Wednesday 18 January 2017

All Merit to Dubjax

This is too obvious to need stating, but all these reviews are written out of deep gratitude to that anonymous philanthropist, Dubjax, who mines our (UK) shared cinematic heritage – British, black-and-white films and ‘B’– to consistently excavate gems we didn’t know were there, and frequently faces the wrath of the copyright enforcers for his troubles. Dubjax 9 is presently flourishing, I’m happy to report.

Stop press: All the films written about below, bar four, have been removed by youtube's copyright enforcers in the past 24 hours (22.2.17). That is, there has been a blanket sweep on every film posted on Dubjax 9. Of the exceptions Castle in the Air and So Long at the Fair are non-Dubjax films, and The Common Touch and Made in Heaven come from an earlier channel, Dubjax 4. Several of the impounded films are freely available on other channels. Namely: –

The Card –
Contraband – (poor quality)
Daybreak –
The Ghost Camera –
High Treason –
Midnight Episode –
The Passing of the Third Floor Back –
The Rocking Horse Winner – (Spanish subtitles)
Turn the Key Softly –

This begs the question, who has got it in for Dubjax and why? Clue: some of the other films are available to stream into the home at a price. In other words, musty old black and whites are not exempt from the laws of free enterprise, competition and supply-and-demand. Some of us happen to think that the repression of rare old films amounts to a cultural crime, that the copyright laws are labyrinthine and stupid, and that the commercial exploitation of old films (some of which recouped their costs over half a century ago) is unacceptable. Sometimes "sorry about that" – as in, The YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement. Sorry about that – is not good enough. 

Boys in Brown 

It’s interesting to compare this treatment of Borstal with the account given in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. The latter exposes this tale of the inherently good boy fallen in with a bad crowd for the simplistic, moralising claptrap it is. It also seems that baggy shorts were abandoned at some point between 1949 and 1962. This is a good thing because baggy shorts are the cause of all the trouble. Retrieving civvies is the reason Jackie risks his immortal soul by smashing a custodian's head with a lamp. Jackie is the rough diamond central character, a complete fuck-up, played with one-dimensional petulance by Richard Attenborough, and unaccountably loved by everybody, from the girl who waits (Barbara Murray), to his mother (Thora Hird specialised in long-suffering mums at the time), and even the governor. The governor! To compare the all-wise, compassionate Jack Warner with the flawed, neurotic Michael Redgrave in Loneliness says everything about the collapse of deference to authority in the intervening fifties (an under-rated decade). And how does this paragon of a governor behave? He seeks out the impeccably middle-class natural mother of wayward Bill (Jimmy Hanley), and prevails upon her to take back the lad and oust the feckless working-class type who only brought him up. Such conservatism riddles the entire film. The token Scot is an emblem of unreasonable truculence. Only dark hints about homosexuality could be allowed, but note how Alfie Rawlings, an early essay in malevolence by Dirk Bogarde, anticipates Hugo Barrett in The Servant, and how queerness is associated with twisted pathology. Actually the film has got everything it takes to be a camp classic. The title... the baggy shorts... I see audiences in brown baggy shorts cheering Alfie Rawlings on. 

The Card 

Based on the Arnold Bennett novel, The Card is about the rise of the irrepressible Edward Henry (‘Denny’) Machin, who works his way to the top from lowly beginnings. And though Machin is an opportunist proto-capitalist, who can fail to warm his nonchalant charm, winningly conveyed by Alec Guinness at the top of his game? There are lots of incidental pleasures, not least from the women in Machin’s life – Glynis Johns as Ruth Earp, a scheming minx and gold-digger whose rise parallels Machin’s own, Petula Clark, adorable as the girl-next-door, and Valerie Robson, the epitome of the high-born English Rose as the Countess (she played much the same role in Kind Hearts and Coronets). The Card treats of labour, class, capitalism, sex as social advancement and demagoguery, and does it with such a light touch that the final triumph of the parvenu over the paternal is guaranteed to stir nothing more radical than a sigh of contentment. 

