Ben Travers adapted Sheridan Le Fanu's Victorian tale of a young orphan forced to live with her sinister uncle. The novel only really gets going in the last fifty pages and this is only partly hidden by this screenplay. Still, Jean Simmons makes a pleasing, if dim, heroine. Derrick de Marney is too young in the title role but Katina Paxinou has a great time as the drunken French governess. Of the rest of the cast only John Laurie as the incompetent butler makes any impact whatsoever.
Script adapt.: Ben Travers. (o.a. Sheridan le Fanu)
Director: Charles Frank
Players: Derek Bond, Esmond Knight, Sophie Stewart, Reginald Tate, Marjorie Rhodes, Guy Rolfe
Conman returns from Australia after 20 years when he realises his wife and kids are now rich and tries to take up when he left off.
Dull melodrama with Edward Rigby incapable of pulling off the star role and everyone else left floundering with underwritten characters.
Script: M.B. Parsons
Director: George King
Players: Edward Rigby, Betty Ann Davies, Bernard Clifton, Renee Gadd, Hilda Bayley, Moira Reed, Brian Buchel, Peter Gawthorne, Jack Vyvyan, Billy Watts
Ingrid Bergman is the posh Irish lass leading a life of misery in colonial Australia with the man with whom she eloped.
This unsuccessful melodrama from Alfred Hitchcock was scuppered by poor casting and the remnants of the 10-minute take technique he tried out in Rope.
Script adapt.: James Bridie, Hume Cronin. (o.a. Helen Simpson)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Players: Joseph Cotton, Michael Wilding, Margaret Leighton, Cecil Parker, Denis O'Dea, Jack Watling, Harcourt Williams, John Ruddock, Ronald Adam, Francis de Wolff, G.H. Mulcaster, Olive Sloane, Maureen Delaney
Cardinal Richelieu is at the height of his powers thanks to his spy network and a policy of assassination. Rumours of a rebellion in the Huguenot South force him to pardon his favourite assassin, condemned to death for duelling, and send him on a secret mission to capture a Protestant duke.
If Under the Red Robe appears in a film history, it's there for one reason only: it's the last film directed by Victor Sjöström. Sjöström was one of the great silent movie directors. He established his career in his native Sweden with films such as Karin Ingmarsdottir and The Phantom Carriage. He then moved to Hollywood making several classics including The Wind and He Who Gets Slapped. With the coming of sound, he lost interest in directing and returned to Sweden and acting. Yet he was tempted to direct one more time.
Joining him in this endeavour were so many non-Brits it's difficult to see how this film could have qualified for the quota. Canadian Raymond Massey as Richelieu has nowhere near enough to do, leading to the suspicion that he was cast in such a minor role solely because his nationality was quota-friendly. German Conrad Veidt takes the lead as the assassin. He has the sepulchral look that suits a character called The Black Death, but is a bit too creepy for the romantic bits. As his object of desire, French Annabella looks truly lovely; but her thick accent is a burden, particularly since she has to deliver the bulk of the duty-honour-and-sacrifice speeches. Even comedy servant Romney Brent turns out to be Mexican, despite his note-perfect English accent. It's not until we get down the cast list to Sophie Stewart that we get the first Brit.
It's no better behind the camera. Cameraman George Perinal (French) shares the photography duties with James Wong Howe (American). I don't know how these two giants shared the work, but it's a fine looking film if not up to the standards of their best stuff.
It's a similar story in production, hardly surprising when this was made by New World, a subsidiary of Twentieth Century-Fox. New World's previous British film Wings of the Morning (also starring Annabella) had been a hit. But that had Technicolor and Henry Fonda. Without those advantages, Under the Red Robe struggled.
The main problem with Under the Red Robe is that it is a swashbuckler without a single sword fight. Veidt's meant to be playing the best swordsman in France, but we never see any of it. Instead we get a meditation of the redemptive power of love. This is Sjöström's territory, but the lack of a proper bit of action makes the film feel off-balance.
With all the talent involved, Under the Red Robe should have been better; but it's no disgrace to anyone. Just don't go into it expecting a sword fight.
Script adapt.: Lajos Biro, Philip Lindsay, J.L. Hodgson, Arthur Wimperis. (o.a. Stanley Weyman)
Director: Victor Sjöström
Players: F. Wyndham Goldie, Lawrence Grant, Baliol Holloway, Haddon Mason, J. Fisher White, Ben Soutten, Anthony Eustrel, Shayle Gardner, Edie Martin, Frank Damer, James Regan, Eric Hales, Ralph Truman
When the male half of a showbiz couple is secretly enlisted to get a stolen item back from a glamorous spy, his suspicious wife follows him in disguise.
