As evolution thankfully and stubbornly prevails, the infinite promising gleam of the new continually lense flares our eyes as we wait in anticipations for the forthcoming release of the ‘next big thing’. Which of course is all well and good, but something never came from nothing, there’s cinematic oceans filled with the coral of ideas laying down the foundation, providing the environment to nurture future generations.
Thankfully for us, many studios are aware of the wealth of cinema history that exists in what really is still a very young art form. In particular we have StudioCanal who are continuing their terrific work on releasing digitally restored movies from yesteryear, films which at times feel like glimpses into long forgotten worlds, but are a joy to behold, especially with such cleaned up prints and a plethora of extra features including interviews which help place the work in context of the time.
Here are three very different (especially to modern times) but individually great b/w movies that StudioCanal have just released on bluray. While we still have long nights and we wait for the spring rebirth of the year, grab a mug of coco, sit back and travel to eras long forgotten, sometimes thankfully.
First up is the war drama The Captive Heart (1946) directed by Basil Dearden a few months after the end or WWII. Set in a concentration camp of British soldiers, and adding gravitas to the work, it was actually shot in a genuine camp in Germany. Not only that, but co-screenwriter Guy Morgan had himself been held there, and some actual captives were also used in the movie.
The main story arc is the decision of a Czech soldier taking on the identity of a dead British soldier to save his own life. The Germans didn’t regard the Czechs in the same way, and his capture would have meant immediate death. Said soldier (played by Michael Redgrave) takes on the life of Capt. Geoffrey Mitchell, but the camp immediately suspect something is not quite right.
To maintain credibility and protect his life, he must begin correspondence with the wife of the fallen Capt. It is such prisoner letters that we begin to see the lives of everyone change as events in the camp and at home evolve and life weaves extra colours but sometimes painful threads into the story.
There is a profound ‘stiff upper lip’ vibe about the dialogue as all the various characters provide solidity, hope, inspiration and friendship for each other as they wait in hope for their freedom. Partners are lost and relationships are born in a movie from what seems eons ago, but is wonderful to watch as the prevailing theme of folk looking out for each other even in the most difficult of times, something that mainstream media deliberately hide in modern times.
Next up is the absolute joy that is The Fallen Idol (1948) by Carol Reed (The Third Man) and his first partnership with writer Graham Greene (The Third Man, Brighton Rock). Fantastically simple in it’s premise, the young son of a diplomat believes he has witnessed the murder of the embassy house keeper (Sonia played by Sonia Dresdel) by her husband and his close friend Baines (Ralph Richardson). Predominantly set around the embassy building itself (a massive and elegant purpose built set), it is a fascinating study of human emotions, devotion, loyalties, duplicities and perceptions.
What adds to the enjoyment of it all is the decision to tell the story from the naive perspective of the child Phillippe (Bobby Henrey), being way too young to contextualise the myriad of happenings around him. With a brilliant performance by Richardson, it is the sparseness and isolation of characters in the vast yet claustrophobic embassy that adds multiple levels of intrigue and depth to a movie that is very far ahead of it’s time. It’s also just gorgeous looking with beautiful cinematography by Georges Périnal. A fantastic film indeed.
Lastly we have The Angry Silence (1960) by Guy Green, full of wonderfully realistic dialogue (originally written by Bryan Forbes, with Richard Gregson and Michael Craig bringing it the treatment for screen) of another forgotten era, but despite it’s many qualities (in my opinion) is one of the most disgraceful pieces of anti-union propaganda pieces I’ve ever seen, worthy of the Daily Mail/The Sun. Having said that, it’s a very well made and enjoyably devious movie. And of course it’s better to see how such propaganda is done.
Looking at it with modern eyes, and quite timely as the present Tory government uses every medium possible to character destroy junior doctors, it is the tale of Martindale Engineering Company as it attempts to deal with Union complaints involving working standards and health/safety for it’s staff. Initially things seem to have order, but that is not the objective of Travers (Alfred Burke) who is picked up from the train station at the beginning of the movie and inserted into the factory as an agitator stirring up discontent in what clearly becomes a plot to destroy unions by the establishment. Despite that being extremely clear (book ending the movie), it’s necessary to say it as the unfolding story is a master class in propaganda.
Tom Curtis (Richard Attenborough on brilliant form) works at the factory and has the extra stress of his wife Anna (Per Angeli also excellent) announcing the expectancy of their third child. When a wildcat (unsanctioned by the main union) strike is called, Tom doesn’t agree with their actions. This rapidly evolves into him being ‘sent to Coventry’ (socially ostracised), which is eventually picked up by the media to fan the anti-union flames which it does admirably well. There is no level that won’t be stooped to in the tarnishing of unions in this movie, that is not to condone the idiotic actions of some of it’s remembers, but everyone is effectively a pawn in the hands of the agitator sent in. Especially for the hapless Curtis who’s life is shredded at the behest of all sides.
Despite my utter dislike for the portrayal of unions (which I wholly believe in) this is a great movie, with brilliant performances and dialogue all round, and you even get to see a very young Oliver Reed as a bit of a thug in his first screen performance.
The Captive Heart, The Fallen Idol and The Angry Silence are available on Blu-ray Disc™ now.