Sunday 5 March 2017

All Merit to Dubjax 10, or is it 11?

The indomitable Dubjax, after having his last movie channel removed in one fell swoop by the youtube police, is back with a new channel, and a new programme which, as ever, prioritises the British, black and white and ‘B’. The list, which is being added to daily, includes many oldies that are established Dubjax favourites. The Huggetts, it seems, are irrepressible.   

My last blog, All Merit to Dubjax, did its level best to keep up and cover particularly commendable films. I shall endeavour to carry on the good work here. Pending further developments and further raids (oh the strain of living on a knife-edge), all the following are available on dubjax 10, and all the links are correct, at time of writing. 

Stop press: Hours after writing the foregoing, a new star appeared on the horizon – Dubjax 11. Currently it only boasts one film, a fairly dispensable piece of shoestring gumshoe (if that sounds like something you might step into accidentally, so it is) called Blackout, I sense that this might be the channel for unknown and obscure oldies. Or, favourites we don’t know we have yet. I shall keep watching.

And in the meantime, please excuse the repeats... 

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 (Boys in Brown) and 1962 (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner). This is a good thing because baggy shorts are the cause of all the trouble here. 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 petulant f***-up, played by a one-dimensional 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), all his fellow inmates, 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 figures in the intervening fifties (a very under-rated decade; in fact, the sixties kick-started sometime around 1955). 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 supplant the feckless working-class type who has only brought him up. such deep conservatism permeates the entire film. Note the casual racism – the token Scot is a model of unreasonable truculence – and the casual homophobia. Only dark suggestions could get past in 1949, but Alfie Rawlings, an exercise in pure malevolence by Dirk Bogarde, is a forerunner of Hugo Barrett in The Servant. The film relentlessly associates queerness with twisted pathology, but this, in a funny way, might enhance its appeal as a camp classic to the modern sensibility. The title, the baggy shorts: a lá Sound of Music, audiences could turn up dressed as characters from the film. This would mean rows and rows of baggy shorts, all cheering Alfie Rawlings’ latest dastardly trick.  

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 off 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 Eastern 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 is something to this pre-Code business. Anything more graphic than a kiss, of course, would break the enchantment.  

Circle of Danger 

Jacques Tourneur's film is to be trusted more in the detail than the broad outline. Although the central quest plot is moderately intriguing – Clay Douglas (Ray Milland), a U.S. visitor, travels the length of Great Britain to find the truth about the death of his brother, the sole casualty of a secret wartime mission – its chief satisfaction lies in the characterisation of minor characters, and Naunton Wayne does such a good turn as Reggie Sinclair, a sleazy second-hand car salesman, he might be the reason why the entire profession fell into disrepute. The same is true of the central love interest, because, although Elspeth Graham (Patricia Roc) belongs to that too-good-to-be-true type familiarly held in reserve for the deserving hero, even here there are nice touches: the endless deferment of romance, and the moment of consummation (offscreen, of course), that is subtly signalled by Elspeth’s heightened gladness at the world. The film is more than usually up-front in its homophobia, and this, you feel, reflects badly on Clay Douglas, and is inexplicable to the viewer because the flamboyant Sholto Lewis, as winningly portrayed by Marius Goring, is clearly charm and charisma personified, and even his factotum, Reginald Beckwith (remembering his medium in Night of the Demon: same director, incidentally) is perfectly adorable. Besides, in plot terms, Sholto shows his mettle at the end. But no, a deeper mystery nagged at me, and eventually eclipsed anything that was going on in the film, and that was: who does Ray Milland remind me of? Cary Grant? No, not Cary Grant. Then I had it. Milland’s voice is identical to James Stewart’s. In its vocal patterns and mannerisms, Milland has James Stewart down pat. Is this common knowledge, or am l the only one to have noticed?   

