This film is one of the best screen portrayals of everyday life in post World War Two London that there has ever been. We see the grime. We see the boredom of the young, who are so desperate to break away from their parents control. We also see the frayed tempers and all the nosy neighbours. The film is part Noir, part crime drama, and part romance. This flick came out of Ealing Studios during their grittier and darker period in the 1940’s.
The film is interesting visually because photographer Douglas Slocombe shot it out on location in and around the streets of London. This choice certainly gives the film a great deal of realism. We see the cramped and busy city streets, and the somewhat calmer residential streets, and because we do it’s like being there with the characters we are watching. It is shown to be raining for much of the film, and I really love how one part of the soundtrack by Georges Auric sounds just like the patter of raindrops.
Rose Sandigate is a London housewife whose dull Sunday morning is turned on its head by the arrival of her former sweetheart Tommy Swann(John McCallum). Tommy has been in prison for years and has escaped. Tommy is now on the run and is being searched for by the police, in a manhunt led by the highly experienced and observant, Detective Fothergill (Jack Warner).
Rose hates Tommy for having left her, but she won’t turn him over to the police. Rose may harbour conflicted feelings for Tommy, but she will try and offer him what little help she can (shelter, food and money). The trouble is Rose is now married to the kindly George (Edward Chapman)and is mother to their son, and also to her two stepdaughters, Vi and Doris. Her family are in and out of the house and she must try and hide Tommy from them and from her neighbours and the police.
The escape of Tommy isn’t the only story of the film though. There are several other stories being told, and the paths that some of the other characters in those stories take end up connecting them with Tommy Swann’s later in the film. There are the three criminals who are trying to flog stolen rollerskates, the reporter who is also trying to find Tommy, and the crime boss who Doris’s boyfriend wrongly assumes fancies her.
We also follow Rose’s two stepdaughters Vi (Susan Shaw)and Doris (Patricia Plunkett) and their love lives. We also see the antagonism that they (more so Vi)have towards Rose. Interestingly Vi and Rose are both quite similar in that they are both very strong and determined women, and they both fall for a guy who breaks their heart; in Vi’s case it is the suave, married musician and music store owner Morry (Sydney Tafler). Vi and Rose have more in common with one another than they’d like to admit.
This film is thrilling, suspenseful, funny and quite realistic. There are strong characters and performances to enjoy throughout. The standout performance of the film comes from Googie Withers as Rose. Googie was one of the best actresses working in Britain at the time. She always excelled at playing strong women and this is one of her best screen performances. She perfectly captures this woman’s boredom and her unleashed excitement when the situation with Tommy makes this Sunday one she’ll never forget. Rose is on edge throughout the film. She struggles to control her temper when she argues with Vi, and struggles to ignore her feelings for Tommy. Most of all she struggles to endure the dullness of her life as a housewife.
Susan Shaw also makes quite an impression in the film. She is excellent as the glamourous Vi. Shaw shows us that this woman is tough and also easily hurt. Shaw had a tragic life, she married the popular actor Bonar Colleano, and became an alcoholic after he was killed in a car crash in 1958. A sad life and end for a very good actress.
Sydney Tafler is excellent as Morry. He steals every scene he is in as the man who cheats on his wife, but who wrongly assumes she doesn’t know when she actually does. This leads to him rather amusingly finding out he is wrong in that. He breaks a lot of hearts, and doesn’t give it a second thought. What a cad!
I like how the film shows how the family have frayed tempers because they live in such a cramped environment, and because of that they have little privacy from one another. This would have been the reality in many British homes at the time. The film also reflects the dullness of everyday living and the excitement that beckons from living your life in a different way to the accepted norm of society.
The film also shows us the two sides of criminal life. There’s the money and nice times when the criminal succeeds, and there is also the imprisonment and heartbreak when they fail, get caught and are punished. This is reflected in the exploits of the gang trying to flog their stolen skates, and in Tommy, who literally embodies what happens to a criminal when they are caught and punished. In the film Tommy is shown to have been severely flogged while in prison. He has come out a scared, broken and desperate man. Hopefully his situation may have served as a wakeup call to anyone in the audience who thought crime pays.
I think this film also highlights that it is women who so often are left to pick up the pieces, and to suffer great emotional pain when their men go and do something stupid (be it crime or cheating on them). The women take that pain and use it to make themselves stronger, as that is the only way they can go on with life after what has happened.
The film also makes Rose an interesting character, she is shown as a married woman who still has feelings for her ex, and there is a scene where it is pretty strongly hinted that she and her ex have sex in her bed! Also the rather shocking decision she makes near the very end of the film is very interesting; I think that her choice must surely have shocked quite a few people at the time of release from a moral point of view.
This bleak choice that Rose makes adds even more darkness and despair to a film already swimming in both of those things. Interestingly though Rose does get some happiness at the end, which goes against what usually happened to characters like her, especially if they are deemed immoral or because they made the decision she did at the end.
Sadly this was to be the last film that Googie Withers would make for Ealing Studios. She continued to make films elsewhere though. She and co-star John McCallum were in love when they made this film, and they got married the following year. They moved to Australia in the 1950’s and stayed married until John died in 2010. Googie died the following year.
This really is one of the best British films. I think it does such a good job of portraying the post war life. It has become a great favourite of mine, and when I’m in the mood for a well acted British Noir this is one I turn to. I just wish it was better known by classic film fans today.
I like how many of the characters actions, gestures and words give the film a strong dose of authenticity and realism. One of my favourite examples of this is the scene with Hermione Baddeley as a landlady interviewed by the police; she is so disdainful and walks away from them yawning and scratching her bum. It’s the little moments like this that bring characters to life and make a film or series more realistic. I also like how the people in this film are relatable and ordinary, they are not rich or doing things that most people at this time would never have been able to afford to do.
My favourite scenes are the following. Rose and Vi’s argument and fight about the bedroom door and the mirror. The entire sequence at the railway yard. The inspector speaking to the three men in the pub. The opening scene where Doris has to make breakfast, and the family all start to get up and get ready. Tommy and Rose’s first meeting in the air raid shelter. The flashback sequences showing us Tommy and Rose’s romance. The two boys blackmailing Morry in return for their silence about seeing him with Vi. The ending.
Any other fans of this one?