*Momento Jack Nicholson* Não disse há alguns dias que a Googie Withers deveria ter cuidado? Top-dúzia, então: Nota 1: Só para quem perdeu a conta, Miss Withers fez 5 filmes sob a direção de Michael Powell e, infelizmente, a maioria perdidos, foi inclusive Powell que a alçou de extra para personagem de peso, tornando-a assimContinuar lendo “Googie Withers (1917 – 2011)”
The output of Ealing Studios tended to be dominated by the house style imposed by its head, Michael Balcon. Occasionally, one or two of its directors broke away from Balcon’s ethos to produce work with a more personal, individual quality. This is certainly true of Robert Hamer, a tragic figure in the history of British cinema whose career ended early due to alcoholism, but who left a small, deeply impressive body of work behind him.
Hamer was born on 31 March 1911 in Kidderminster, son of the actor Gerald Hamer. He was sent down from Cambridge, but subsequently went into the film industry as an assistant editor with Gaumont-British in 1934. From there he moved to Korda’s London Films and then on to Mayflower, the company formed by German producer Erich Pommer and British actor Charles Laughton, where he edited Jamaica Inn (1939), Alfred Hitchcock’s last British picture before departing for Hollywood. After a brief stint with the GPO Film Unit, he was recruited by Ealing where he was employed initially as an editor and then as an associate producer. He made his debut as a director with the ‘Haunted Mirror’ section for the portmanteau horror film Dead of Night (1945). It is one of the most disturbing stories in the film, taking a well-worn theme and investing it with a sense of the danger lying underneath the surface of bourgeois life. His first feature, Pink String and Sealing Wax (1946), again featured Googie Withers as the barmaid trying to lead poor Gordon Jackson astray. The film manages a similar atmosphere to ‘The Haunted Mirror’, portraying a claustrophobic world of Victorian conformity almost undone by unbridled desire.
Set in London’s working-class East End and centring on the story of a bored wife who gives shelter to her former lover (now an escaped convict), It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) might be expected to be a standard piece of Ealing social realism, but Hamer takes it in a different direction. With Googie Withers again in the lead, the film is visually striking with more attention paid to creating a gloomy mood than in naturalistic observation. It scored a considerable commercial and critical success. Hamer’s undisputed masterpiece, voted sixth in a BFI poll of the best British films, is Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). With its witty, literate script and suitably disdainful performance from Dennis Price as Louis, the poor relation of the grand D’Ascoyne family who murders his way towards the family inheritance, the film adopts a uniquely taciturn attitude towards its dark subject matter. Alec Guinness is suitably outlandish playing all eight victims (one of them female) and the film still seems remarkably modern in both its critique of class and its liberated attitude towards sex. After a number of possible projects had been rejected by Balcon, he made The Spider and the Fly (1950) back at the revamped Mayflower. The pessimistic undercurrent in Hamer’s work is most obvious here, with its story of a three-sided relationship (often a feature of his films) set against the backdrop of France just before the outbreak of the First World War. He returned to Ealing for one final film, the disappointingly stagey comedy His Excellency (1951) which, as with his previous film, stars Eric Portman. Unable to gain Balcon’s approval for any further projects, he made The Long Memory (1952) for producer Hugh Stewart. John Mills is slightly unlikely as the ex-convict seeking revenge after serving time for a crime he didn’t commit, but Hamer invests the film with his now familiar fatalism and makes striking use of the setting on a barge and of the dreary mudflats at Gravesend for the final chase. Hamer’s melancholy is even apparent in the understated Father Brown (1954), adapted from GK Chesterton’s short stories. Alec Guinness is the priest turned detective, but the film is as concerned with the moral salvation of his arch-enemy, played sympathetically by Peter Finch, as it is in Chesterton’s hero.
Struggling to find suitable film projects in the mid-1950s – To Paris with Love (1955) is an insubstantial comedy again with Alec Guinness – he turned instead to television making A Month in the Country (1955), a touching adaptation of Turgenev for the independent company Rediffusion. The last cinema film he completed was The Scapegoat (1958), an intermittently fascinating adaptation from Daphne du Maurier with Guinness this time playing a holidaymaker tricked into taking on another’s man’s identity. The film’s potential was certainly hampered by post-production cutting by its American backers, as well as by disputes Hamer had with the author and his star. The break-up of his second marriage and his own confused sexuality may have contributed to his descent into chronic alcoholism; he had to be replaced while shooting School for Scoundrels (1959). There is still much to admire in the film’s comic take on the cruelties of the British class system and the performances by Ian Carmichael, Alastair Sim and Terry-Thomas are perfectly judged. He didn’t direct again, although he completed a couple of assignments as a scriptwriter before succumbing to his addiction. He died on 4 December 1963 at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. It was a tragic end to a career that should have delivered so much more. Nonetheless, the small group of films he directed indicates a film-maker of real substance, typified by his visual panache as well as by a mordantly humorous view of British manners and methods. Even without knowing his life story, there is a detectable strain of melancholy in his work which invests even his comedies with an underlying depth of emotion and pathos.
