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Hits from the Blitz

Thanks to Criterion and VCI, here are two more titles from the British cinema’s finest hour — World War II and its difficult aftermath. Carol Reed’s 1940 “Night Train to Munich,” an entertaining follow-up to Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes” from the screenwriters Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, opened just days before the German bombing raids on London began; St. John L. Clowes’s “No Orchids for Miss Blandish,” released in 1948, is a suggestively frustrated attempt to film James Hadley Chase’s unfilmmable novel — “a header into the cesspool,” as George Orwell described it — said to be the most popular reading material in the bomb shelters during the Blitz. My New York Times review is here.

94 comments to Hits from the Blitz

  • Tom Brueggemann

    The Fox Movie Channel in the US shows The Nickel Ride from time to time, letterboxed, so there is some hope it will show up again for those who have not seen it.

  • Brian Dauth

    Hooray for JUGGERNAUT! I remember seeing it when it first came out, and wondering why it was not embraced more. But then, there are a lot of films I feel that way about.

  • Barry Putterman

    Nicolas, it would certainly be a huge advance for the human race if any of us could somehow break completely free of national cultutral identity and all of the prejudices which goes with it. To some extent, the handful of “established” classics that Dave mentioned came to represent British cinema for us because they conformed to our general image of British culture; centuries old high art theater (HAMLET) and a temperament of emotional and moral restraint (BRIEF ENCOUNTER). To a certain extent, the Orwell essay which was discussed can be seen in the tradition of 40s British intellectuals griping about the onslaught of Yankee cultural barbarians while the Empire crumbles.

    All I can say is: the more you see, the more you learn. I still have a long way to go in regards to British films and almost as long in relation to French films. It would simply be too depressing to think about how far I have to go in relation to other national cinemas.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Nicolas, in 1976 two French cinephiles, Raymond Lefevre and Roland Lacourbe, published a book called 30 ANS DE CINEMA BRITANNIQUE (1940-1975) — the publisher was the same as the one of TRENTE ANS DE CINEMA AMERICAIN (1970)and the book’s concept was patterned after ours. It’s a remarkably well researched and critically most competent tome, written by great fans of British films who clearly didn’t agree with Truffaut’s sweepind dismissal of everything English (the Truffaut quote: “To say that the English cinema is dead would be an exageration since it barely ever existed…”)Unfortunately the authors never updated that excellent book which I assume has been out of print for a long time. I have looked up things in it countless times.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Some essential books on British cinema I have picked up over the years:

    Quota Quickies: The Birth of British B Cinema – Steve Chibnall (BFI)

    British Crime Cinema – edited by Steve Chibnall and Robert & Murphy (Rutledge)

    British Genres: Cinema and Society, 1930-1960 – Marcia Landy (Princeton)

    Ealing Studios – Charles Barr (Overlook Press)

    Missing Believed Lost: The Great British Film Search – edited by Allen Eyles and David Meeker (BFI)

  • Richard T. Jameson

    As long as we’re cross-posting, and since it IS a neglected movie, here’s something on JUGGERNAUT from the Opening Shots Project at Jim Emerson’s Scanners. Most of those entries are terrific, by the way.

  • Brian Dauth

    Thanks Jonathan: thoughts about a movie are always worth something from the man who praised GUYS AND DOLLS. From your review and what Richard linked to, I bet it was that the unfussy elegance of Lester’s handling of the material that so excited me. I have to admit, I have not seen the movie since, but was happy when I heard it was coming out on dvd. Now I really have to watch it again.

  • Juggernaut’s terrific, not just for the filmmaking but for the flip, bracing way Lester handled the people–no soppy sentiment, just the facts, thank you. And I agree, easily the best of a not often respectable genre.

  • Oliver C

    Probably best to treat Truffaut’s sweeping dismissal of English cinema like his equally sweeping (and infamous) dismissal of Satyajit Ray.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    I agree with Noel: JUGGERNAUT is a terrific movie, by far the best of its genre, which it beautifully transcends.

  • Barry Putterman

    Beyond its undeniable aesthetic qualities, JUGGERNAUT holds a special place in my heart because I saw it in one of the long gone big Broadway movie houses just weeks after arriving in New York to begin grad school studies.