Carrington VC 

Major Charles ‘Cropper’ Carrington VC (David Niven) is a paragon, a model of charm, ability and reason, beloved by all his men and worshipped from afar by the loyal Captain Alison Graham (Noelle Middleton), whom he properly rebuffs for the sake of his wife, Valerie (Margaret Leighton). There are signs that Valerie is not altogether a worthy vessel for Cropper’s affections, but he piles on the uxorious selflessness with the stiff-upper-lip that is his single greatest attribute. That is, until Valerie gives testimony at Carrington’s court martial, in which his reputation and career hang in the balance. Carrington sees what has been obvious to the viewing public from the start: Valerie is a shrivelled soul and a bitter husk of womanhood, whereas Captain Alison is really quite adorable. There’s not much subtlety about Carrington VC and the response it engenders, but, in its own way, the film is as perfect as its titular hero. Anthony Asquith directed in 1954.  

Castle in the Air 

Castle in the Air has some of the pleasingness, silliness and cast of Made in Heaven (see below) and was made in the same year, 1952. It only looks about 50 years older. The plot concerns an impoverished lord in Scotland whose stately home is in danger of being requisitioned and turned into a hostel for National Coal Board employees. Barbed comment on a Labour government and austerity Britain are among the incidental pleasures of Castle in the Air. Another is the presence of that charming fellow, David Tomlinson. No Pet Clark this time, alas, but Margaret Rutherford more than compensates. 

Chance of a Lifetime

One of Sir Bernard’s (as he then wasn’t) essays on industrial relations. Chance of a Lifetime gives Basil Radford the role of his life as Dickinson, the owner of a small engineering company, who, from words spoken in exasperation and then honoured out of pride, hands over management of his tractor-making plant to the workers. A great social experiment begins. The capital and labour issue which so exercised Marx is handled in a gritty and clear-sighted and exciting way: the deferred delivery of the steel (deferred because bankers and businessmen want to sabotage the venture) serves the same function in this film as the arrival of the cavalry in a western. Its left-wing credentials are impeccable: co-written by Walter Greenwood, author of Love on the Dole, and written and directed by (Sir) Bernard Miles, who also plays Stevens, an unassuming man who accepts his elevation with diligence and a furrowed-brow. Miles, uniquely among British actors of his generation, spoke in his native accent, an attractive West Country one in his case. Who couldn’t side with the workers when the factory is stuffed full of well-loved British character actors? These include future Dr Who Patrick Troughton as trouble-maker Kettle, Niall McGinnis (the sinister Satanist from Night of the Demon) as Baxter, a horny-handed rabble-rouser, and Hattie Jacques as Alice, a  blowsy type who puts him in his place. Bolger, the factory-hand cum poacher, is played by Geoffrey Keen (last seen as an urban terrorist in High Treason, the political polar opposite of Chance of a Lifetime), and more or less ubiquitous in British films of the period (1950, by the way). Best of all, Peter Jones enjoys himself hugely as an East European trade commissar. The film is so good, and so neglected, it invites conspiracy theories of its own. Was it purposely overlooked by TV programmers in favour of-union-bashing films like I’m Alright Jack and The Silence (that is, before every b&w film was purposely overlooked by TV programmers)? You might be inclined to dismiss this as luvvie radicalism or soft left wishful thinking, but seriously, Chance of a Lifetime encapsulates the values we’re all going to have to fight for. If we haven’t already lost them. 

The Church Mouse

It begins by kidding about the march of progress, from the vantage of a thoroughly modern 1934, blessed by the advances of the dictaphone and women in the workplace. There’s an awful lot of kidding going on in the film – which charts the progress of Betty (Laura La Plante) from forgotten woman, super-efficient secretary and blossoming sexual being. Even unemployment is kidded about, although the light tone and comic exaggeration can’t conceal real feeling. This was 1934 and the very depth of the Depression. Mostly the film kids about sex. This is the earliest Dubjax I’ve yet seen, and also the raciest, with characters tenderly swapping Mae West catch-phrases. There might be something to this pre-Code business. Anything more graphic than a kiss, of course, would break the enchantment.  

