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

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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