    By the way, according to Imdb, it is now called TERROR ON THE BRITANNIC. Exactly WHO calls it that, they don’t say.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    IMBd dumbed down this week. I knew they just changed to listing the primary title as what the US release was; so now it looks like they have changed to current DVD title as well.

    They since I have used them list all names by given first, family last, even if no one has ever done that (such as listing as Yun-Fat Chow, Tse-Tung Mao), and this has had a big impact on what their users (which includes a huge number of impressionable younger people) accept as the normal usage. This change (done I assume to satisfy advertisers and current rights holders) is going to do further, considerable damage in the future.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘list all names by given first, family last, even if no one has ever done that (such as listing as Yun-Fat Chow, Tse-Tung Mao)’

    Because of US Occupation Japanese names was written that way. Making other East Asian name conform to Western style will be confusing to people studying Asian movies from West.

  • IMDB (in the US) has (as far as I can recall) always used Western name order for Asian names (except when they made a mistake).

    I believe if one accesses instead of (or, etc), one can still get films listed under their original names.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well if you turn to IMDB now, you will see people listed as Li Gong and Yimou Zhang. As someone who has been involved in the Everett Collection’s captioning and keywording for fifteen years, I must say that trying to find a uniform way to make East Asian names understadable to our client base worldwide (not to mention ourselves) has been a constant source of frustration. And, since we are instructed to use IMDB as our base, since it is the reference tool that most people turn to in searching for names and titles, their constant and I feel capricious changes of direction do not help matters one bit. Am I now going to have to change the JUGGERNAUT images to say TERROR ON THE BRITANNIC? A terror far worse than those on the Britannic ever imagined.

  • I saw Kennedy’s “The Killer Inside Me” from a TV print decades ago and only have those memories (not even notes, sadly) of a pan-and-scan, edited for TV print to go by, but it was also around the time I first read Thompson’s books in general and “Killer” in particular. My recollection is that Keach was able to get that unique sense of self-awareness from the novel, where the two sides of the deputy were in constant conversation with one another. That’s something the Winterbottom’s film misses entirely, and in the process misses Thompson’s sensibility in general (which “Coup de Torchon” gets right).

  • Michael: thanks for the IMDb tip

    It turns out you can go in to your preferences and then, in the “Title Display Default” check off “Original” in place of “IMDb default” so all pages come up with the title of origin in place.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Thanks to those who indicated that I can have my personal prefences on titles reflected on IMDb. Unfortunately, the “current” or US title now will become the default for nearly everyone, and cause massive confusion in the future.

    Junko – I’d heard that the reversal of Japanese names preceded the occupation, but rather went back to the Meiji era when some Western ways were thought to be more “modern” and the decision was made at the top that when dealing with the West, the names were transposed. You certainly have more knowledge of this than what I’ve picked up – was it not done before 1945?

    When Sony Pictures released Memoirs of a Geisha, they decided her name was Ziyi ZHANG, had it that way on the prints, ads and Oscar campaign, even though for many years Sony Classics had correctly listed her as ZHANG Ziyi.

    Pedantic note – it’s not just East Asian countries that have the inverse order. So does Hungary (so it’s JANCSO Miklos, GABOR Zsa Zsa had she remained there) and some West African societies (Sembene Ousmane).

    The other massive level of confusion is Spanish names – I didn’t realize until not that long ago that usually when one sees three names for someone from a Spanish speaking country, the last two are his family name (as in Alejandro GONZALEZ INARRITU and Tomas GUTIERREZ ALEA.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I’d heard that the reversal of Japanese names preceded the occupation, but rather went back to the Meiji era when some Western ways were thought to be more “modern” and the decision was made at the top that when dealing with the West, the names were transposed.’

    That is right Tom, but from Occupation era all Japanese names was changed beside only government communication with West. It has become standard since Occupation, not specialized like before.

    Not so confusing for Japanese when communicating with Western people. I write my name Western style here, Japanese style for Asian board. But, easier for me to write Japanese style when writing about Japanese artist because I am thinking that way.

    Also, Western academic scholar is writing Asian style name when talking about Japan.

    Changing other East Asian name to Western style is confusing since those artist was always known by that name in West before.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    The confusion is why I reluctantly still write Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu in most public forums, but for my own records always revert to the correct way.

    My understanding is that sometime in the 1990s the Japanese government and other institutions made a major attempt to go back to the correct form, including at film festivals. But of the major ones, the only one I’m aware that honored this was Cannes.

  • The best way to avoid confusion (an idea I got from watching movie credits) is put family names in ALL CAPS, regardless of the order — Yasujiro OZU, ZHANG Yimou, Maggie CHEUNG Man-Yuk. Once The name is presented the first time in a posting (or article) one can be less formal. ;~}

  • Tom Brueggemann

    And that is what is seen sometimes in film credits – I notice this a lot in South Korea films, as well for a number of Spanish named directors/actors etc.

    Gael GARCIA BERNAL seems to have this in his contract – I see it for him a lot.

    (Again, most people here have learned this, but for those who haven’t come across it –

    Luis Bunuel is actually Luis Bunuel Portoles
    Fidel Castro, Fidel Castro Ruz

    If Gael GARCIA BERNAL and Catalina SANDENO MORENO married and had a son name Jose, his name would be Jose GARCIA SANDENO, taking the paternal name of both parents, father’s first, mother’s second.

  • Richard T. Jameson

    Back on Zhang Ziyi (let me rephrase that…), I had heard around the time of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA that she had taken the step of legally changing her name to Ziyi Zhang to accord with Western usage. I assumed that was in anticipation of a big Hollywood career, which unhappily has yet to materialize.

  • jwarthen

    The people who weren’t paying attention to JUGGERNAUT altogether ignored HEARTS OF THE WEST which TCM runs at noon Saturday. What it implies about the missed opportunities for director Zieff, Blythe Danner and Andy Griffith is deeply saddening. This is the film that moved Kael to describe Jeff Bridges’ characterization as “the greatest kid in the world”. She called that right.

  • nicolas saada

    Happy to read such enthusiastic reactions to JUGGERNAUT. I was asked to pick a film for the London Film School’s “Speakeasy” next tuesday and it was my first choice. I hope the people who will attend the screening will share your enthusiasm. Lester is an uneven director, but JUGGERNAUT is something of a gem.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Hearts of the West is noon today EDT, 9 am PDT, in between the CDT and MDT for those not in EDT.

  • Barry Putterman

    For those who were not entirely put off by the discussion regarding disc quality a few weeks ago, there is a Warners Archive sale on Deep Discount running through June 30. I won’t go into the issues of what they say is the list price and the percentage of their discount. I’ll just say that they are going at 14 dollars per title, and you can get the Torchy Blaine box for about 29 dollars.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    They haven’t had a 5 for $55 in a while; holding out for that, hopefully soon…

  • THE NICKEL RIDE is a fascinating film. It has a rich use of color.
    Have been noticing Mulligan motifs in it. The sports facilities, the swimming pool and stadium, echo the baseball parks in FEAR STRIKES OUT and the NYC playground in LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER. Just saw the last for the first time on TCM. Very good!
    Bo Hopkins is a character type in Mulligan: 30, blond, good looking, playing very strange, almost fantastic roles. He follows Robert Duvall in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Robert Redford in INSIDE DAISY CLOVER.
    Roland Lacourbe is also a distinguished mystery historian, as well as a film historian. He is one of the world’s leading experts on locked room and impossible crime mysteries. He wrote the study “99 chambres closes, Guide de lecture du crime impossible”.
    A very kind person sent me a tape of ESCAPE IN THE FOG (Boetticher). Have to upgrade my earlier remarks. The film is full of fascinating material and atmosphere.

    Also making up for past negative remarks: have a starter article on Arthur Lubin. Nothing much yet, but it does have a checklist.

  • A note before the subject disappears.
    Orwell depicted British police novels as glorifications of police power and celebrations of Fascism.
    One of the best known British police novels is Christianna Brand’s GREEN FOR DANGER (1944). It is one of six novels and some short stories Brand wrote about Inspector Cockrill. The Sidney Gilliat film version is fairly faithful, both to Cockrill (played by Alastair Sim) and the book as a whole.
    Just about everyone here has seen the movie. Let’s get real: does this look like a celebration of police bullying, or what Susan Sontag denounced as Fascinating Fascism? No way.

    A rough guess, is that by 1960 there were maybe a thousand British detective novels featuring Scotland Yard policemen. Random sampling by me suggests that these mostly are mild-mannered books, whose Scotland Yard inspectors stick within the limits of police investigation in a democratic society.
    These British police books are so low key, that in 1972 mystery writer-historian Julian Symons dubbed them “the humdrums”. The name has stuck.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Mike, I’ve only seen the film of GREEN FOR DANGER, and as I recall the Cockrill/Sim character is an eccentric, albeit something of a comically bullying one. I’ll take your word for it that the film is representative of the book, but as this particular book dates to 1944, and Orwell’s essay is on pre-war English police fiction, I don’t know how representative it can be.

    Orwell for various reasons was hypersensitive to police bullying, and was keen to sniff out symptoms of fascism that others take for granted. God knows what he would make of today’s Britain (or America), with surveillance cameras on every corner, and the new see-through airplane security monitors coming to your airport soon, I understand.

  • Gregg,

    I know little about “culture studies”. Are you a member of this movement? If so, could you recommend a good introductory book or article on it? I wish to learn and “open a dialogue”.

    I’m interested in promoting the study of “mystery fiction as art”. Am looking for mystery stories that are “good as art”: those with creative plots, characters, depiction of society, prose style and possibly humor. Books that would be worth reading today, by a large cross section of readers of many backgrounds.
    This might be different from attempts to find “typical” examples or assert common trends among all mysteries (or films), good, bad or mediocre.
    An awful lot of British police detective novels seem just plain mediocre to me.
    I liked the film version of GREEN FOR DANGER considerably more than the dull book.
    I don’t know of any “eye-popping masterpieces” of British police fiction, (as Andrew Sarris once phrased it). Some better, above average examples:

    Freeman Wills Crofts:
    The Sea Mystery (1928) (Chapters 1-3)
    The Box Office Murders (1929)
    Sudden Death (1932) (Chapters 1, 6, 10-12)

    Thomas Kindon
    Murder in the Moor (1929) (Chapters 1, 2, 3, 6)

    Georgette Heyer
    Merely Murder / Death in the Stocks (1935)

    Cyril Hare
    Tenant for Death (1937) (Chapters 1 – 10, 14 – 17, 23, 24)

    Ngaio Marsh
    Enter A Murderer (1935) (Chapters 1 – 10)
    Death in a White Tie (1938)
    Death of a Peer (1940)

    John Rhode
    The Shadow on the Cliff (1944)

    In some of the above books, only certain chapters are recommended as “good”.

    The big complaint voiced today about British mystery fiction 1920-1945 is not Fascism, but racism. Anti-semitism was especially common. (I believe the recommended works above are free from promoting racism). This is carefully documented in “Victims or Villains: Jewish Images in Classic English Detective Fiction” (1998) by Malcolm J. Turnbull.

  • Barry Putterman

    Mike, just a thought. If you have a reommended list that is free of racism and anti-semitsm, aren’t you left with a rather expergated version of “depiction of society?”

  • Barry,

    Some people, such as social historians, have genuine needs to read books filled with race hate. They can find countless examples cited in Turnbull (the book’s chief strength is its research).

    It’s unclear that general readers, though, benefit much from reading the bottom-feeding racist books of the 1920’s and 30’s. Most of this stuff is real drek, and no kidding…
    Also important: some of the above books I recommend DO deal with racism, in an anti-racist way. Ngaio Marsh’s “Death in a White Tie” contains a chapter showing the harsh effect anti-semitism has on British Jews. It’s anti-racist, and fascinating. The whole novel is very much above average, with an unusually large cast of well-defined characters, and absorbing story telling. It’s not “The Divine Comedy”, but it is entertaining and very well crafted.

  • Barry Putterman

    Mike, I don’t mean to be contentious on this point. I really didn’t have in mind books which are loaded with race hatred. I was thinking more along the lines of books (and movies) which include rather of matter of fact depictions of casual social assumptions and attitudes which we would characterize as racist. I’ve always found them to be a far better guide to understanding how racism functions among generally well-meaning people within a fundamentally decent society than what you find in most social histories.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Mike, as film historians I think we’re all into cultural studies by default. But the term has a more specific meaning, growing out of a non-Stalinist Marxism associated with Gramsci in Italy and Raymond
    Williams in the UK. There are several standard texts, including (as a survey) “The Cultural Studies Reader.” Williams is the preeminent English scholar in the field in the mid-to-late 20th century, whose work might interest you. Another Brit, Richard Hoggart, actually coined the phrase in 1964, and oddly enough I recall stumbling across a collection of essays of his circa 1970 and being very impressed.

    Regarding your interest in “casual social assumptions” I understand that Buchan’s novel “The 39 Steps” (and NOT Hitchcock’s film) contains anti-Semitic elements. As an aficiando of English thrillers I assume you must have read him.

  • Gregg,

    Thank you very much for the recommendations!

    I don’t know much about thrillers, and have only read some shorts stories by Buchan, not the 39 Steps. My specialty is detective fiction: tales of mysterious situations solved by detectives.

  • Brian Dauth

    An example along Barry’s lines would be Agatha Christie’s THE HOLLOW. The novel has Christie’s casual anti-semitism, as well a close portrait of the affluent in post-WWII Britain, and their understanding of how the law does (and does not) apply to them. Christie’s politics are not mine, but her novels are a fascinating chronicle of how she saw conservative idea/ideals crumble from the 1920’s-1970’s in Britain.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, which kind of brings us over to THE LEOPARD on the new thread doesn’t it. It is rather interesting how left wing artists such as Visconti and Welles in THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS show so much nostalgic sympathy for the aristocratic order of the 19th century.

  • By the way, Agatha Christie’s American publishers usually put her books out in versions which removed racist references. On my web site, I strongly recommend these American versions. After all, they were done with the author’s permission during her lifetime, and hence are authentic.

    Christie’s politics are complex. She often wrote about rich English people whose politics are conservative. But the underlying political attitudes in her books often seem more liberal.

    Agatha Christie is a great plotter: one of the best who ever lived. People have so much to learn about storytelling from her.
    But most of us, myself included, would rather read her books in versions that are free from race hatred. Who needs it?

  • Brian Dauth

    Barry: Adorno is eloquent about the enormous appeal of “aristocratic orders” and the aesthetic of Romanticism that went along with them. There is no denying their sumptuous/sensual appeal. It is the unintended consequences that are problematic.

    Mike: I am afraid you cannot count me among the “most of us” who would prefer to engage expurgated versions of art works. Christie may have agreed to have her works “cleaned up” by contractural arrangement, but for me that moves them a shade away from “authentic” (a slippery term to begin with). I would much rather engage the work on the terms on which it was given to us by its creator, and develop my critique from there.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, I’m not quite sure about how unintended those consequences were. But with Visconti and Welles (and Ford) you get a reasonably full picture along with the romanticism. Which is why I agree with you about getting the full Christie. No doubt we all would be better people if we were free of prejudice. But since we aren’t, it seems preferable to understand how it works within us rather than turn away from it.

  • I of course love that the full glory of British cinema is finally crossing the Atlantic. I might add that it’s only fairly recently that all of these films have been released even in Britain. And I whole-heartedly agree with what has been said by Richard T. Jameson and others here about IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY, it’s magnificent. Last year I wrote a short piece on my favourites from the British golden age. Link is here:

    Regarding the discussion about British detective novels, I must recommend Kate Summerscale’s THE SUSPICIONS OF MR. WHICHER (ISBN 0802715354). It’s not a novel but a book about one of Scotland Yard’s first professional detectives, and his most difficult case. He was a brilliant detective, and as such a role model for many fictional heroes to come, and Summerscale’s book is a tour-de-force of political, judicial, anthropological, social and technical research. It tells you more than you ever thought you were interested in knowing about Britain in the mid-1800s.