The Common Touch


Made in 1941, the only direct reference made to the war is when a harmlessly deranged resident of Charlie’s, a homeless shelter (or dosshouse, in the argot of the time), starts ranting in heavy German. “He’s had a sticky time,” explains Tich, the odd jobs man and knocker-upper. “‘E didn’t quite see eye to eye with Master Hitler.” Nevertheless, the unspoken question that haunts the film is What are we fighting for? Closely followed by What do we want from the new world a-dawning? These are weighty questions, wrapped here as an entertaining parable, with lots of delirious musical interludes. Things under imminent threat include cricket, the playing fields of Eton, which is where we first encounter our hero, young Peter Henderson (Geoffrey Hibbert), hitting a six. Peter is an orphan, and about to leave school to take charge of a large City firm. His father was the founder, and it was his dying wish for Peter to take charge when he came of age. But the City firm propose to demolish some property which includes Charlie’s, the homeless shelter. The shady board conspire to hide this from Peter, relying on his callow inexperience. This privileged kid, however, is made of sterner stuff. He and a pal masquerade as homeless youths to go on a fact-finding mission to Charlie’s. A second education follows, and his eyes are opened to the lovable vagabonds, out-of-work musicians and general good eggs who reside at Charlie’s. Some other things under threat include the geegaw toys cherished by a tramp at Charlie’s. “Someday people will turn again to simple, beautiful things,” he says, wringing every ounce of pathos from the words. What started as a ripping yarn about a posh kid has now turned into an arresting polemic. The Common Touch advocates nothing less than the eradication of class distinction and the adoption of a new set of values. This is expressed most overtly in the final scene, where the residents are discussing their new life, now that the threat of eviction has been lifted. “All this talk about better things, homes and all that, do you suppose they really mean it?” “You know I think they really mean it, this time, Tich.” “Blimey, it would be like heaven on earth.” Close-up on the tramp (the one with the toys), radiantly beaming and directly looking at the audience. “And why not?” he says. The music surges. There’s a lot of music in The Common Touch because music is the practical means by which this social transformation is to be achieved. To simplify, the toffs like bossa nova with plenty of razzamatazz, while the down-and-outs go for syncopated jazz. The reconciliation between high and low is achieved when a concert pianist on his uppers (Mark Hambourg) performs Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in the street on a piano on wheels. An orchestra in coat tails join in during a flashback to his glory days in international concert halls. His destitute listeners are enraptured. “The boys like a bit of music,” explains Tich. 


An early Archers, this Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger collaboration followed A Spy in Black. Contraband has a nice freewheeling structure. Strangers are thrown into each other’s company – he (Conrad Veidt) is the captain of a neutral merchant vessel ship and she (Valerie Hobson) is a passenger who steals his shore ticket. The film follows them as they make their rounds. It’s nicely inconsequential to begin with: London in blackout and fog, a meal in a restaurant with an eccentric, ebullient owner. But then, this being wartime and a propaganda vehicle, she needs must turn into a Mata Hari figure and be kidnapped by a cell of German spies, and he must enlist the staff of the restaurant to rescue her. Hokum after Emil and the Detectives: Emeric's influence, I guess. Fans of the Archers might note the emergence of the charming foreigner figure, quite risky in this context, which reached its apotheosis in the Anton Walbrook character in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, who was - shock! horror! – a good German. Churchill wanted to have it banned. Valerie Hobson is a fine actress, and very good in parts where fragrancy is put under pressure (as in real life: she was married to John Profumo). And, if I’m not mistaken, Esmond Knight is actually sighted in this film, it’s so early. An invaluable member of the Archers repertory company, Knight was blinded during the war, and subsequently regularly appeared in character parts in Archers films, indifferent as to whether the role required sight or not. Michael Powell was a loyal employer. In short, Contraband is lightweight but essential Powell/Pressubrger, and is warmly recommended, whereas a later Archers with a wartime theme, Ill Met by Moonlight – – is OK to skip, and isn’t on the Dubjax lists. 


The plot twist comes early on, before the central flashback (so this is no spoiler): one of the benefits of having a secret life as a judicial hangman, surely, is the opportunity it gives you to hang the man who led your wife to suicide. But this is thrown away, just as the ultimate act of vengeance is thrown away. All that’s left is an inexorable sleepwalk into tragedy. The emotional inarticulacy of every player in the drama is laid bare. Speech is terse and evasive; everyday banalities conceal the scars of untold psychological damage. Frankie (Ann Todd) has been a prostitute, but the censors excised all reference to this, making the motivating impulses of Eddie and Frankie all the more opaque and unfathomable. Just like real life. The irredeemable bleakness of a Fassbinder or Bergman has a forerunner here. Eddie – a notable addition to Eric Portman’s portfolio of dark and ambiguous characters – is not a bad fellow, he just embodies the British characteristics of repression, reserve and stunted emotion. Daybreak resembles an Anglo L’Atalante set in hell: Gravesend being the closest the location scout could find to hell. 

