Tagged: David Farrar

Lost (UK 1956)

The nanny (Anne Paige) panics when she finds baby and pram have gone.

Lost is an interesting 1950s British film for several reasons. Perhaps the most interesting for me is that it is written by Janet Green. She began her film writing career with The Clouded Yellow, an excellent thriller with Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons in 1950. In the mid-1950s she wrote for various Rank productions and I realise that I described her career in more detail in my post on Eyewitness (1956). Lost comes from earlier in the same year and shares one of the actors, the American, David Knight. The film is in some ways a pre-cursor of Green’s three scripts for the crime thriller/social problem films she wrote for Michael Relph and Basil Dearden.

The film’s title refers to Simon, a baby in his pram taken from outside a chemist’s shop opposite Kensington Gardens. (The American title for the 1957 release by Republic Pictures was Tears for Simon.) The distraught parents are an American couple, Lee Cochrane (David Knight) and his German-born wife Sue (the Austrian actress Julia Arnall, recently signed by Rank). He works in the US embassy, she’s a designer and the child was in the care of a nanny. The investigating police officer is DI Craig played by David Farrar. Farrar had spent the previous few years on Hollywood ‘runaway’ productions in various parts of the world, playing second leads. Lost saw him back on a British production with top billing. The character doesn’t offer him much scope but he’s a solid presence and he does the grouchy, sardonic old pro very well. In the climax of the film he has a not very dignified action sequence to navigate.

The Cochranes, Lee (David Knight) and Sue (Julia Arnall) go searching for their baby.

One of Craig’s first tasks is to try to calm down the Americans, explaining that kidnapping babies is not a common occurrence in the UK. But despite warnings Cochrane and his wife are bent on following up leads themselves with predictable results. Green’s script goes whole-heartedly for the police procedural with Craig painstakingly exploring every possible clue, no matter how slight. This makes the film into a genuine ensemble piece with so many police officers and possible witnesses. There are familiar faces everywhere, both well-loved character actors and young players making early appearances in minor roles. Thora Hird is a landlady, Dandy Nichols is a shopkeeper, Joan Sims sells ice cream in the park (and flirts with Craig/Farrar), Barbara Windsor is trying different nail varnishes in the chemist’s shop, frustrating the chemist Joan Hickson. Shirley Anne Field appears in a garage. The most important supporting player is possibly Eleanor Summerfield playing a plain-clothes police sergeant who hints at a liking for Craig. Summerfield was a RADA-trained actor at home on the stage, TV, films and radio, but never in the major parts that she deserved. Perhaps it was the conservatism and sexism of a period in which filmmakers were nonplussed by relatively tall (5′ 6″) attractive women who could be both serious actors and comediennes.

DI Craig (David Farrar) checks in with his team

As one IMDb reviewer has noted, Lost is unusual as a major crime drama shot in Eastmancolor in mid 1950s British cinema. This was only director Guy Green’s third film in that role and previously he had been a distinguished DoP. Here, with Harry Waxman behind the camera, the pair take their shoot all over London and into the Home Counties, offering an attractive and intriguing vision of the region at the time. It might be interesting to compare the London of Lost with Hitchcock’s remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much which opened nearly six months later in 1956. That film also features a kidnapping of a child in London and Hitchcock used the Albert Hall and street locations in Brixton and Camden, though he was certainly less interested in the kinds of realism found in much of 1950s British cinema. I did think of this Hitchcock film though, mainly in terms of Doris Day’s performance. There are aspects of Julia Arnall’s appearance that reminded me of Doris Day and even more of Grace Kelly in her three Hitchcock films (many others have made this connection). Ms Arnall didn’t have the acting skills or experience but she was beautiful and quite striking and it seems strange that Rank dropped her quite quickly after a further Guy Green film, before she could really develop her career.

Lost is solid entertainment and worth watching for David Farrar, one of my favourite British actors, and Eleanor Summerfield’s brief appearances as well as its fascinating views of London in the 1950s. I’m also interested now to go back to Sapphire (1959), Janet Green’s crime and racism story. I wonder what it would have been like if David Farrar had played the Nigel Patrick role? The film will no doubt re-appear soon on Talking Pictures TV. Unfortunately it’s cropped to Academy from the original 1:1.66 ratio.

Mr. Perrin and Mr. Traill (UK 1948)

Thanks again to Talking Pictures TV for screening this interesting late 1940s British picture which I’ve read about but not previously managed to see. The print seems to have been originally supplied to North America since it carries the ‘Eagle Lion’ brand for Canadian distribution. The production company is Two Cities working within the Rank empire and shooting at Denham with just a couple of location scenes of beaches and high cliffs. Hugh Walpole wrote the original novel in 1911 and he died in 1941. Walpole was active as a novelist in the 1910s, 20s and 30s. Mr. Perrin and Mr. Traill was his first success and he later became bracketed with D. H. Lawrence by one critic and for a period worked in Hollywood as a writer on productions of David Copperfield (1935) and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936) for MGM. Although he tends to be forgotten now, his many novels and short stories were still attractive to TV producers in the 1950s and 1960s and in his adopted home in the Lake District in England one of his best-known novels, Rogue Herries, was staged in an adaptation for the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick in 2013.

