truman, Brian Oulton, Roddy Hughes, Olga Dickie
Dirk Bogarde has the title role. Michael Horden is his employer, a diplomat, trying to bring up his son Jon Whiteley after his wife has left them. The son's more interested in Dirk however, making Michael very jealous.
Bogarde by this point was King of the Rank Studios and trying to stretch himself with roles which were different from the norm. This is one of his better early efforts at escaping from being just a matinee idol.
Script adapt.: Lesley Storm, John Bryan. (o.a. A.J. Cronin)
Director: Philip Leacock
Players: Cyril Cusack, Maureen Swanson, Lyndon Brook, Bernard Lee, Rosalie Crutchley, Geoffrey Keen
George Formby is the War Reserve policeman who helps defend a shipyard from saboteurs. On the way he gets to sing a few songs, do a few stunts and win the girl (Dorothy Hyson).
It's not one of his best, but it does have some high spots including a motorbike stunt sequence and a great climactic chase.
Script: Roger Macdougall, Basil Dearden, Austin Melford
Director: John Paddy Carstairs
Players: Bernard Lee, John Warwick, John Turnbull, Eliot Makeham
A look at how mill workers, miners and steel workers in three different parts of the country spend their leisure time.
The first of Jennings' documentaries to reach classic status. The commentary (by Laurie Lee) is useless, but mercifully brief, concentrating on telling us where we are and then shutting up. The images, however, are different. From singing in a choir to keeping pigeons - this is normal life put on screen without condescension. Jennings' contemporaries criticised this film for not being educational, but sixty years on it gives a valuable glimpse at those little bits of life cinema ignores.
Director: Humphrey Jennings
In WWI, a French police chief discovers that the jewel thief he's tried for years to catch is more useful helping the war effort than behind bars.
A little gem that should be better known.
Script: Robert Westerby
Director: Robert Hamer
Players: Eric Portman, Guy Rolfe, Nadia Gray, Edward Chapman, Maurice Denham, George Cole, John Carol, Harold Lang, May Hallatt, James Hayter, Jeremy Spenser, Sebastian Cabot, Natasha Sokolova, John Salew, Arthur Lowe, Hal Osmond, Philip Stainton, Patrick Young, Alistair Hunter, Andrea Malandrinos, Hattie Jacques
The story of the foundation of the famous Great War entertainment troop.
The film uses some of the members of the original troop including Reg Stone, one of the most convincing female impersonators of the age, but it's the double act of Nelson Keys and Sydney Howard as two useless soldiers that steals the picture. The scene of them getting pissed and trying to explain to each other why they're toasting Lloyd George is comedy gold.
Script: W.P. Lipscomb
Director: Jack Raymond
Players: Nelson Keys, Sydney Howard, George Baker, Lew Lake, Walter Glynne, Wilfred Temple, Sidney Grantham, Reg Stone, Hal Jones, Alex Scott-Gatty, Clifford Heatherley, Carroll Gibbons
Judy Howard, niece and secretary to an art-collecting millionaire, has her suspicions about the new footman. Can someone that charming really be after the paintings? And can she stop herself falling in love with him?
Austerity Britain was a grey old place and though there were major achievements in social reform happening, there was still rationing to endure and an awful lot of reconstruction to be done. Audiences cried out for escapism and producer Herbert Wilcox gave it to them with Spring in Park Lane. They responded by making it one of the biggest hits of the year.
The main reason for the success of this film lies in the pairing of Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding. They'd already made two films together, so the chemistry between the two was well established. Her maturity (unbelievably, she was in her mid-forties when she made this film) plays off against his (comparatively) boyish charm. From the moment they meet there's never any doubt that they're a perfect match.
They get great support from Peter Graves as the impossibly vain film star engaged to Neagle, Tom Walls as the millionaire, and Lana Morris as a tarty maid with designs on Wilding.
The script by Nicholas Phipps, who also appears, sparkles. It provides plenty of opportunity for Neagle and Wilding to have fun together, and makes sure that when they do it's worth watching.
The script seems firmly on the side of the rich: rationing and reconstruction aren't much of a concern, high taxes are. Yet in the middle of it, squatters invade the home of aristo Phipps. I can't think of another film of the period that deals with this social issue. It's part of the good nature of the film that the squatters are accepted as having greater need than Phipps and are allowed to stay. Is Spring in Park Lane the last great socialist tract of the 40s before 50s capitalist consumerism kicks in? Probably not, but it's a nice thought.
Spring in Park Lane still works as entertainment. On its release the critics were, for once, as thrilled by it as audiences. Now it's passed over while other popular films such as the Gainsborough melodramas are rehabilitated. Shame.
Script adapt.: Nicholas Phipps (o.a. Alice Duer Miller)
Director: Herbert Wilcox
Players: Marjorie Fielding, G.H. Mulcaster, Nigel Patrick, Josephine Fitzgerald, H.R. Hignett, Catherine Paul, Cyril Conway, Tom Walls Jr.
Valerie Hobson goes undercover to expose a plot to sink the British fleet in WW1 and falls for German Conrad Veidt.
Excellent spy thriller which marked the first collaboration of Powell and Pressburger.
Script adapt.: Emeric Pressburger, Roland Pertwee. (o.a. J. Storer Clouston)
Director: Michael Powell
Players: Sebastian Shaw, Marius Goring, June Duprez, Athole Stewart, Agnes Laughlan, Helen Haye, Cyril Raymond, Hay Petrie, Grant Sutherland, Robert Rendel