Flame in the Streets

Set against the backdrop of black immigration and simmering racial tension, this social drama concerns Jocko Palmer (John Mills), a shop steward committed to the working class cause who is forced to go beyond platitudes when his daughter, Kathie (Sylvia Syms) announces her intention to marry Peter (Johnny Sekka), a black man. It’s a creditable attempt to tackle difficult subject-matter, but the presence of Wilfred Bramble as Jocko’s father-in-law recalls the well-intentioned Harold Steptoe announcing “I keep saying to ‘em you’re just as good as I am”, and then festering with discontent (his default position) when he isn’t applauded for the humane sentiment. Flame in the Streets is a very humane film, and perhaps too even-handed: it attempts to invest dignity in Nell (Brenda De Banzie), Jocko’s wife and, we come to realise, a bitter racist. Gabriel Gomez (Earl Cameron, best remembered as the absent father in A Taste of Honey), is the central black character, and likeable but maddeningly passive, whilst Peter is so peripheral and bland we can only take the passion of the transgressive couple on trust. This revealing period-piece was directed by Roy Ward Baker in 1961. That is, I sincerely hope it’s a period-piece.

The Ghost Camera 

A picture which seemingly shows evidence of a murder? That’s right, The Ghost Camera shares a plot with Antonioni’s Blow-Up. A few minor details diverge. John, a geeky kind of guy (Henry Kendall), finds a camera and develops the photographs within to find the owner. The incriminating shot is daringly stolen from under his nose. Another shows a pretty young thing posing by an identifiable doorway. Hooking up with May (Ida Lupino), the aforesaid pyt, they attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery, which somehow involves May’s brother, Ernest (John Mills), who, significantly, works at a jeweller’s and has disappeared. No-one in Antonioni’s film actually says, “Oh I say, that will be splendid. This is becoming a genuine adventure!” Or has the hero say, “I can’t stay here. That would be too unconventional.” This when May is frightened by an intruder in the night and too scared to sleep alone. “It must be terribly tiring for you,” says May, snuggling up to John. “Oh no, on the contrary, I find it excessively stimulating.” This in 1933! If Antonioni had dialogue like that, Blow-Up might be a more entertaining film. As it is, The Ghost Camera exhibits a bit more commitment to straight-forward narrative than Blow-Up. John Mills – just the right age for Pip in Great Expectations, incidentally– is so young he seems somehow unformed. The same goes for David Lean, credited with editing. Ida Lupino is an interesting figure. She went on to be a 'B' movie star in the USA and became Hollywood’s token female director in the fifties, and (a piece of trivia courtesy of wikipedia here) was the only person to direct and star in an episode of The Twilight Zone

High Treason

Ordinary people – a mild, cat-loving clerk who works in the docklands, an ex-RAF officer with a small electrics shop – meet under the auspices of the Elgin Modern Music Society and whisper significant things to each other like “March 16th”. The music itself is not bad: minor key meanderings and all, but not as awful as the film-makers intend. An undercover policeman has infiltrated the Society and can’t quite conceal his distaste, much to the irritation of his neighbour, who is valiantly trying to give his all to the music. This is an uncredited part by Michael Ward, a character actor used as an instant signifier of otherness, effeminacy and pseudery. The Society, it turns out, is the front for a faction whose dark intentions do not brook sabotage and indiscriminate killing. A slick, refined MP (more Tom Driberg than Oswald Mosley) is waiting in the wings to seize power when the country has been brought to its knees. Praise be, that terrible day is averted,  thanks to the efficiency of MI5’s intelligence gathering, and specifically its well-maintained card index system. Our boys foil an all-or-nothing assault on Battersea Power Station at the finale. Together with I’m Alright Jack, this film destroyed Roy Boulting’s left-wing credibility. 

I See a Dark Stranger  

The flaw here is a characterisation of the Irish that can best be described as quaint. Centuries of oppression are reduced to an unreasoning downer on Oliver Cromwell. How can you tell that the film was made by a pair of Englishmen, confirming Bridie Quilty’s worst suspicions of Englishmen?Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat clearly have The 39 Steps in their minds. Taken in the right spirit – which is to say, very, very lightly – Dark Stranger is enjoyable as comedy and moderately exciting as hokum. Worth watching for Trevor Howard (my favourite leading man after They Made Me a Fugitive), and the young Deborah Kerr (as Bridie) is every bit as radiant as the young Ingrid Bergman.

It's Not Cricket

Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne were as loved in their day as another immortal double act, Morecambe and Wise, and turned up in comedies (naturally), thrillers (The Lady Vanishes) and even, improbably, ghost stories (Dead of Night). They carry It’s Not Cricket all on their own, and a very light vehicle it is too. The Morecambe and Wise comparison suggests itself because one routine here, in which the bumbling duo inadvertently wreck a high-toned theatrical performance, anticipates a scene in Eric and Ernie’s The Riviera Touch. To see the distinguished thespian Maurice Denham ham it to the hilt as a comic Nazi is to appreciate that everyone starts at the bottom. The Producers comes to mind, but then it’s quite easy to start thinking of other movies when watching It’s Not Cricket. Anything for a bit of distraction. 

Law and Disorder 

From the same team – Charles Crichton, director, and T.E.B. Clarke, scriptwriter – that made The Lavender Hill Mob, and what a come-down it is. Michael Balcon, the Ealing Studios producer, and missing because Ealing was winding down in 1958, clearly was more than just an administrator. Law and Disorder strains to turn the old winning formula – about amiable professional criminals, witless law enforcers, maverick English characters – into a coherent storyline. Michael Redgrave was never a natural at comedy. There was always too much going on behind that urbane front. On the other hand, anything in black and white with walk-on parts by Irene Handl, John Le Measurer and Lionel Jeffries will pass the time very nicely, thank-you. Just as long as no-one is expecting The Lavender Hill Mob. Scrolling down to the comments, an informed person (Ted Glen) relates that Jeremy Turnham, who plays Colin, went on to write the cult children's TV series, Children of the Stones, which is a quietly mind-blowing fact. NB This film has been removed by the copyright enforcers. The Lavender Hill Mob I could believe... 

Made in Heaven

An attractive bit of fluff about an attractive bit of fluff, from 1952. The plot revolves around the Dunmow Flitch. It hadn't  registered with me what a Dunmow Flitch is, despite possessing the Dick Miles album of the same name, which shows that enjoyably lightweight old films can be more educational even than folk music. The Dunmow Flitch is a custom from the town in deep Essex: a side (or ‘flitch’) of bacon is awarded to the married couple who can convince a judge and jury that in a 'twelvemonth and a day' they have 'not wisht themselves unmarried again’.  Young marrieds Basil (David Tomlinson) and Julie Topham (Petula Clark) enter the contest just at the moment when a strain is put on the relationship by the arrival of a Hungarian housemaid (Sonja Ziemann). Basil and Julie live in a household with all his family in a grand mansion, which makes sense only when you learn that the Hon. William Douglas-Home wrote the original story, and Sir Alec was his brother. The housemaid is a vacuous seductress who turns the head of every man who sees her. The charm of the film is reflected by the charm of the players. David Tomlinson is the original charming man, and deserves to be remembered for more than Mary Poppins. Petula Clark was never more than a pretty wee thing in a corner of the British film industry, and went on to find her true metiĆ©r as a homegrown chansonnier – and then there was ‘Down Town’! – but she lit up every film she appeared in. And with a supporting cast of notables such as Dora Bryan, Alfie Bass and Richard Wattis, how can Made in Heaven fail? How can Basil and Julie fail? The film pits marriage against romance and concludes that there is no distinction. It loads the argument just a little by casting a teenage Petula Clark as the wife. For all its glamorous Hungarians, Made in Heaven is very conventional, chaste and sweet. But why not Maid in Heaven? It's a minor point, admittedly, but the missing pun would put an even greater shine on all the bliss.   

Midnight Episode 

Stanley Holloway plays the Professor, a down-and-out who lives by his wits, and is possibly too shrewd for his own good, as he manoeuvres for advantage from a murder he accidentally stumbles upon. The story is a cut above your average musty British mystery hokum. The clue is in the credits, easy to miss in small print: based on the novel Monsieur La Souris by George Simenon. Musty, by the way, is a compliment in my vocabulary. It is the right word though, as the low-budget film looks and feels like something made around the time of the novel, 1938. It portrays a demimonde of lovable rogues, rascals and quasi-stellar vagabonds – epitomised by Stanley Holloway, who exudes charm even in the gutter – that would be extinct a decade from its actual date, 1950. 

Operation Diplomat 

The viewer’s response to Operation Diplomat depends on whether they’re one of those tolerant types willing to admit the film to the pantheon of so-bad-it’s-good. It certainly evokes a parallel universe unburdened by any link to reality, if that can be counted as a good thing. As it is, Operation Diplomat stands as a textbook example of an early phase in the development of the thriller genre. I realise that Dr Fenton and loyal Lisa Durand are supposed to be a doctor and nurse team, but even so, their nonchalance to dead bodies is breathtaking, and there’s something disconcerting too about their cheerful indifference to their own personal safety. The breakthrough came when thriller directors realised that pathological lack of emotion was scarier in bad guys than good guys. 