Greta Gynt and David Farrar in a strong image suggesting a romance element in the film

Mr. Perrin and Mr. Traill is set in a minor boy’s public school somewhere on the coast. Walpole had been an unhappy boy at a school in Truro and he had also taught (French) briefly at Epsom College which has been seen as the inspiration for ‘Banfield’s College’ in the film. Marius Goring plays Mr. Perrin, a maths teacher for over 20 years, still living with his mother and trying to summon up the courage to ask the school’s nurse Miss Lester (Greta Gynt) to marry him. The school is run, coldly and sometimes cruelly, by the Headmaster Moy-Thomas (Raymond Huntley). Staff and boys follow the public school convention of using only surnames. The teaching and other staff are all resigned to the Head’s dictatorial style and this provides the opportunity for disruption in the form of the arrival of a new younger maths (and rugby) teacher Mr. Traill (David Farrar). Traill is announced as having ‘come from the Army’ and with a reputation for his rugby-playing. He is presented as young and thrusting and therefore potentially attractive for both the boys and Miss Lester. The novel was described as a tragi-comedy and there are certainly comic moments but, in keeping with much of the British cinema of the period, a dark mood prevails. This comes mainly from the sets of the school and its surroundings photographed by Erwin Hillier, the German-born cinematographer used by Powell and Pressburger on The Archers black and white films (The Silver Fleet, A Canterbury Tale, I Know Where I’m Going). Allan Gray, the film’s music composer is another of The Archers alumni, though I didn’t find the music as memorable as in The Archers’ films. Thomas N. Morahan as production designer had an Ealing background in 1948 and although some scenes have intriguing settings, I didn’t feel that the production overall met the standards of The Archers. The fault possibly lies with the inexperienced producers and director Lawrence Huntington. Huntington was highly experienced as a director and I like some of his films very much, including his previous film, the James Mason starrer The Upturned Glass (1947) (which Mason also co-produced). It seems to me that Huntington didn’t bring out the full potential of the gothic elements in the story (Walpole was known for ‘macabre’ elements in his stories). However, I’m also aware that after Filippo Del Giudice, the founding force behind Two Cities, left in 1947 the company may have suffered from declining budgets and lack of overall direction.

Marius Goring as Mr. Perrin with Traill in the background

The Archers elements in this film are rounded off by the casting of Marius Goring and David Farrar, two star actors probably best known for their work in Powell & Pressburger films. Goring, so memorable as Heaven’s ‘Conductor’ in A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and the composer in The Red Shoes (1948) here plays against Farrar for the first time on film, I think. Farrar in 1948 was on a hot run with Black Narcissus (1947) followed by The Small Back Room (1949) for The Archers and Frieda (1947) for Ealing. In Frieda he also plays a schoolteacher returned from war in a different kind of narrative. The irony of Mr. Perrin and Mr. Traill is that Goring (b. 1912) plays the older man and Farrar (b. 1908) plays the younger. The film is curiously ‘out of time’ (though rationing is mentioned at one point). Farrar’s Traill could be younger than he looks but Goring has to be made up quite heavily and his clothing and posture help to suggest the stuffy/fussy man he is – worthy of the nickname ‘Pompo’ given to him by his students (he is also a House Master). He is not, however, ‘elderly’ as the IMDb summary suggests. At the most he is in his late 40s/early 50s and old before his time after vegetating in the school. In one sense, Farrar has the easier role – he has to be the reasonably affable and friendly man, but prepared to stand up for himself. This simple presentation doesn’t stop all the other masters bar one (played by Edward Chapman) from seeing him as uppity, boorish etc. because he poses a threat to the status quo.

I’ve no intention of spoiling the narrative but I will say that the most striking image of the film comes when Perrin looks down from the coastal path and sees Traill and Miss Lester as small figures on the beach far below. This reminded me of some of the shots in Black Narcissus. I think that the cinematography and set design of the film tip it towards the expressionist mystery/film noir cinema of films like Dead of Night or The Small Back Room. The poster above indicates that Farrar was the star name and that Greta Gynt also featured in the film’s promotion. Gynt (born 1916 in Norway) was well-known in the UK, having played in many films since the late 1930s and having one of her biggest successes in 1947 with Dear Murderer. In some ways, her career path is not dissimilar to Frarrar’s and she too went to Hollywood in the early 1950s after her profile was raised by the appearance of some of her films on American TV. Like Farrar, she came back disappointed. She’s perhaps a little wasted in Mr. Perrin and Mr. Traill as the main interest is the men. Nevertheless, the potential for romance is there and she and Farrar make an attractive couple.