Here Come the Huggetts

Was there ever a sequel in screen history that so comprehensively topped its successor? The Godfather and The Godfather II, comes the reply, parroting critical orthodoxy. Well yes, except that The Godfather wasn’t anywhere near as bad as Holiday Camp, and The Godfather II wasn’t anywhere near as good as Here Come the Huggetts (possibly I’m not comparing like with like, but I don’t care). Set against the backdrop of the Royal Wedding in 1948 (a lot of unnecessary bother that ends in a punch-up in a nice subversive touch), Here Come the Huggetts concerns the impending and uncertain nuptials of Jane (Jane Hylton), the eldest Huggett girl, to Jimmy (Jimmy Hanley), who has hastily arranged the ceremony to coincide with his army leave. There’s deep joy and acute social observation in every scene, as the arrival of Diana (Diana Dors), available for anything but work, wreaks havoc in the household. Now the scene is set for an examination of different varieties of love, from the sexual to the platonic; the latter embodied by the intellectual Harold (David Tomlinson in thick round specs: this man is a marvel), who conducts a library courtship with Jane using such dry logic and lofty argument that he turns the poor, confused girl’s head. The film finally settles for the good fond companionship exemplified by Father (Jack Warner) and Mother (Kathleen Harrison). The delightful wee ‘Pet’ (Petula Clark), misunderstands and misconstrues all these relationships, and causes further chaos by involving guileless neighbour Peter (Peter Hammond) in the shenanigans. Peter is carrying a torch for middle daughter Susan (Susan Shaw). ‘Pet’ sings a song, charmingly (‘Walking Backwards’, surely the forerunner of 'I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas'). The Huggetts' inclusive ordinariness struck a chord with the British public, and the universality is underscored by giving characters the same name as the actors (Harold/David being the chief exception), barring the archetypes of Father, Mother and Grandma. More instalments followed. I can’t wait. Watch this space for the low-down on Vote For Huggett.

PS Poor old Dennis Price! It was his great misfortune to be perfectly cast once (Kind Hearts and Coronets, naturally), and miscast in everything else in his career (that includes the very wonderful A Canterbury Tale). In Holiday Camp –   the first Huggetts outing, he is an improbable sex killer, stalking the Butlins resort at Filey. There's a hint of misogny in the depiction of the women: those who aren't active bathing beauties are faded, self-deluding types. Time for them to get back into the kitchen after the recently concluded end hostilities, perhaps? (The war generally casts a long shadow over this film.) The Flora Robson character, pining for a lost love, is a bit on the pious side, but then most of her roles were, throughout her career: it was her fate as a brilliant, plain-featured actress. Oh, and this appears to be a completely different brood of Huggett children from the other films in the series. Never mind. Father (Jack Warner) and Mother (Kathleen Harrison) are still the best domestic double act there has ever been.

PPS  Vote For Huggett – is a bit silly and contrived actually. Early on, there's some fun about ‘God wot!’, but that's as good as it gets. David Tomlinson is under-used in a reprise as Harold. It goes without saying that Kathleen Harrison’s depiction of Mother is one of British cinema’s most humane, touching comic performances, and that there’s real chemistry between Harrison and Jack Warner as Father: but once you’ve said that… Here Come the Huggetts is the one to go for.

PPPS And The Huggetts Abroad – – is the weakest of the lot. Stranding the lovable family in the Sahara Desert might seem like a good idea, but at this point the plot is more exhausted than the indestructible Huggetts. The unmade sequel, The Huggetts in Space, might not have been so bad with Charles Crichton at the helm. 

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: meandering and atonal and all, but clearly 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 sleek, refined MP (more Tom Driberg than Oswald Mosley, unfortunately) is waiting in the wings to seize power when the country has been brought to its knees. Praise be, that terrible scenario is averted thanks to the efficiency of MI5’s intelligence gathering, and a well-maintained card index system. Our boys foil an all-or-nothing assault on Battersea Power Station at the finale. Taken with I’m Alright Jack, this film badly dented Roy Boulting’s left-wing credentials. In the early eighties I saw a bit of Roy Boulting’s son, and he was, at that time (admittedly a long time ago), an ardent Marxist.  

Saturday Night Out 

The monochrome dazzles. A print must have has been sent to the laboratory to be spruced up, it’s of such high quality, visually and aurally. That helps, especially when there’s so much evocative location shooting of London circa 1964 (bomb sites were still around, note). Sailors (and a civilian) go on shore leave in London town, and all, with one exception (an Irishman who likes his drink), get caught up in the pursuit of womankind. Various types of love are represented, from uncomplicated gratification, tender awakening, late-flowering lust, extreme bohemianism and frustrated horniness. Saturday Night Out resembles On The Town without the song and dance, technicolour and Americanisms, and has a bit more truth. I say no song and dance, but The Searchers winningly belt out a couple a numbers in a bar at one point. Laddish, you say? Everything in Saturday Night Out is seen from a male perspective, yes, but the exhilaration of conquest is well-conveyed. It’s a shame that all this bracing liberation only led to the ubiquitous and well-rehearsed choreography that passes for sex in TV and cinema these days, but it would be unfair to blame Saturday Night Out, which is really rather a sweet movie in the end. Oh, and Patricia Hayes does her Inebriate Woman turn ten years or so before Edna: it’s a must-see for this alone. 

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