The Passing of the Third Floor Back

A Manichean struggle in a boarding house in 1935. Wild! The thirties was a very strange period, and though the outside world scarcely intrudes into the claustrophobic setting (with the exception of an idyllic boat trip), the extreme times are reflected in every inch of celluloid. Essentially an angelic stranger and an odious parvenu battle for the soul of an innocent skivvy. The stranger was always going to be a tough part to play, but Conrad Veidt pulls it off with innate tenderness and charisma. He’s scarcely as other-worldy as another lodger. Miss Kite, as played by Beatrix Lehmann, is a ringer for both David Bowie and the somnambulist from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. And though the religiosity of the film is uncompromisingly weird, it doesn’t stint on the thanklessness of the stranger’s mission. Let’s face it, none of the residents of the boarding house are worth saving. Can a woman who wears as much make-up as Miss Kite seriously be considered one of the elect? (This is the issue that barred paradise to Susan in the last book of the Narnia Chronicles.) These reversals, and the tacit acknowledgement that evil is eminently capable of counteracting good, give the film a powerful charge, and, dare I say it, a spiritual frisson. Based on the book by Jerome K. Jerome. 

Personal Affair

Couched in civilised, understated terms (the values of the film), the strapline of Personal Affair might be the unfortunate consequences of misplaced love. Stephen Barlow (Leo Genn) is an inspirational Latin teacher and Barbara (Glynis Johns) is his pupil, 17-years-old, bright, and a dunce at Latin. She secretly harbours a passionate crush on him. A private coaching lesson at his house culminates in Kay (Gene Tierney), Stephen’s wife, semi-amusedly accusing Barbara of being in love with her husband. Collapse and flight of Barbara. Stephen tries to make things right and phones and meets her. He neglects to see her onto the bus. Barbara disappears. Gossip and innuendo sweep the town. The river is dragged. Everyone is destroyed, or would be, were it not for the British stiff upper-lip, this being 1953. It’s hard to imaginable a world so middle-class and white, populated by such consistently sensitive, reasonable and impeccably behaved characters (barring one or two lapses of judgement) were Personal Affair remade today. The girl’s father, Henry Vining (Walter Fitzgerald), a newspaper editor, is positively eloquent. This is his cheerful assessment of his wife, Vi (Megs Jenkins), before the realisation that something is badly wrong: “My dear wife thinks that human happiness depends on everyone’s mind being an amiable blank.” Even the neurotic aunt (Pamela Brown), who meddles so disastrously, is unusually emotionally articulate. Imagine if the same situation befell the characters in Daybreak. It wouldn’t be a film, it would be a harrowing social services enquiry (this makes me admire Daybreak more). Even so, Personal Affair is far more wrenching than might be expected, and really ratchets up the tension. Alongside Kay, the viewer begins to doubt Stephen. The disintegration of Vi Vining is devastating. This is a typically affecting performance from Megs Jenkins (elsewhere the anxious housekeeper in The Innocents). Although everyone is good, including Michael Hordern and Thora Hird in small parts, and Glynis Johns, as the confused, and largely absent teenager. Could Personal Affair be remade today? Well a sex scene every ten minutes is de rigueur in contemporary cinema: that’s just the problem. And then I remembered Notes on a Scandal, starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, which inhabits the same middle-class milieu, albeit more multicultural and chaotic, and one which is modern enough to admit the fact of sex. Notes on a Scandal, in fact, with a few minor changes, could be the story of the neurotic aunt.

The Quiet Woman

If there are seven basic plots in the world, this is the one about the escaped prisoner who comes seeking an old flame for a hide-out. To be honest, it was better done in It Always Rains on Sunday. Then there’s a sub-plot about the unpromising love affair between the secretive pub landlady, Jane (Jane Hylton, a touch on the pallid side), and the smuggler/gentleman painter, Duncan (Derek Bond), a rubbish painter. Does it matter? Not a bit! We don’t demand transcendence, just a pleasant potboiler to put us in our comfort zone. This does the job very nicely thank you. The Sussex location is evocative; Harry Towb makes his screen debut as the renegade Jim, and Dora Bryan as Elsie, the maid, is, well, very Dora Bryan, which is always a good thing. 1951.  

