Three credited directors, another three uncredited and production shifted to Hollywood to avoid the blitz - it should have been a recipe for disaster. Somehow it worked - and worked brilliantly. This is largely due to William Cameron Menzies' imaginative production design, a witty script from Lajos Biro and Miles Malleson and near perfect casting. Was there ever a vizier as wicked as Conrad Veidt or a princess as beautiful as June Duprez? Several generations of children have come out of the cinema pretending to be Sabu. Altogether now: "I want to be a sailor, sailing out to sea . . .".
Script: Lajos Biro, Miles Malleson
Director: Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan
Players: John Justin, Miles Malleson, Morton Selten, Rex Ingram, Mary Morris, Hay Petrie, Adelaide Hall, Bruce Winston, Roy Emerton, Miki Hood
H.G. Wells' tale of life in the future is by turns dull, silly and virtually plotless. It's also fascinating, prophetic and the most remarkable sci-fi film of the thirties. Essential viewing for any film buff.
Script adapt.: (o.a.) H.G. Wells
Director: William Cameron Menzies
Players: Raymond Massey. Ralph Richardson, Edward Chapman, Margaretta Scott, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Derrick de Marney, Ann Todd, John Clements
A bona fide classic for lovers of the zither, and the rest of us can enjoy it too.
Script adapt.: (o.a.) Graham Greene
Director: Carol Reed
Players: Joseph Cotton, Orson Welles, Valli, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, Wilfrid Hyde White, Eric Pohlmann, Nelly Arno
Creaky thriller with Glynis Johns as a gambler's lucky charm getting involved with a gangster. Not her sort of thing at all.
Script adapt.: (o.a.) Gerald Butler
Director: Gordon Parry
Players: Dermot Walsh, Charles Goldner, Harcourt Williams, Yvonne Owen, Ballard Berkley, Sebastian Cabot, Michael Horden
The pinnacle of Alfred Hitchcock's British career, this film has all the classic elements we've come to expect: innocent man falsely accused (Robert Donat), beautiful blonde (Madeleine Carroll), well known locations (the Forth bridge) and bags of suspense and humour. It's been re-made twice since but why did they bother when the original is so perfect?
Script adapt.: Charles Bennett, Alma Reville, Ian Hay. (o.a. John Buchan)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Players: Godfrey Tearle, Lucie Mannheim, Peggy Ashcroft, John Laurie, Helen Haye, Wylie Watson, Frank Cellier, Jerry Verno, Frederick Piper
This might be more fondly remembered if it wasn't for the original which, despite its studio-bound scenes, beats this remake hands down. Kenneth More is the hero who gets himself chained to Taina Elg.
Script adapt.: Frank Harvey. (o.a. John Buchan plus large chunks from the original film)
Director: Ralph Thomas
Players: Brenda de Banzie, Faith Brook, Barry Jones, James Hayter, Duncan Lamont, Michael Goodliffe, Reginald Beckwith, Sidney James, Jameson Clark, Andrew Cruickshank, Betty Henderson, Joan Hickson, Brian Oulton, John Richardson, Sam Kydd, Michael Brennan
Noel Coward's story of a family between the wars. It's sentimental and maybe faintly patronising, and the Technicolor makes the whole thing seem very artificial and theatrical; but once you get past that you have a fascinating saga that's well worth another look.
Script adapt.: (o.a.) Noel Coward, David Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Ronald Neame
Director: David Lean
Players: Robert Newton, Celia Johnson, John Mills, Stanley Holloway, John Blythe, Kay Walsh, Amy Veness, Alison Leggatt, Eileen Erskine, Guy Verney, Merle Tottenham
A reporter and his wife investigate the arrest of an English peer in France. Follow-up to This Man is News.
Script: Allan Mackinnon, Roger Macdougall
Director: David Macdonald
Players: Barry K. Barnes, Valerie Hobson, Alastair Sim, Anthony Shaw, Edward Lexy, Garry Marsh, Jacque Max Michel, Mona Goya, Cyril Chamberlain, Charles Oliver, Paul Sheridan, Billy Watts
A sacked factory worker's life is transformed when she is given a job running a country estate for a year.
With two smash-hit films under her belt, Gracie Fields (or at least her agent/husband) could name her own price. For This Week of Grace the price was £20,000 - an unheard-of sum. RKO, which had distributed her first two pictures, was keen to up its game when it came to UK production and happily met the price. It handed the production over to Julius Hagen's studio at Twickenham which normally specialised in low-cost quota films.
And Hagen did her proud. There's no sign of penny pinching here. There are some handsome sets and plenty of well-dressed extras. Maurice Elvey's direction is lively and the supporting cast do well. But what Hagen failed to provide was a decent script.
The film gets off to a good start. Gracie's family are a mad bunch. Frank Pettingell and Minnie Rayner as her parents are well matched and Dougie Wakefield as her brother is more like a chimp in a suit than a human and clowns effectively. Father and son run an unsuccessful garage in a Laurel and Hardy manner so money is tight and they need Gracie's wage.
Gracie gets sacked for lateness. On her way home she meets an eccentric old dear in a park and chats for a bit then goes on her way. Unbeknownst to Gracie the woman is a duchess who decides Gracie is the perfect candidate to sort out the bunch of scroungers who are running down the duchess's country estate. Okay, we'll accept such silliness to get the plot moving.
When the mysterious job offer arrives the whole family decamp to the country and for the next half hour what we get is the cast of Shameless arriving at Downton Abbey. And it's fun. Then librarian John Stuart takes Gracie in hand and decides to knock off the rough edges. Thanks to the power of montage his technique appears to be to make her read Grey's Elegy until she stops taking the piss. Now we have a posher, more elegant Gracie which rather sucks the life out of the film.
Everybody loves the new version especially Henry Kendall as the duchess's heir. Gracie has done wonders with the estate, though apart from her promising to put a new roof on a cottage we've not seen her do a damn thing. Kendall dumps his posh girlfriend and proposes. Gracie accepts, but then gets the impression that he's only doing it for the money. For some bizarre reason she goes ahead with the wedding and publicly dumps him at the reception.
The family goes back to the big city where Gracie gets a job in a show. She manages to wreck the performance hilariously, though you do wonder why no one bothered to rehearse with her so she'd have some clue what to do on stage. There follows a quick bit of fix-it from John Stuart to bring the lovers together in time for a happy ending.
Perhaps the most notable feature of This Week of Grace is the only feature film appearance by Vivian Foster: The Vicar of Mirth. Naturally he plays a vicar in this. He's mad, slightly creepy but very funny - one of the great British eccentrics. He comes across like Ronnie Corbett joined The League of Gentlemen.
On the whole the film is a creditable effort but needed a little more work to be satisfying. Even the title is meaningless since there's no identifiable week in it. Why not This Year of Grace? Was the prospect of a whole year of Ms Fields just too much for even her loyal audience?
Script: H Fowler Mear
Director: Maurice Elvey
Players: Helen Haye, Marjorie Banks, Lawrence Hanray, Nina Boucicault, Patricia Russell, The Sherman Fisher Girls
A family in wartime Britain copes with bombs, shortages and the cadging couple next door.
Those People Next Door was on the missing list not so long ago, but not only has it been found, it's now available on DVD to be enjoyed in all its glory. Was it worth recovering?
The short answer is probably no if you're looking for an entertaining cinematic film. Even when it was first released it was considered a bit of a dud. With the passage of time, there's some historical, sociological interest here but there's little for the casual viewer to care about.
The trouble with the film is that it was adapted from a moderately successful play, and its theatrical origins show. The dialogue is packed with the sort of well-bred jokes that raise a chuckle in a theatre but which don't do much for a cinema audience. The Mancunian Film Corporation rarely had any money to splash around and opening the piece out wasn't on the cards, bar a bit of stock footage of the war and a shot of a car pulling up at a posh house. So there's little to see here other than some dreary-looking sets and some moderately well-known actors trying to make bricks with straw.