British Film Directors: A Critical Guide – Robert Shail
Basil Dearden was born on 1 January 1911 in Westcliffe-on-Sea as Basil Dear. His youthful interest in amateur dramatics led to him entering the theatre as an actor, but he quickly moved behind the curtain to become a stage manager. In 1931 he went to work for theatre producer Basil DEAN as his general stage manager, subsequently making the same shift into films that DEAN had, joining him at Associated Talking Pictures (ATP) whereDean was studio head. He changed his name to Dearden to avoid any confusion with his boss. When Michael Balcon took over the ATP studios at Ealing, Dearden remained. During the late 1930s he worked on a number of Ealing films, including five George Formby vehicles, usually as writer or associate producer. His directing career began on three comedies featuring another of Ealing’s music hall stars, Will Hay, with Dearden co-directing with Hay.
His first solo effort was The Bells Go Down (1943), which paid tribute to the wartime heroism of the Auxiliary Fire Service. The film’s art director was Michael Relph and his meeting with Dearden marked the beginning of a remarkable collaboration which was to last nearly thirty years. As a director-producer-writer team they became the most prolific film-makers working at Ealing. It was, perhaps, their role as studio workhorses that led to a rather poor critical reputation, with commentators dismissing their work as routine, well-meaning but dull. In retrospect, this assessment of their Ealing output seems inadequate. There are films which certainly fit the 1940s Ealing ethos in terms of adopting a realist style and dealing with contemporary issues, but Dearden and Relph frequently showed a preference for subjects which raised wider moral issues. The Captive Heart (1946) is a moving POW film, whilst Frieda (1947) deals sympathetically with the prejudice facing a German woman who, through marriage, finds herself living in postwar England. The Blue Lamp (1949) tackles juvenile crime within an exciting thriller format (a technique that was to become a trademark), but is best remembered for Dirk Bogarde’s intense performance as a young tearaway. A number of their films deal with the difficulties of postwar readjustment, from the melodramatic The Ship that Died of Shame (1955), through the documentary approach of Out of the Clouds (1955), to the crime caper The League of Gentlemen (1960). The latter was made after the demise of Ealing, but within its genre narrative offers a remarkably cynical depiction of a group of ex-soldiers who find themselves discarded in postwar Britain.
However, the sober realism that predominates in these films doesn’t tell the full story of Dearden’s output in this period. Notable among his other films are the gloriously melancholy costume piece Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948), with its sumptuous colour cinematography and rich production design, and the whimsical comedy The Smallest Show on Earth (1957), which pays nostalgic tribute to the magic of film-going in a style close to the tradition of the Ealing comedies. Dearden also provided a section for Ealing’s macabre portmanteau film Dead of Night (1945). Another reason for Dearden and Relph’s poor standing may have been this eclecticism, which didn’t sit comfortably with the strictures of the auteur theory.
In the late 1950s Dearden and Relph embarked on a series of ‘social problem’ films which explicitly tackled topical themes within a deliberately audience-pleasing entertainment format, often using the crime genre. Sapphire (1959) was among the first British films to deal with racial tensions, while Victim (1961) was groundbreaking in depicting the way that homosexuals were subject to blackmail under contemporary laws. The film was credited with being central to the subsequent decriminalisation, and eventual legalisation, of homosexuality. Violent Playground (1958) again dealt with juvenile delinquency and Life for Ruth (1962) focused on an ethical clash between religious fundamentalism and modern medicine. These films, which have become intrinsically associated with Dearden and Relph, drew a good deal of criticism on the grounds that their timid liberalism failed to fully address the complexity of the issues involved, and that the attempt to frame the topics within fairly conventional storylines drained them of any sense of conflict. The recent, and more sympathetic, reassessment of their work has tended to place the films in context, showing the risks they took in making a film like Victim, as evidenced by the fact that it effectively ended Dirk Bogarde’s Rank contract.
Their later films shifted on to safer ground, but still threwup a number of interesting items including the spectacular epic Khartoum (1965) and the modest, but neatly executed, supernatural thriller The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), with Roger Moore as a dull man whose exciting alter ego is released in a car crash. In a ghastly irony,Dearden’s career was brought to a premature end when he died as the result of a car accident on 23 March 1971. Dearden’s considerable output is certainly uneven, particularly in the early 1950s, so it’s unsurprising that some critics dismissed him as all too typical of the restraint and mediocrity which has sometimes beset British cinema. However, his work has gradually been given more of the due it deserves. The sheer variety of his output shouldn’t obscure the consistency of his concern withmoral issues tackled within clear social settings.
British Film Directors: A Critical Guide – Robert Shail