The Rocking Horse Winner

It strikes that this is a deeply subversive film. It’s not just the anti-materialist message wedded to an eerie story. That would makes for a powerful experience in itself. There are also disturbing subliminal sexual undercurrents, which would be too crude to spell out, so you shall have to discover them for yourself. D.H. Lawrence wrote the original story. It’s a great performance by Valerie Hobson, the ultimate English rose, which makes her cupidity as Hester Grahame all the more shocking. The scene with the shabby fence is unforgettable. All lingering prejudice against Hobson – mostly to do with Estella’s disconcerting metamorphosis in Great Expectations – is erased by her role here. John Mills stars as Bassett, the ex-horse racer handyman, and he also produced. But what is it about the supernatural and children that makes for such uncomfortable viewing? The child in peril is Paul, played by John Howard Davies, the very embodiment of smiling innocence, and every bit as lovable as he is in Oliver Twist. And there is nothing, not money, not his cosy middle-class background, not his good intentions and sweet character, not the love of his mother; nothing can save this lost boy from falling into profound evil. The pessimism that permeated English cinema and English culture at the time (1949) reaches its apotheosis in The Rocking Horse Winner. No ending is as bleak as this. 

So Long at the Fair

Here’s a plot that is perennially intriguing: ordinary couple do ordinary things – here a brother and sister arrive in Paris for the Exposition Universelle in 1889 – only one party disappears, and everybody is in flat denial that the party ever existed; protagonist doubts sanity, etc. It was used, in another context, in The Phantom Lady, a noir in which Elisha Cook Jnr does a manic Gene Krupa turn, and whose fate oddly mirrors its plot in that no-one has seen it or knows of its existence. Anyway, there’s a satisfyingly plausible explanation for the mystery here (The Phantom Lady has some hokum about a mad criminal genius). Jean Simmons is very winning as a damsel in distress, and David Tomlinson is as personable as ever. Only Dirk Bogarde’s quiff strikes a jarring note. 

They Made Me a Fugitive

What a terrific film! The title alone is to be savoured, smacking of outsider angst, bitterness and anger. The ‘Me’ is a glowering and sullen Trevor Howard as Clem, who, finding it difficult to adjust to peacetime life (the film was made in 1947), joins a gang of black marketeers for kicks. He and the gang leader, Narcy (short for Narcissus: Griffith Jones), a vicious psychopath, form an instant mutual dislike. After expressing distaste about graduating from cigarettes and nylons to heroin, and with some sexual rivalry implied, Clem is framed by Narcy and is sent down for fifteen years for the murder of a policeman. He escapes, and heads to London to perpetrate his revenge. The British gangster genre supposedly began with Brighton Rock, but They Made Me a Fugitive did it earlier and better (I might be being unfair, as I haven’t seen Brighton Rock for a long time and I quite liked it). It was directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, also responsible for the ‘Christmas Party’ and ‘Ventriloquist’s Dummy’ sequences in Dead of Night (i.e. the best bits) and the wartime ‘Germans in Arcadia’ shocker Went the Day Well. There’s is a big difference between cynicism and evil, the film tells us, but the distinction is lost on most people. Every word delivered by Trevor Howard (a terrific performance) is etched in acid, while Narcy’s speech is a strange compound of the hard-boiled and surreal, as when he sneers at a henchman who refuses to carry a gun, “Don’t be so reactionary, this is the century of the common man” (this, with full-on contempt). Sparingly used expressionism heightens the hallucinatory effect. The undertaker’s used as a front for the gang’s activities is as memorable as Mrs Wilberforce’s detached dwelling in Kings Cross (The Ladykillers) or Norman Bates’ house (Psycho), and is, wonderfully, adorned by three giant letters on the roof – RIP. The violence which erupts so suddenly and shockingly in Went the Day Well is mirrored here in the scene where Mrs Fenshaw (Veda Hope, the boiler-suited union girl in The Man in the White Suit) provides the fugitive with food, a bath and clothes but at what price! We see that Clem is the scapegoat for the rottenness that permeates society. It's a pessimistic view, but They Made Me a Fugitive was made in 1947, a bumper year for pessimism.

Trent's Last Case

This British B-movie stars Orson Welles and the great Miles Malleson, yet it creaks so badly that I was forced to abandon viewing after about ten minutes. The same thing happened when I tried a second time. If anyone out there is more patient, perhaps they can tell me about Orson Welles’ guest cameo. For my part, I saw enough to know that Trent’s Last Case is no The Third Man, and the biggest cuckoo clock in Switzerland can’t turn it around. 

