Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘Films’ Category


Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Recently I have been watching quite a few old films, on my PC, as I knit.  I don’t find it easy to sit and watch television because I just get bored, and I fidget in the cinema and/or get a bit freaked out by how long I have to commit to be there including the 30 minutes of pointless trailers in which they basically tell you the entire plot, and I also hate kids behind me kicking my seat or people in front with big massive hair and noisy, smelly food… geez Alison, breathe and relax… but I do really love old films from the 1930s and 1940s mainly.  I can see the PC screen easily without my telly glasses and can perch my old schoolmarm reading glasses down my nose to knit by.  The cat (who believes the chair in the office is his) squashes in behind me and it’s altogether really cosy.

Films in the public domain (Google-search that phrase) seem to be many and readily available.  There are lots of choices and each film is given a brief synopsis.  Sometimes the quality is dodgy and the buffering can be a pain but it’s no worse than the guy behind you grabbing the back of your seat repeatedly…there is no-one behind me here, in the linen cupboard, that was last time I went to the pictures.  Attack Of The Giant Leeches was tempting – come on, you know you’re going to give in – as was Diary Of A Nudist, but ever the traditionalist I  first re-watched a fantastic British WW2 propaganda film called Went The day Well? which I first saw as a child, lying on the carpet of the shrouded sitting room on a Saturday afternoon, probably with my mother either lying on the sofa, smoking, or leaning through the hatch from the kitchen (did you ever have a hatch? Marvellous invention, rarely seen now, sadly) watching while she peeled some veg or had a crafty sherry.

In Went The Day Well? Nazis invade a sleepy English village, disguised as a troop of good old Tommys.  The villagers must first recognise this enemy threat and then organise to meet it. Made in 1942, it conveyed a message to the public to be ever-vigilant to the threat of invasion, not perhaps by an outright attack but in the form of covert activity.  It is both an innocently made and yet still powerfully compelling film, conveying the daily threat that people lived under, real and potential.  I think (but do not know for sure) that some of the cast were not actors but real troops and civilians, though the main characters were actors.  The Lord of the Manor turns out to be a Nazi sympathiser who collaborates with the invaders and is swiftly shot by his own selfless wife when she discovers this fact;  she also perishes.  All across the village, people react, resist and finally, with quite a lot of bloodshed and death, they overcome and the Home Guard arrives.  I love this film.  The home front during WW2 fascinates me and a lot of my reading is about it.  Went The Day Well serves to illustrate many facets of this.  The use of fairly simple scenarios to illustrate the threats – and the uplifting message of ultimate triumph despite the sacrifices;  the way life was conveyed in this film and others;  and the need to be ready to make that sacrifice.  When I read home-front diaries or see films like this, I try very hard to imagine what it must have been like, not to actually fight because I really can’t imagine that, but just to stay at home and work and live, daily, with such fear.

In need of an uplifting alternative, I then watched an old American film, Three Cheers for Miss Bishop.  Schmaltzy, incredibly romanticised and just really beautiful.  Miss Ella Bishop looks back at her long and distinguished career as a teacher in Mid-Western America, so the film (which jumps in the middle, missing I think about 5 or 10 minutes of plot but it doesn’t really matter) is seen in flash-backs.  Miss Bishop sees personal sadnesses and happiness, never marries but retains a life-long friendship with her adoring suitor, Sam and they end the film together, after she retires.  I think the film hints at Miss Bishop’s death here but it’s no more than a hint and so I reject that and foresee instead a long happy retirement for them both.

Next, here in the Cinema Of Yarn, I watched Love Affair:

This was made in 1939 and it’s really lovely if you like your films steeped – nay, drenched – in schmaltz, but with some wise-cracks thrown in for good measure, mostly from Irene Dunne whom I adore;  Charles Boyer’s role is to smoke (actually smoke, all the time), smoulder and be dapper and French.  Sorted.  Now, this film really excited me because one of my all-time favourite films is An Affair To Remember starring Deborah Kerr and Carry Grant.  I had not realised that that film was a re-make of Love Affair, but it is.  The re-make is incredibly faithful, the scenes are almost identical, the scenery even.  Nowadays a re-make can mean that everything changes, even the plot.  But not here.  I loved it.

My next matinee was Penny Serenade made in 1941 and starring Irene Dunne again but this time with Cary Grant.  This is billed as a romantic comedy.  I think this description may be rather misleading, since the plot, whilst it is romantic, also features earthquakes, miscarriage, infertility, near-bankruptcy, infant mortality and marriage break-down.  I don’t think there is a single laugh, not even so much as a smile, in it.  It’s not Cary’s finest moment and Irene Dunne, still as beautiful  as ever, is struggling against the ceaseless backdrop of misery and heart-break.  However, don’t let me put you off, it has a sudden and incredibly contrived happy ending and the songs (played on a gramophone, not sung by the cast) are gorgeous, as are her hats.

I am currently part way through Rain starring Joan Crawford.  I love the W Somerset Maugham short story on which this is based and so far the melodrama is excruciating!

It’s really old, and the quality is poor, the style very stilted but Joan C just blazes away like a proper old-fashioned hussy.

I serve no pop-corn here, only tea and cake (I once went to see a film in a little cinema in Whitstable where you got a mug of tea to take to your seat, there is similar in Holmfirth I believe) but you’re most welcome to drop in for the next performance.  Bring knitting.