Under Your Hat was a massive hit on stage for Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge. After its two-year run it was adapted for the screen and fetched up in cinemas from September 1940. But 1940 was a very different time to 1938 so Under Your Hat seems a strange throwback to an earlier, safer era. The glamorous spy is Russian, travel to the Continent is unproblematic and there's not a jackboot in sight. Maybe the producers thought a bit of reality would stem the laughter, but Formby and Hay soon proved there were laughs to be got fighting Hitler.
Hulbert and Courtneidge are at the top of their game. It's clear from their precision in the comic dances that they've done these moves hundreds of time, and if that wasn't enough of a giveaway their timing with the comic dialogue demonstrates their experience of how to milk a laugh. For once in their film career they're playing a married couple and their affection for each other shows. Director Maurice Elvey doesn't do much more than point a camera at them but that's all that's needed.
Under Your Hat may have marked the end of Hulbert and Courtneidge's careers as major film stars, but it's solid entertainment with decent production values. What it lacks is a big laugh at the end. Hulbert's about to crash land a plane with no experience and the next we know they're into the closing number back at the film studio. It feels like a cheat, as though something was lost in the translation of the script form stage to screen.
Script adapt.: Rodney Ackland, Anthony Kimmins, L. Green. (o.a. Jack Hulbert, Archie Menzies, Geoffrey Kerr, Arthur Macrae)
Director: Maurice Elvey
Players: Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge, Leonora Corbett, Austin Trevor, Cecil Parker, Charles Oliver, H.F. Maltby, Glynis Johns, Myrette Morven, Tony Hayes, Mary Barton, Paul Sheridan, roddy Hughes, The Rhythm Brothers, Don Marino Baretto's Band
Kay Callard has the title role in this low-budget stinker. She's trying to expose drug smugglers if you're interested. Worth seeing only for one of the most laughably bad fights ever staged on screen.
Script: Bernard Lewis, Bill Luckwell
Director: Francis Searle
Players: Paul Carpenter, Bruce Seton, Monica Grey, Tony Quinn, Jackie Collins, Kim Parker, Maya Koumani
When two men fall for the same girl on the same day on London's Underground, it leads to murder.
The 1920s were a bad period in British cinema, but as the decade drew to a close there was a late flowering. A generation of filmmakers had grown up with the movies and took their influences from Hollywood and European cinema instead of the theatre. The new Cinematograph Films Act seemed to give the industry the financial security necessary to support these filmmakers. The coming of the Talkies quickly buried these late silents and they lay forgotten in film archives. Underground was one of those films.
Anthony Asquith was part of the new generation. He was still in his twenties and had just co-directed his first film Shooting Stars. He was willing to throw every cinematic trick in the book at this slight tale of love rivals.
Much of the film was shot on location in London including, naturally, on the Underground and at Lots Road Power Station. This helps give a sense of authenticity to the action, and one of its pleasures is the glimpse it gives us of life in the 1920s from high-class department stores and suburban parks to cheap pubs and industrial wastelands.
The two men, Bill and Bert, are played by Brian Aherne and Cyril McLaglen. Aherne is a bit colourless but he's playing the duped hero so there's not much to work on. McLaglen is a much more forceful presence, attractive and repellent as needed. Elissa Landi as the object of their affection is nowhere near as sleek as she would be in her Hollywood heyday but she's still a looker and copes well with her first leading role. Much of the heavyweight acting is left to Norah Baring as Bert's cast-off lover slowly going mad from loneliness.
Only the four main characters get credited, though the supporting players do a sterling job of filling in the background and making us believe in this version of London.
There is a gripping finale involving a fight between Bill and Bert that goes from the power station to the docks and along the tube line. It's an epic chase which takes full advantage of its setting to thrill the audience.
After years of neglect, Underground has now been restored and is well worth checking out if it's shown near you.
Script: Anthony Asquith
Director: Anthony Asquith
Players: Elissa Landi, Brian Aherne, Norah Baring, Cyril McLaglen
After returning from Dunkirk, war correspondent Richard Greene is offended to discover an organisation working for peace with Germany. He decides to denounce it in his paper, but finds there are plenty of people who want the organisation to continue.
Unpublished Story is a neat little thriller which captures the darkest days of the war. It's entertaining enough for the casual viewer, but for films buffs the chief interest is watching the makers edge their way towards the iconography of the classic British war films seen later in the war. Thus we get Londoners spending their nights down in the Underground or cheerfully sweeping up after their businesses have been wrecked. We also get soldiers ordered to stay behind in France for what is almost certainly a suicide mission, accept their fate with as much upset as they would give to a spot of drizzle interrupting the cricket.
