David Farrar

They Met in the Dark (1943, Carl Lamac)

They Met in the Dark offers James Mason as a romantic leading man in a thriller. For that one alone, it’s worth a look, but also because it’s an incredibly peculiar film. Not overall, unfortunately, because it descends into a routine wartime propaganda bit about fifth columnists–the details of the sinister plot are very familiar to anyone who’s seen 1930s Hitchcock films. But the point isn’t the plot–it takes some ludicrous turns–but the amusing turn… it reminds, especially at the beginning, of the Hollywood comedy mystery (maybe not a Thin Man but a Thin Man knock-off). It’s fun….

But, nicely, there’s more.

Something about the British filmmaking–even though Lamac was a Bohemian–makes They Met in the Dark quite different. It’s set in the small British village, in the small British pub, in the strange British country home, all staples of Hollywood films… seeing the British make a Hollywood film using those tropes makes for a constantly interesting viewing experience. Until the movie goes for the fifth columnists angle, which it doesn’t for quite a while and takes a little bit to get there even when it’s close, anything is possible and that possibility promises, unfortunately, more than They Met in the Dark delivers.

While Mason is great, once he’s got the girl–which happens a lot sooner than a) it should and b) it’s useful for the plot–his performance changes. It’s standard instead of singular. Mason gives such a wonderfully enigmatic performance–he is the protagonist–I kept suspecting him, along with the romantic interest, even though I knew it wasn’t him.

The female lead, Joyce Howard, is all wrong. She was twenty-one at the time of the film’s release–it was not her first role–her performance is too immature. It doesn’t fit the character’s actions. Phyllis Stanley, in the second female lead, is real good, so the contrast doesn’t help either. I mean, at the end–after I knew it wasn’t going to be Mason–I kept waiting for him to switch love interests, just because he and Howard are all wrong together. He and Stanley had three really nice scenes… Howard was only effective with him when she suspected he was a murderer.

Edward Rigby, David Farrar, Tom Walls, all good in supporting roles. Brefni O’Rorke has some funny scenes–he’s one of the characters who transitions from mystery comedy to wartime thriller the best.

The movie’s limited, obviously, by the plot and the genre, but there’s a lot good about it. Worth a look. The first twenty or thirty minutes are quite nice.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Lamac; screenplay by Anatole de Grunwald and Miles Malleson, from on a story by Basil Bartlett, Victor MacLure and James Seymour, based on a novel by Anthony Gilbert; director of photography, Otto Heller; edited by Winifred Cooper and Terence Fisher; music by Benjamin Frankel; produced by Marcel Hellman; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring James Mason (Richard Francis Heritage), Joyce Howard (Laura Verity), Tom Walls (Christopher Child), Phyllis Stanley (Lily Bernard), Edward Rigby (Mansel), Ronald Ward (Carter), David Farrar (Commander Lippinscott), Karel Stepanek (Riccardo), Betty Warren (Fay) and Walter Crisham (Charlie).


Black Narcissus (1947, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

If you’ve never seen a film by the Archers (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger), you’ve never seen a film like one of theirs’. If you have seen a film by the Archers, and you sit down to watch another of their films, you’ve still never seen a film like the one you’re about to watch. I’m not much of an Archers scholar–Black Narcissus is probably their most famous film and this viewing is my first–but I have seen a couple, not counting their last film–the awful Australian tourist film, They’re a Weird Mob (to be fair, Powell directed and Pressburger wrote, usually they shared duties).

The film’s story–nuns in the Himalayas–is probably impossible to describe. So much of the film depends on feeling, on little things. Describing the film, also, would cheapen it. I’ve had Black Narcissus to watch for quite a while and kept putting it off. I don’t know why, probably because the Archers made such great films, my expectations were incredibly high. The film met those expectations and even surpassed them, since it had me off-guard throughout, even when what I assumed was going to happen did. Black Narcissus doesn’t “give” the audience a lot, it expects them to take a lot from it. I can’t imagine what my response to this film would have been ten years ago, when I was first getting into Criterion laserdiscs and might have come across it for the Martin Scorsese commentary. (I could get Goodfellas at seventeen, but Goodfellas isn’t all that quiet).

There’s so much to look at in Black Narcissus, so many things one could talk about, I’ve mostly run out of ideas. The acting is great–the supporting cast has a lot to do and they’re all wonderful. You know these characters, even though there are quite a few, right away. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography is famous on this film and it is amazing–even more, I suppose, since it was all shot with miniatures and matte paintings–but the editing is fantastic too. The editing makes a lot of the film.

I can’t recommend this film highly enough… certainly don’t wait around to see it like I did.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; screenplay by Powell and Pressburger, from the novel by Rumer Godden; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; edited by Reginald Mills; music by Brian Easdale; production designer, Alfred Junge; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring Deborah Kerr (Sister Clodagh), Sabu (Young Prince), David Farrar (Mr. Dean), Kathleen Byron (Sister Ruth), Esmond Knight (Old General), Flora Robson (Sister Philippa) and Jean Simmons (Kanchi).


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