British Cinema, Second World War

Went The Day Well? (1942)

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Quite simply, this is one of the best films ever made at Ealing Studios. This film was a rare none comic film from a studio that was best known for its comic output. The film looks at how we act under pressure and threat. It also shows us that we can all make a difference in such circumstances.

For a film from the 40’s, Went The Day Well? contains some extremely graphic and dark scenes. For instance, there’s the scene where a woman murders a German soldier and in turn she is murdered by his colleague. The scene where members of the home guard are gunned down on the road. The scene where a woman is slapped for not obeying instructions. There is also the scene where the Vicar is shot to death in his church.

One of the most shocking (and for me the most unforgettable)scenes comes near the end of the film. A live grenade is thrown into a room full of children, an older woman notices it, grabs it and runs from the room with it, only to be blown up.

The body count in this film is very high. Both British and German characters are killed throughout, leading to the battle for the village in the films final minutes.

The film is based on a story by Graham Greene. The film no doubt served as a reminder to British people at the time to remain vigilant to the possible invasion of the enemy.

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Went The Day Well? tells the story of a group of German paratroopers who seize control of the British village of Bramley End. Some of the villagers make an heroic stand against the soldiers, and they try and get word to neighbouring communities of the arrival of the Germans.

Unbeknown to the villagers one of their own is a German sleeper agent. Leslie Banks plays the double crossing Oliver Wilsford with relish. Wilsford is despicable having no qualms about happily ending the lives of people he has lived amongst for years.

This film has a cracking cast to enjoy.

Marie Loher is excellent as the heroic Mrs. Fraser.

C.V France is excellent as the steadfast Vicar, willing to risk his own life instead of bowing beneath the jackboot.

Valerie Taylor is Nora, the Vicar’s gentle daughter who will do the unthinkable and resort to violence.

Harry Fowler is George, a young boy who will risk his own life to alert neighbours to the invasion.

A very young Thora Hird is memorable as Ivy. She is shown happily dispatching Germans off with her shotgun.

Muriel George is Mrs. Collins, the brave postmistress who gives a side order of hatchet with her sausages and mash.

A young David Farrar impresses as an ice cold German soldier casually threatening to kill the village children.

The film interestingly depicts everyone in this community working together for the greater good. Whether they be rich or poor, old or young, male or female; the villagers come together and work as one to defeat the enemy.

I also like how for most of the film it is the women who come up with plans of escape or of warning the outside(the eggs with a message on for example). The film also offers some very strong female roles, and shows the women to be just as brave and capable(if not more so)as the men.

This is one of my favourite war time films, and it is a film that I consider to be one of the best British films ever made. I also wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this film influenced The Eagle Has Landed.

Highly recommended if you’ve never seen it. If you have, please leave your thoughts below.

 

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Romance, Second World War

Enchantment (1948)

Saw this little gem for the first time yesterday and really enjoyed it. I’d never heard of it before, and I think it’s one that deserves to be better known. Beginning in London, during the Second World War, the film takes us back in time to the Edwardian era as we follow the experiences of one family.

David Niven plays both the older and younger Rollo, embittered by the tragic end to his romance with his fathers ward, Lark (Teresa Wright). Rollo’s cold hearted, elder sister Selina(Jayne Meadows)is nasty to Lark and puts in place several obstacles to prevent the burgeoning love between her brother and Lark. I have rarely felt such hate towards a film character as I have towards Selina; interfering, controlling and cold, she wants to be the centre of attention at all times and can’t bear it when others are happy. At the same time I was fascinated by why she was that way; at the beginning we learn her mother died when she and her two brothers were young, and she became the mistress of the house(essentially she had to grow up before her time), I also think she resented Lark being brought into her family. As sad as Selina’s childhood may have been it doesn’t excuse such behaviour when she grows up.

Niven is excellent here, hugely likeable(when wasn’t he?)as the dashing, younger Rollo and almost unrecognisable as the older man. Wright is enchanting as the gentle Lark, struggling with her feelings and enduring unpleasantness from Selina for years.Evelyn Keyes and Farley Granger play war time sweethearts with a connection to Rollo’s family.

I really liked that the family home serves as the films narrator, there is that old saying “if only walls could talk”, in this film we get to hear what they would say if they could. The opening really made me think about houses and what goes on inside those four walls, and how connected we are to the home we grew up in.

This is very sad in places, if ever a couple deserved a happy ending it was Rollo and Lark, sadly that just wasn’t to be so.Good performances, beautiful costumes(Wright in particular gets some stunning gowns)and period detail. Highly recommended.

 

 

British Cinema, Second World War

Millions Like Us (1943)

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This is one of my all time favourite films. This shows us the experiences of British women, during the Second World War. Set in an aircraft factory overseen by Eric Portman’s no nonsense foreman; we share the joys and heartbreak of a small group of women who sign up to do their bit while the men are away.

There’s the romantic Celia(Patricia Roc), pragmatic Gwen(Megs Jenkins) and the haughty and elegant Jennifer(Ann Crawford). Despite the differences in their background, these girls become firm friends as they adjust to their new duties.

Celia finds love with a young RAF officer(a baby faced Gordon Jackson), and Jennifer finds herself falling in love with foreman Charlie(Eric Portman). Some of the funniest and most moving scenes in the film are those featuring these two couples.

This really gives you a sense of what life on the homefront was like, aerial bombardments and people from all walks of life being forced to work and live together.  I greatly admire the indomitable spirit of the characters in this; it’s easy to see why this was a real morale booster upon release.

No doubt this film helped women of the time realise the valuable work they could do if they left the kitchen for a change. The war years were tough but for women they brought freedom and independence, as many worked (apart from domestic tasks)for the first time in their lives, life would never be the same when the men returned.

Great performances from the entire cast. Particular praise must go to Eric Portman(one of my favourite actors, someone who should be much better known today)and Ann Crawford(Ann tragically passed away in 1956, aged just 35.)

A little gem that deserves to be better known. I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.