Criterion Sunday 294: The Browning Version (1951)

I’m pretty sure that most people going into this film aren’t exactly expecting anything thrilling. After all, as a film it exudes exactly the atmosphere of the scenario it depicts, black-and-white photography capturing the fusty old corridors of a large overprivileged English public school where Michael Redgrave plays a Classics teacher, Mr Crocker-Harris. He has a quote from Aeschylus’s Agamemnon permanently chalked up on the board behind his desk as he dispassionately surveys his classroom and speaks in a flat monotone to the boys, all but one of whom very much dislike him. It takes its time, too, for the drama to get going, but it works in some of the same ways, as, say, Brief Encounter in tracking these minute little changes of emotional register among a small group of central characters. It’s easy to miss what’s going on, and I suspect it only improves on re-watching, but this impressed me far more once it had finished than I had any expectation upon starting.

CRITERION EXTRAS:

  • There’s a five-minute clip from British TV in the late-1950s with Redgrave being interviewed about acting and how he gets into roles, during which he briefly touches on this film.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Anthony Asquith; Writer Terence Rattigan (based on his play); Cinematographer Desmond Dickinson; Starring Michael Redgrave, Jean Kent, Nigel Patrick, Brian Smith; Length 90 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Wednesday 12 February 2020.

Criterion Sunday 158: The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)

There’s a certain strain in English filmmaking — and I think it’s the best kind — that is very much upfront about the theatricality of their sources. This one starts with a proscenium framing, and never lets up reminding us about quite how staged it all is, in the manner of the best farces. Wilde’s lines are given weight — enunciated with an archness that seems to be playing to the back of a very large room — even if not always fully respected (or so I gather from the gasps of my wife at bits having been needlessly cut and rephrased), but it’s not really until the entrance of Edith Evans’ Lady Bracknell that the film starts to really work. The male leads (Redgrave and Denison), after all, seem far too old, even for the staid era the film is trying to portray. Still, those line readings are for the most part marvellous, and the director has small flourishes (a match-cut to a gardenia near the beginning) that betray some thought about staging.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Anthony Asquith (based on the play by Oscar Wilde); Cinematographer Desmond Dickinson; Starring Michael Redgrave, Michael Denison, Edith Evans, Joan Greenwood; Length 95 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Thursday 7 September 2017.

Criterion Sunday 3: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Something I love about this film is that a pair of rather camp cricket-obsessed minor characters were so popular that they became big stars and went on to further film and televisual exploits. But this pair (Charters and Caldicott, anxious to return to England to catch the end of the five-day test match) are just one of the delights of this last film by director Alfred Hitchcock before himself travelling on to Hollywood. The premise is that adverse weather has stranded tourists in charmingly fictional Bandrika (a mittel-European land with German architecture, French manners and Italian accents), who must wait for the next day’s train. While aboard, our protagonist Iris (Margaret Lockwood), on a last holiday before returning to get married, loses her elderly travelling companion Miss Froy, to general disbelief. This kicks off a mystery thriller premise — filled with all kinds of colourful minor characters — while always remaining lightly comical in tone, as Iris enlists the aid of another traveller, the musician and amateur ethnomusicologist Gilbert (Michael Redgrave). There’s espionage, nuns, intrigue and a rather silly climactic shoot-out, but it never submits to some of the nastiness of Hitchcock’s later films, though whether Charters and Caldicott eventually get to watch some cricket is something you’ll need to watch the movie to find out.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Alfred Hitchcock; Writers Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder (based on the novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White); Cinematographer Jack E. Cox; Starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave; Length 97 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 5 October 2014.