Turn the Key Softly 

Three women are let out of prison together and the film follows them as they criss-cross through the first 24 hours of freedom. They embody three types of womanhood: Monica, “still young”, her girlfriend tells her, and noble and troubled (Yvonne Mitchell, a shoe-in for these roles); Granny Quilliam, a good-hearted, simple soul, inveterately drawn to petty shoplifting (Kathleen Harrison, a welcome presence whenever she turns up), and Stella, pretty and shallow and full of girlish acquisitiveness (a perfectly cast Joan Collins). The positive qualities of Turn the Key Softly include sensitively drawn characterisation and a lustrously filmed London; the West End resembles Wonderland in 1953 (and Cannonbury, unseen, stands for boring respectability). The slide into melodrama towards the end can be forgiven: Turn the Key Softly still makes better viewing than The Snows of Kilimanjaro, starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, the film Stella whiles aways the afternoon with. I know because I once tried watching it myself.   

The Two-Headed Spy 


Ostensibly a British flag-waver about how we won the war. Again. But all these fifties films set during the war had a dual purpose, and Two-Headed is just about right. Jack Hawkins is known for his stiff upper lip, but here, living a lie as a British spy promoted to German officer, his denial of emotion is complete, and he is utterly broken once he lets his guard down. The film offers a case-book study of repression, and offers a few sharp shocks by way of catharsis. In contrast to films actually made during the war, which are sanguine and glib to the point of silliness (see Contraband), post-war British cinema consciously aimed to assuage the national trauma that was World War 2. Jack Hawkins is clearly one of the walking wounded, and is clearly one of us.  

Wanted For Murder

From out of nowhere, here’s a film that sheds light on the Peeping Tom controversy. Peeping Tom, made in 1960, was the first film Michael Powell made without his partner Emeric Pressburger since 1937’s The Edge of the World. A portrait of a serial killer, it uncomfortably made the link between film, voyeurism and sex crime, and outraged taste and decency upon its release. For an analogy, imagine if P.G. Wodehouse had followed through Uncle Fred in the Springtime with Last Exit to Brooklyn. A subsequent rehabilitation, led from the front by Martin Scorsese, means that we’re all supposed to hail Peeping Tom as Powell’s masterpiece. I’m not convinced. My own feeling is that Peeping Tom is as nasty and unpleasant as first supposed, and Powell went off the rails without his long-time collaborator’s steadying influence. Wanted For Murder blows that theory right out of the water, as a screen nasty from 1946 about a psycho who goes about London parks strangling women co-written by Emeric Pressburger. It’s every bit as glib about the desperate subject matter as Contraband is glib about World War 2. The tone of Peeping Tom was inappropriate too; that was part of its problem. The viewer began to suspect that Powell was indulging his macabre sense of humour, or worse, his in-jokes, at their expense. Cheerfully despatching Moira Shearer, the star of The Red Shoes, for example. What was that all about? But more than anything, Wanted For Murder raises concern about Eric Portman. What a strange cove he was, consistently drawn to dark and ambiguous characters. Let’s see, there was Eddie in Daybreak, a hangman in his secret life and catatonically numb in everyday existence (Wanted For Murder also treats of the devastating consequences of the hangman’s profession), and there was Thomas Colpepper, the celebrated deviant JP in A Canterbury Tale, sociopathic seaman Hobson in We Dive at Dawn, and an aloof and rigid patrician in A Child in the House. To this list we can now add serial killer Victor James Colebrook to the list. It makes you wonder about Portman the man. A tormented homosexual, I gather, without knowing much about it. PS You have to be eternally vigilant with Apple’s spellcheck facility: Emeric automatically turns into Emetic.   


  1. My 90 year old mother suffers from dementia, but the old British films posted by Dubjax (played on TV using Chromecast) bring her back to like. She slots and recognize actors, which she can't do with more up to Date movies.
    You can't find most of these films elsewhere as most streaming services place no valued on them.
    Dubjax provides a service for the elderly that is, simply, not available anywhere else.
    I love these films, too.

  2. I can't believe Dubjax was taken down AGAIN!! I'm so upset. We are now on Dubjax 26 (Aug 2019) I'm not too sure what YouTube's problem is. Maybe Dubjax will be able to have their own website where everyone can watch the wonderful classics they provide without interruptions. I wouldn't mind paying a small subscription fee and I'm sure I'm not the only one who who pay.


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