However there are some aspects that are rare in films of the period. This is the only film I can think of that treats Dunkirk as a defeat rather than the start of the inevitable victory. There is also no talk of the future. Most of the later films explicitly promise a better future and insist that the politicians won't be allowed make a mess of the peace like they did after 1918. Here defeat is an imminent possibility and survival is all that matters.
The anti-war movement also features in very few films of the period. This is largely because it died out under the onslaught of the Luftwaffe's bombs. The People's Convention switched allegiance when Russia was attacked in the Summer of 1941 leaving only those with religious convictions or fascist sympathies to oppose the war. Therefore even while Unpublished Story was being made, the anti-war movement had all but petered out.
Here the peace protestors are virtually all Fifth-Columnists with only a few innocent stooges giving the organisation respectability. Frederick Cooper gives a great performance as a pacifist who comes to change his mind after a heavy raid and finds he's been used by the Nazis.
Even with the bombs raining down and Hitler the other side of the channel, some conventions have to be observed - there has to be some love interest. This is supplied by Valerie Hobson as a fashion reporter looking for a more interesting kind of story. She makes a great entrance in a sparkly evening dress while Greene is recounting in shock the horrors of his return from France. They play off each other nicely as rival reporters, though don't really cut it as a romantic couple. He offers to marry her towards the end of the film, but she refuses - she has better things to do.
By the time Unpublished Story was released America had joined the war and things were looking a little brighter. Despite being slightly overtaken by events, the film did well. No doubt audiences of the day felt about the film the same way as a station porter in the film felt about the big shootout towards the end: "Makes a nice change from the bombs".
Script: Anatole de Grunwald, Patrick Kirwan
Director: Harold French
Players: Basil Radford, Roland Culver, Brefni O'Rorke, Miles Malleson, George Carney, Muriel George, Andre Morell, Renee Gadd, Aubrey Mallalieu, George Thorpe, Henry Morrell, Claude Bailey, Ronald Shiner, Wally Patch, D.J. Williams, Anthony Shaw, John Longden, Peter Cozens, Townsend Whitling, Tony Quinn, Edie Martin, John Ojerholm
An innocent goes to London for the Cup Final, but loses his tickets and money.
Charming comedy is probably Sydney Howard's best film.
Script: Con West, R.P. Weston, Bert Lee
Director: Jack Raymond
Players: Joan Wyndham, Stanley Kirk, Sam Livesey, Moore Marriott, Hal Gordon, Marie Wright, Herbert Woodward, Jack Raymond
Stable-hand Sydney Howard gets the chance to run his own stable and enter the Derby.
Script: R.P. Weston, Bert Lee
Director: Maclean Rogers
Players: Dorothy Bartlam, Mark Daly, Tom Helmore, Frederick Lloyd, Frank Harvey, Franklyn Bellamy
Norman Wisdom is the window cleaner who ends up as nanny to a rich problem kid. Fun for Wisdom fans but it won't convert the unbelievers.
Script: Jack Davies, Henry E. Blyth, Peter Blackmore
Director: John Paddy Carstairs
Players: Maureen Swanson, Jerry Desmonde, Ambrosine Phillpotts, Michael Ward, Jill Dixon, Michael Caridia, Edwin Styles, William Lucas, Lionel Jeffries, Cyril Chamberlain, Eddie Leslie, Bernard Bresslaw, Ian Wilson
An incompetent naval inventor gets a sideways promotion to where he can do the least damage, but finds his colleagues run the local black market.
Jolly comedy with a cast of reliable farceurs.
Script: Val Guest, John Warren, Len Heath
Director: Val Guest
Players: David Tomlinson, Peter Sellars, Wilfrid Hyde White, Liliane Sottane, Lionel Jeffries, Lionel Murton, Vera Day, Reginald Beckwith, Sam Kydd, John Warren, David Lodge, Michael Goodliffe, Frank Pettingell, Tom Gill, Howard Williams, Peter Collingwood, Barry Lowe, Edwin Richfield, Max Butterfield, Malcolm Ransom, Donald Bisset, Leonard Fenton, Basil Dignam, Petr Coke, Jack McNaughton, Larry Noble, Patrick Cargill, Michael Ripper
Newlyweds try to cope with the servant problem. Dated farce that wastes a great cast.
Script adapt.: Frank Harvey. (o.a. Ronald Scott Thorne)
Director: Ralph Thomas
Players: Anne Heywood, Michael Craig, Mylene Demongeot, James Robertson Justice, Daniel Massey, Claudia Cardinale, Sidney James, Joan Hickson, Joan Sims, Joseph Tomelty, Nora Nicholson, Reginald Beckwith, Irene Handl, Austin Willis, Margalo Gillmore, Cyril Chamberlain, Dilys Laye, William Mervyn, Eric Pohlmann, Jean Cadell, Barbara Everest, Barbara Steele