The star of the production is Jack Warner doing his familiar Huggett-dad stuff. He's ably supported by Marjorie Rhodes as his wife in a rare starring role. Those people next door are Charles Victor and Gladys Henson. They pop in for some comic relief now and then. In a film made during the war, Victor's character would have been at the heart of the film. His socialist ideals and working-class cred would have been used to promise the war-weary audience a brighter future. Come 1952, with the war over and a Tory government in power, the character is seen as a scrounging parasite selfishly taking what little his friends and neighbours had.
The younger actors are less comfortable in their roles and generally give performances more suitable for weekly rep than the cinema. Patricia Cutts is particularly guilty of this which is a pity since she's lumbered with what little plot there is. Her character is rejected by her fiancé's family because she's too common. A bit hard to swallow this since she could probably give Celia Johnson lessons in refinement and elocution. Thus there's no surprise when the family relents.
The only bright spot in the production is when Jimmy James turns up for a short scene as a drunk in a bar. It's a rare chance to see the Northern comic in action, and he brings along Eli Wood for good measure.
Script adapt.: (o.a.) Zelda Davees
Director: John Harlow
Players: Garry Marsh, Anthony Newley, Peter Forbes-Robertson, Norah Gaussen, Jimmy James, Grace Arnold, Geoffrey Sumner
Returning from the Great War, three soldiers discover they've been officially listed as dead - and some relatives would rather they stayed that way.
Long missing, a print of this turned up in a Russian archive. Unfortunately, what's left is a truncated adaptation of the original material twisted to show the iniquities of the Capitalist system. This is fascinating in itself, but it would be nice to have the original with which to compare it.
Script: Ouida Bergere, Margaret Turnbull
Director: George Fitzmaurice
Players: Anna Q Nilsson, Norman Kerry, Edmund Golding, Cyril Chadwick, John Miltern
A trapeze act is torn apart by romantic rivalries.
Standard tale of circus folk the like of which has been done better before and since.
Script: Herman Mankiewicz
Director: Herbert Wilcox
Players: Anna Neagle, Leslie Banks, Tullio Carminati, Horace Hodges, Arthur Finn, Olive Blakeney, Anthony Ireland, Miki Hood, Nicolas Koline, Gaston Palmer, Leonard Snelling, Winifred Oughton
Three elderly sisters try to persuade their half-brother of his duty to help the stricken mining village from which the family's fortune derived. When he proves to be unpersuadable, the only option is murder.
Strange tale benefiting from good performances but hampered by being too studio-bound.
Script adapt.: Louise Birt, David Evans, Dylan Thomas. (o.a. Charlotte Armstrong)
Director: Dan Birt
Players: Nova Pilbeam, Nancy Price, Mary Clare, Mary Merrall, Raymond Lovell, Anthony Hulme, Elwyn Brook-Jones, Edward Rigby, Hugh Griffith, Marie Ault, David Davies, Hugh Pryse, Lloyd Pearson, Doreen Richards, Bartlett Mullins, Frank Dunlop
When the partner in a family firm gets bumped off during a takeover bid, his brother comes under suspicion. Luckily posh sleuth Henry Kendall is around to give the police a hand.
Dull whodunit which just goes through the motions.
Script adapt.: Michael Berringer. (o.a. S Fowler Wright)
Director: Leslie Hiscott
Players: Henry Kendall, Ever Gray, Sebastian Shaw, Richard Cooper, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Noel Dryden, Ralph Truman, Gladys Hamer, Gerald Hamer, Henry Woolston
Innocuous family romp through the Swift classic. Its best feature is the work of Ray Harryhausen, but he doesn't pull off a sequence that sticks in the mind like the fighting skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts.
Script adapt.: Jack Sher, Charles H. Schneer. (o.a. Jonathon Swift)
Director: Jack Sher
Players: Kerwin Matthews, June Thorburn, Jo Morrow, Lee Paterson, Gregoire Aslan, Basil Sydney, Sherri Alberoni, Charles Lloyd-Pack, Martin Benson, Mary Ellis, Peter Bull, Marian Spencer, Alec Mango
A brash American businessman pushes his publicity schemes a bit too far and is advised to go to England to learn a bit of dignity. But it's the English who learn the lessons.
