Friday, November 3, 2017

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1947, Part Two: Among the Ranks (and Great Expectations)

Today, all ten movies are brought to us by the Rank Organisation, who classic film fans will know by their gong...

J. Arthur Rank was the son of Joseph Rank, founder of one of the largest flour milling and bakery companies in Britain, Joseph Rank Limited - he had money. Yet J. Arthur's start in films was not the result of financing from an industrialist with stars in his eyes (as happens), but of his Methodist faith. A devout Sunday school teacher, Rank often showed religious short films in his class, a practice which became so popular that he eventually started his own distribution company for the purpose, called Religious Film Society. When the Methodist Times complained of the moral quality of films in the mainstream, Rank co-founded the British National Films Company with John Corfield and Lady Yule. The trio bought the newly-formed Pinewood Studios in 1935, and issues with distribution and exhibition for their first film, Turn of the Tide, were solved when Rank bought up distributors and exhibitors.

By 1939, Lady Yule and Corfield were gone, and Rank consolidated his production, distribution, and exhibition shingles under one company: The Rank Organisation. Over the next decade, the Rank Organisation, and the studios within it, would make some of the finest films in British film history. While the initial intention to produce family-friendly flicks with good Christian values seems to be occasionally forgotten, Rank dedicated himself to an equally important task: production of quality cinema. And here are ten such examples, spanning four years in the UK, but all released in the United States in 1947.

Green for Danger
dir: Sidney Gilliat
scr: Sidney Gilliat and Claude Guerney, based on the novel by Christianna Brand

An inspector investigates double-murder at a hospital in wartime England. A thrilling mystery, a talented ensemble, chilling cinematography, witty dialogue, and fascinating observations about life during The War. Great character work, specific in speech, manner, and agenda.

The power of Powell and Pressburger.....after the jump.

A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven)
dir/scr: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
special notes: released in New York City in 1946, thus qualifying for that year's New York Film Critics Circle Awards; released in LA in 1947, thus qualifying for that year's Oscars

British airman who should have died must make a case for his continued life in Heaven's high court. A beautiful film, dissolving between a monochromatic Other World and our boldly Technicolor one. Not just an appeal for love on Earth, but an indictment of our past hatreds. It is intelligent, funny, romantic.

Odd Man Out
dir: Carol Reed
scr: F.L. Green and R.C. Sheriff, based on the novel by Green
Oscar Nominee: Best Film Editing

An escaped convict is shot, wandering house to house in Belfast, Northern Island; this movie is about the people he meets, their various motives for keeping him alive, reporting him, hiding him. A deep understanding of people. Prime James Mason.

The Overlanders
dir/scr: Harry Watt

True story of Australians who drove cattle across 2000 miles to protect the country's resources from Japanese invaders. It's short and black-and-white, but its story, its breathtaking photography, its feeling, are of a full-color epic. Could do without the romance, but why sweat the little things?

dir: Lance Comfort
scr: Vera Caspary and Herbert Victor and Isadore Goldsmith, additional dialogue by Moie Charles and M. Roy Ridley, based on the novel by Caspary

Bedelia is a happy newlywed with a secret - and her husband's new friend is intent on exposing it! Dishy little thriller with Margaret Lockwood in the lead, neatly walking the line between misunderstood innocent, and devious conniver. What a fun Christmas party mid-film!

The Wicked Lady
dir: Leslie Arliss
scr: Arliss, additional dialogue by Gordon Glennon and Aimée Stuart, based ont he novel by Magdalen King-Hall

More wicked, wicked Margaret Lockwood, this time as a woman who seduces her cousin's fiance and takes to highway-robbing - all out of boredom! A scandalous period piece, full of bitchy dialogue, face-slapping, murder, adultery, whores, a hanging...oh, it's a scrumptious feast!

The Upturned Glass
dir: Lawrence Huntington
scr: John Monaghan and Pamela Kellino (aka Pamela Mason), from the original story by Monaghan

James Mason is a doctor plotting a murder - but first he tells his criminology class all about it. Great use of what could have been a tired framing device, and a finale that suggests that cold detachment may be saner in today's world than empathy and passion. A neat little movie.

Black Narcissus
dir/scr: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, based on the novel by Rumer Godden

Nuns start a convent in the Himalayas, where the exotic atmosphere and altitude bring about conflict and temptation. Deborah Kerr stars as the stubborn Sister Superior in one of the great screen performances, leading an incredible cast. Every shot is breathtaking, every bit of the set perfect.

This Happy Breed
dir: David Lean
scr: Anthony Havelock-Allan & David Lean & Ronald Neame, from the play by Noel Coward
special note: released in Britain in April 1944, but unreleased in USA until April 1947

Fine performances keep this episodic look at London life between The Wars on firm footing, but they can't hide the sometimes clunky monologuing or the stop-and-go nature of the story. Celia Johnson's weary mother and Kay Walsh's restless daughter tie for best in show.

Great Expectations
dir: David Lean
scr: David Lean & Ronald Neame & Anthony Havelock-Allan, with Kay Walsh and Cecil McGivern, based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Oscar Winner: Best Cinematography (Black-and-White), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Black-and-White)
Oscar Nominee: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay

Dickens classic about a young man in love with a cold girl and the unexpected riches that come his way. Starts with gothic promise: cinematography, production design, costumes, Martita Hunt's Miss Havisham - all haunting. Charmless, miscast Valerie Hobson undercuts central conflict.

The Best of the Ten: Black Narcissus, Green for Danger, A Matter of Life and Death

The Worst of the Ten: Not a "bad" film, but I'm least enthused over This Happy Breed

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