by Allan Fish
(UK 1947 92m) DVD2
A score of roller-skates
p Henry Cornelius d Robert Hamer w Angus MacPhail, Henry Cornelius, Robert Hamer novel Arthur la Bern ph Douglas Slocombe ed Michael Truman m Georges Auric art Hal Mason, Duncan Sutherland
Googie Withers (Rose Sandigate), John McAllum (Tommy Swann), Jack Warner (Det. Sgt.Fothergill), Edward Chapman (John Sandigate), Jimmy Hanley (Whitey), Sidney Tafler (Morry Hyams), Susan Shaw (Vi Sandigate), Patricia Plunkett (Doris Sandigate), Betty Ann Davies (Sadie Hyams), John Slater (Lou Hyams), Alfie Bass (Dicey Perkins), Vida Hope (Mrs Wallis), Hermione Baddeley (Doss house keeper), Edie Martin (Mrs Watson), Michael Howard (Slopey Collins), Meier Tzelniker (Sollie Hyams),
Welcome to the battered, bombed-out remnants of London (Bethnal Green to be precise) in the aftermath of the war; a time when the party of VE Day was giving way to the decade long hangover of further rationing, organised crime and poverty not worthy of so-called victors. It’s also a time when Britain was going the way of Hollywood and entering the world of noir; 1947 also brought They Made me a Fugitive, an underrated little film in its own right, and the immortal Brighton Rock. For years, Sunday was dismissed as dated, like an extended EastEnders for the 1940s; indeed, one can imagine old stalwarts like Lou Beale, Ethel Skinner and Dot Cotton growing up in environs just like these here. It should not have been so easily dismissed.
At the centre of it all, there’s an escape from Dartmoor prison and one Tommy Swann, sent down for seven years for armed robbery in Manchester, is on the run, and makes his way back to his mistress of old, Rose. Rose is now married, settling for the mediocrity of marriage to a middle-aged man living with him and his daughters, Vi and Doris. On the day of Swann’s escape, Rose finds Tommy in her Anderson shelter and agrees to help and feed him, but the police are on his trail, whilst also looking into a nearby break-in performed by a trio of petty criminals.
The milieu and era is wonderfully evoked, rich in period and incidental detail; the silent fellow who wanders the streets with a sandwich board promising the end is nigh, the breakfast van which caters for the criminal classes and still serves tea and snacks on china crockery, the Anderson shelters used as backyard sheds, the “see no evil, hear no evil” dosshouses, false teeth splashing into a puddle after a murderous mugging, fake blind buskers trumpeting out ‘Danny Boy’ outside the local pub, baths in the kitchen for dad and daughters alike, and neighbours who peek out of upstairs windows to offer you good health. The performances likewise, are superb to the smallest vignette, with Hanley and Bass perfect as a couple of violent but hopeless spivs, Slater a memorable grinning wide-boy, Warner’s working-class copper, Chapman’s honest father (especially excellent in the final scene), Shaw’s tart daughter who thinks only of painting her nails and getting tight, Davies’ cynical betrayed bandleader’s wife and, at the centre, real-life couple McCallum (never better) and Withers. Remarkably, Withers was only 29 here, and yet whenever she darkened her natural mousy blonde locks she could harden into a lip-smacking bitter shrew, and here in her final film for Ealing, she’s as good as she ever was.
Credit not only the cast, though, for Hamer’s direction deserves special praise, as does Slocombe’s depiction of the glistening rain-soaked streets, while the whole feel of the film echoes the poetic realist French classics before the war (La Bête Humaine above all, echoed even in Shaw’s raincoat via Michèle Morgan). Far from being faded, it’s more than merely a time capsule, more even than a depiction of a Britain long gone; it holds a mirror up to the slender phantom of post-war buoyancy. Whenever I see it, though, it’s with a tinge of sadness for poor Susan Shaw, here so full of life, but later widowed by the death of Bonar Colleano and doomed to die at 49, an alcoholic so deep in poverty that her later employers Rank offered to cover the costs of her burial. It’s a postscript worthy of a bleak tale where the weather is only nice for “ducks and aspidistras.”