It's fun to see Edward G Robinson in a British drama, giving it the sort of kick up the arse his character gives to the stuffy Brits. Sadly the film runs out of steam well before the end, but the ride is enjoyable while it lasts.
Script adapt.: Akos Tolnay, Aben Kandel, Walter Hackett. (o.a. Robert E Sherwood)
Director: Marion Gering
Players: Edward G Robinson, Luli Deste, Constance Collier, Nigel Bruce, Arthur Wontner, Ralph Richardson, Nancy Burne, Annie Esmond, Elizabeth Inglis, Cyril Raymond, James Carew, Everley Gregg, Billy Bray
A lighthouse keeper (Michael Redgrave) hides from the world, but the spirits of people lost in an old shipwreck persuade him to change his mind. This is one of the most bizarre films made during the war though the anti-isolationist propaganda shines through.
Script adapt.: Jeffrey Dell, Bernard Miles, Wolfgang Wilhelm, Anna Reiner. (o.a. Robert Ardrey)
Director: Roy Boulting
Players: Barbara Mullen, James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Finlay Currie, Frederick Valk, Sybilla Binder, Frederick Cooper, Jean Sheard, Barry Morse, George Carney, Miles Malleson, A.E. Matthews, Olive Sloane
Tod Slaughter in a classic Victorian melodrama. He kills two people within the first minute of the film and goes from bad to worse, using a prisoner rehabilitation scheme as a front for his villainy (plenty of crooks to put the blame on). With George King directing and producing we have the B-movie dream team to work their special kind of magic.
Script adapt.: H.F. Maltby, A.R. Rawlinson. (o.a. Tom Taylor)
Director: George King
Players: John Warwick, Marjorie Taylor, Robert Adair, Peter Gawthorne, Frank Cochran, Jenny Lynn, Arthur Payne, Norman Pierce
In a far-eastern colony, a naive young Englishman goes to the roughest part of town to look for examples of human decency and finds romance and danger.
The Englishman is played by Victor Garland but who cares about him, since the star of this show is Hollywood legend Anna May Wong. She's running a dance hall/antiques business but having trouble with a protection racket. She can take care of herself, but has one weakness: René Ray. It seems that back in the days of the Chinese Revolution Wong saved Ray and ever since then the two have been inseparable. So inseparable, in fact, that to modern eyes there seems to be a distinct look of lesbianism in the relationship. However, Ray is soon spooning with Garland, so that is quickly passed over.
The lesbianism is only part of the film's easygoing acceptance of life's less conventional aspects. Tiger Bay is presented as a place where prostitutes ply their trade unashamedly, and where people of different races work and play together quite happily. The only threat to their carefree existence comes from a marauding band of Europeans. It's only at the end that the film gets conventional when, in order to avoid jail for murder, Wong kills herself. Did her character survive in any of her films?
Still, before the unhappy end for our star, Tiger Bay is enjoyable entertainment.
Script: John Quin, J Elder Wills
Director: J. Elder Wills
Players: Henry Victor, Lawrence Grossmith, Brian Buchel, Ben Souten, Margaret Yarde, Wally Patch, Ernest jay, Judy Kelly, Ruth Ambler, Betty Ambler
Killer goes on the run with the only witness to his crime - a 12-year-old girl.
Hayley Mills' debut made her a star, and didn't hurt Horst Buchholz' career either.
Script adapt.: John Hawkesworth, Julian Wintle. (o.a. Noel Calef)
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Players: Yvonne Mitchell, John Mills, Megs Jenkins, Anthony Dawson, George Selway, George Pastell, Meredith Edwards, Paul Stassino, Shari, Marne Maitland, Christopher Rhodes, Rachel Thomas, Brian Hammond, Kenneth Griffith, Eynon Thomas, Edward Cast, David Davies