Mr. Perrin and Mr. Traill is also available, free to play online at BFI Player (https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-mr-perrin-and-mr-traill-1948-online). I think that Talking Pictures TV has the better print, but I would like to see a restored print on the big screen. The novel is available in paperback

For Those in Peril (UK 1944)

For Those in Peril is perhaps the best example of the Ealing Studios wartime propaganda film. It’s a very short feature at 64 mins, just long enough to appear in a double bill as a B feature and, although featuring serving armed forces personnel, it does have two well-known professional actors in the lead roles so the film mixes documentary and feature film elements. The main purpose of the film is seemingly to introduce audiences to a little-known role for the RAF, working in collaboration with the Royal Navy. The outcome of the fictional narrative is, however, more problematic and not an obvious choice for a propaganda film.

The film’s title immediately refers to the possibility of lives lost a sea, but in this case of aircrew rather than sailors. The RAF in wartime was supplied with high speed launches (HSL) designed to find aircrew forced to ditch their planes over water. (The film’s opening sequence carefully explains why this was necessary.) The establishment of these units led to friendly rivalry with RN units who had bigger boats with more firepower but slower speeds. The film’s location seems to be Shoreham – although for obvious reasons this isn’t signified. David Farrar plays F/Lt Murray, the RAF officer in command of three launches and the fictional narrative involves the arrival of Pilot Officer Rawlings (Ralph Michael – an established actor and serving airman) who sees his posting as possibly ‘beneath’ him since he insists he should be flying. Murray is an experienced master of small boats since before the war and he tries to gently turn Rawlings’ truculence into something more positive – and gives the junior officer some harsher words when necessary. After a few exercises involving the launches joining naval craft, the film’s action sequences begin with an RAF Boston bomber being shot down over the channel. The three crew manage to launch their inflatable dinghy and their position is notified to air-sea rescue. Murray takes two launches and the larger (and slower) naval vessel follows. A Walrus seaplane is also launched. Three problems face the rescuers – thick fog, the presence of an armed German trawler and the minefield which the aircrew and their dinghy have entered.

P/O Rawlings (Ralph Michaels) arrives by Southern Railways electric train

The intriguing aspect of the narrative is its potential propaganda. The central narrative involves Rawlings and his development in a moment of crisis so that he can take command when needed with the support of his crew (who are capable and have been well led by Murray). The other propaganda message is that aircrew are not abandoned and all possible effort is expended to save them. But more problematic is the action in the film which sees an eventual ‘victory’ for British forces, but at significant cost in terms of lives lost alongside a valuable ship and aircraft. More lives are lost than saved. This is the dilemma for propaganda filmmakers in their attempt to use realism in their appeal to audiences. Men are brave and they die in the service of their country. Unfortunately, there is little direct evidence of what audiences made of a film like Those in Peril (or any details of its distribution and how many people saw it).

David Farrar as F/Lt Murray

For me, the film works because of three factors – the documentary footage, David Farrar’s central performance and the script by Richard Hillary and Harry Watt, J.C. Orton and T. E. B. Clarke. The documentary photography is by Douglas Slocombe. This was his first credited role as cinematographer and he would go on to be one of the most celebrated figures behind the camera in British cinema history. The interiors were shot by Ernest Palmer, an experienced Ealing man. David Farrar would go on to become a leading man in three classic Powell and Pressburger films as well as two more for Ealing. For Those in Peril was perhaps his breakthrough as a leading man, but his popularity (he later claimed several hundred fan letters each week) was mainly a result of his two Sexton Blake films in 1945. Also making his first solo outing for Ealing was Charles Crichton as director. Crichton would go on to become one of Ealing’s most important directors and was probably best known for The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and The Titchfield Thunderbolt (1953).

The two RAF HSLs in harbour while the crew swim for recreation

Richard Hillary, who wrote the original story, was a young RAF officer who first fought in the Battle of Britain aged 21. He was credited with 5 definite ‘kills’ but was then shot down and rescued by the Margate lifeboat, having suffered severe burns. During his lengthy hospital treatment he wrote one of the best books about wartime flying, The Last Enemy, which I remember reading as a child. He returned to flying but only a few months later he was killed in a nightfighter crash. His story for Those in Peril was presumably based on his own experience.

The contributions of key personnel such as Farrar, Slocombe and Crichton make this a must-see film for anyone interested in Ealing Studios. I recommend it as worth 64 minutes of anyone’s time.

I couldn’t find a trailer for the film, but this is a Pathé News report with the same title, showing the Air Sea Rescue crews at work: