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During his time at Bolton Grammar School – which he attended from 1939 to 1947 – Halliwell was a member of several societies and wrote articles for the school magazine, The Boltonian, later becoming one of its editors.

The following is a selection of the film-related articles he contributed (as well as a completely non-film-related poem!) – all used with the permission of the school itself.   Thanks are also due to the British Library and the Bolton History Centre.

In each case the text has been preserved as close as possible to the printed page, so some of the punctuation and spelling may look a little odd.   It should also be noted that Halliwell was sixteen at the time of the Henry V  review.






                                                                    Review of Henry V



         March:                                                       July:                                             December:
         Review of The Three Caballeros.      Review of Dead of Night.       Film Society report.
                                                                                                                                           Review of Caesar and Cleopatra.
                                                                                                                                           Review of Bolton School, 1945/6.



                          March:                                                      July:
                          Film Society report.                                 Film society report.
                          Poem, Pastoral.                                        Essay, Novel into Film
                          Review of Great Expectations.




December, 1945:




           This is not the first attempt to put Shakespeare on the screen, but it is the most ambitious, and on the whole the most successful. " A Mid­summer Night's Dream " was disliked by the conservative majority because of its ethereal quality; the moderate popularity of " Romeo and Juliet " was due less to Shakespeare than to the star-value of Norma Shearer and the late Leslie Howard.  About three years ago a slap-stick farce was produced under the title of " The Boys from Syracuse," and after the " End " frame appeared the following acknowledgement : " This film is after 'A Comedy of Errors,' by William Shakespeare—long, long way after! "

           The obvious drawback to filming Shakespeare is that Shakespeare depends chiefly on words, the cinema on vision. Give rein to the visual, and where is Shakespeare? Concentrate on the words, and you fling away the real asset of the screen.  The producers of " Henry V. '' have attempted to meet this problem by a severe cutting-down of the text, thus giving the camera full scope.  The beauty of the language is heightened by the beauty of the sets and the photography, and interpretation of Shakespeare through a modern medium does not entail the sacrifice of his poetic and literary merit.  Perhaps, indeed, there has been too much reverence to Shakespeare for the comedy scenes, pruned as they are, are perhaps unintelligible to a modern audience.  The play's original purpose was to be a patriotic trumpet-blast, and the main theme is gripping enough to exclude all necessity for distracting comic relief.

           The plan and technique of the film are interesting.  We are taken first to see the beginning of an actual performance in the Globe Play­house of 1599, an innovation which I personally welcomed and liked as illustrating the author's own difficulties. Then, after a rather static first act, we are transported by the exhortations of Chorus into a kind of film fairyland, where the background scenery is only symbolic, blending realism and fantasy. This gives a pantomimic effect which admirably depicts mediaeval splendour and is in keeping with the general extravagance of the theme. Only for the actual Battle of Agincourt, a tremendously exciting sequence, do we see real scenery; then the order is inverted and we arrive back at the Globe in time to hear Chorus' final plea.
           " In your fair minds let this acceptance take."

           The acting is on a remarkably high level.  Laurence Olivier is a magnificent Harry; from his first words to his last we are gripped by his variety of expression and his clear-cut diction, and the impression he leaves becomes far greater when we consider that he also produced, directed and helped to edit the film.  The Chorus of Leslie Banks, is a joy to see and hear, perfectly combining majesty and elocution.  In the flawless supporting cast my own favourite was Leo Genn, as the Constable of France, but the quality of the acting is, in any case, assured by such names as Robert Newton, Harcourt Williams, Esmond Knight, Felix Aylmer, Valentine Dyall, Renée Asherson, Robert Helpmann and Ivy St. Helier.

           The production is, of course, on the grand scale, and every effort has been made to keep the costumes true to period.  The battle sequence is breathtaking in its technicolour array, the charge being particularly glorious. William Walton's lilting music does much to keep one excited, though there is rather too much of the choir.
" Henry V. " cost over £500,000 to make, and on the whole the result justifies the expenditure.  If the film has failed it has failed gloriously.  And I think it has failed. It has brought Shakespeare to the people, but not the people to Shakespeare, for most regular cinemagoers object to Shakespeare as something " highbrow." They prefer to see '' Madonna of the Seven Moons," or some equally high coloured and romantic nonsense, and dislike " Henry V. " because it is a serious film which makes no concession to " low-brow " taste.
                                                                             R.J.L.H. (H.VI.A.).


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March, 1946:




           The cartoon film is nearly as old as the story film.  As early as 1908 Emile Cohl made his crude 100-foot " Phantasmagoria," and for the next ten years cartoons gradually developed, introducing slapstick characters such as Mutt and Jeff and Felix the Cat.  The first great milestone in cartoon history was the advent in 1918 of Walt Disney, an American of mixed descent and one of the greatest artists, in the true sense of that often ill-used word, that the screen has ever produced.  The second milestone has now been reached, after twenty-five years, in Disney's eighth full-length technicolour feature.  The Three Caballeros is a miracle of absolute nonsense bathed in the brilliance of South America, creating for the public a dream world so lush that we hate to return to drab reality.  It is a kaleidoscopic scrap heap, sometimes suggesting genius, sometimes un­certainty of purpose, but always supremely entertaining in wit, gaiety, colour and excitement.  It is also an excellent piece of propaganda, and was obviously made with an eye on the good neighbour policy.

           The story wanders and revels in lunacy.  Briefly, Donald Duck receives a number of birthday presents from South America in the shape of films and books which tell him the stories of Pablo the cold-blooded penguin in his search for warmer climes, and of El Burrito, the flying donkey—lovable and amusing creatures both.  Two new characters are introduced: José Carioca, a Brazilian parrot-about-town, and Panchito, a Mexican rooster. They unroll a magic carpet on which Donald is taken to see the sights of Brazil and Argentina. This story is only an excuse to introduce various unconnected and widely differing sequences, some pure travelogue and some pure fantasy, all illustrating Disney at his best.

           The chief point of interest about the film, however, is the appearance of these three caballeros on the screen at the same time as real human beings, talking, playing and dancing with them.  This apparent miracle is expertly and naturally performed and is a step onward in cinema history, but it is obvious that its use must be carefully restricted, or it will soon cloy our appetites.  The actual method seems very simple, as Disney himself lucidly explains it:  Live actors perform on a stage in front of a translucent plaster screen, on to which, from the reverse side, the cartoon animation is projected.  The technicolour camera then records the combined sequences."  The experiment has certainly provided an excellent novelty in entertainment, though Donald's ravenous pursuit of flesh-and‑blood feminine beauty seems to be evidence of the makers' determination to satisfy the supposed craving of the armed forces for the sight of " pretty girls. "

           As in the normal run of Disney films, the colour and drawing are all-important.  The Pablo and El Burrito episodes show a blending of colour soaring to the heights of the most seraphic Silly Symphonies, but the most interesting sequences are those in which Disney experiments with shape and colour.  The miniature travelogue of Baia is an exquisite study in shades of red, and the carnival sequence, largely blare and glare, is a wonderful riot of toys, balloons and fireworks in burning cinnamon and blood-orange tints with almost deafening but glorious sound effects.  Twice in the film there are patches of sheer surrealism, when abstract designs bewilderingly quiver and change to the rhythms of local music, when Disney plays with colour and pattern and movement, allowing one thing to suggest another (as in the transformation of fierce dancers into fighting cocks), with brilliant reds and chilling greens filling the screen in dazzling array, armies of cactus plants and flashing snowdrops dancing with bevies of lovely Mexican girls, and sound tracks expanding and contracting to the trumpetings of an orchestra.  These were for me moments of pure enchantment, so reminiscent of parts of " Fantasia "—in this direction lies the true genius of Disney's art.

           The Three Caballeros is obviously a controversial film.  It can be either a miracle or a waste of time and money, according to the way in which you look at it.  There can be no doubt, however, that this combination of real and cartoon characters is a great technical achievement, if one of which one will soon weary.  Once the novelty is appreciated, the master of cartoon films should keep to his own medium.  Technical brilliance can carry him no further; this is the final development of a medium of artistic expression more flexible than anything we have ever known.

                                                                        R.J.L.H. (H.VI.A.).


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July, 1946:




           Very few films have attempted to deal seriously with the supernatural, which is strange when one considers how admirably the subject is suited to the film medium.  There has, of course, been a surfeit of thrillers in which the “ghosts” are discovered in the last reel to be crooks trying to scare the heroine out of a fortune, but the wide field available for deeper and more sincere probing of the subject has so far been sadly neglected.  It is encouraging, then, to find that one of the most effective supernatural films yet produced is British.

      Dead of Night is that rare thing, a “different” film.  It has no love story, it has no conventional happy ending, and it is not told in an orthodox way.  It is a cleverly-constructed and completely satisfying omni‑bus of ghost stories, a serious enquiry into the supernatural which is also completely engrossing entertainment, and its success is partly due to its avoidance of all the mumbo-jumbo generally associated with its subject.  In this film no mist rises from dark marshes, no terrified screams pierce the darkness, no one goes mad when the moon is full, there is neither thunder nor lightning – not even a bristling black cat or a whining dog.

           The main story concerns an architect, Craig, who is asked over the telephone by a man named Elliot Foley, whom he has never met, to join a week-end party and incidentally do some work at Foley's home, Pilgrim Farm, in a part of the country where he has never been.  When he arrives, Craig finds that he knows every corner of the house, all the people, everything that they are going to say and do – for though he has never met them in real life, he has been dreaming about them for weeks, and he knows that the end of his dream, which he can never remember, is terrible and horrifying.  He is afraid that his dream may now come true, but one of the guests, a psychiatrist, ridicules the idea, and suggests a rational explanation.  An argument develops, and each guest tells of an incident in his or her own life which can have only a supernatural explanation.  As time passes, Craig realizes that he has gone further than he can remember having done in his dream, right up to the horrible ending.  He murders the psychiatrist, unable to help himself.  As the dead man's convulsed face gapes up at him, he is swept into a nightmarish phantasmagoria composed of fiendishly distorted incidents of all the other stories he has heard.  The trick ending which follows is one of the most perfect I have seen, rounding off the film effectively and yet leaving the audience to draw its own conclusions.  Craig wakes up.  His adventure has been no more than the latest in his series of recurring dreams; he has already forgotten most of it as before, and as he dresses, the telephone rings.  A Mr. Elliot Foley… Pilgrim Farm… week-end party… The name seems vaguely familiar, and Craig accepts Foley's offer.  The film ends as it began.

           The chief merit of this perplexing little story is the modest and un­assuming way in which it is told.  Its characters do not go into hysterics; they behave like normal, likable human beings; they chatter delightedly about a “forbidden” subject which obviously intrigues them as it does all of us. There are no nonentities; each character has an individual personality and gives his or her contribution to the discussion unpretentiously.  A large measure of the credit for this must go to the actors as well as the script writers.  Mervyn Johns as the confused architect convinces us that he is a real person with a real problem, and Frederick Valk makes the psychiatrist much more than the mouthpiece for a stream of scientific jargon.  Roland Culver and Mary Merrall are delightful hosts, and could hardly have a more varied and interesting assortment of guests than Sally Ann Howes, Googie Withers, Anthony Baird and Judy Kelly.  The direction is extremely competent, and when we consider that this central theme is split into six episodes by the five introduced stories, the impression it makes upon us is remarkably concentrated.

           Further food for thought is provided by the introduced stories, and it is difficult to say which is the best of them.  The odd one is that which concerns Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford as ghostly golfers, a lovely piece of fooling which is inserted at just the right point as light relief from the surrounding high tension.  The story which uses simple means to the best effect is that of the warning hearse, which is so very naturally told that it may make even unsuperstitious people hesitate before boarding a bus where there is “just room for one inside.”  Michael Redgrave acts extremely well as a schizophrenic ventriloquist who is obsessed by his dummy in the weirdest of the stories, and there is a charming Christmas phantasy in which Sally Ann Howes, a very promising young actress, meets and comforts the ghost of a murdered child at a fancy dress party.  Finally, Googie Withers and Ralph Michael extracts from the tale of a haunted mirror which had belonged to a crippled strangler and almost causes a tragedy.

           All these stories are faultlessly logical, and three are no loose ends which make it possible to pick out flaws.  Every incident was scattered with pit falls, but all concerned kept their heads, and every artificiality or flaw was carefully eliminated.  The photography has a hard, brittle quality which creates precisely the right atmosphere, and shows considerable artistry and commendable attention to detail. Background music is sparingly and very skilfully used, to particularly good effect in the story of the haunted mirror; and four of England's most polished directors, Charles Crichton, Cavalcanti, Robert Hamer and Basil Dearden certainly do not spoil the broth by their numbers; rather each gives it a delicious flavour of his own.

           The success of Dead of Night seems to have awakened the British film industry to a realization of what opportunities it has been missing, and the film has been quickly followed up by Latin Quarter, an experiment in the macabre with French period settings and a compellingly gruesome climax.  We are promised now a series of films dealing in a serious manner with similar subjects, and it is to be hoped that they will not merely fall into a rut.  In any case, Dead of Night has created a precedent whose worth they will find it difficult to surpass.

                                       R.J.L.H. (H.VI.A.).


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December, 1946:



The Film Society.

Secretary : R. J. L. HALLIWELL.                                              Treasurer : K. W. WARDLE.

      Variety has been the keynote of the many activities of the Society this Term, and the projector has been much in demand.  The first Friday evening meeting was held on September 27th, when an English version of the classic German comedy Emil and the Detectives was shown.  Although the choice of film was not perhaps in accordance with the usual policy of the Society, completely natural acting, ingenious use of the camera, and a delightful musical score combined to make this exactly twice as good as any other juvenile film yet produced.  Also in the programme was This is Colour, a short documentary in technicolour about the making of dyes.  This too showed excellent handling of the unusual powers of the cine-­camera, especially in the fascinating " let the colours dance " sequence.

      The meeting held on October 18th was remarkable for two reasons: firstly, because the attendance broke the Society's record, over two hundred people being crowded into the Library, and secondly, because the film selected for showing was thirty-two years old.  The Birth of a Nation is without doubt one of the very greatest films in the history of the cinema, and after one has become accustomed to the exaggerated histrionics and comparatively primitive technique of the silent film, one realises that it has emerged from cold storage as fresh, as vital and as powerful as it was when the pioneer, D. W. Griffith, made it in 1914.  Griffith was a man with ideas for the advancement of the art of the cinema; some were bad, while some were so good that they have become essential factors of present-day film making.  They are all tried out in this remarkably compelling tale of domestic issues in the American Civil War.  Griffiths discovered the value of close-ups, effective montage and the ability of the camera to move and adopt a variety of angles; all these were revolutionary steps of great value to the progress of cinematic art, but it is perhaps best to draw a veil over use of smeary black frames to focus one's attention on particular objects.  We have Mr. Higginson to thank for the smooth, unbroken projection of the film and for its apt musical accompaniment; that it held such an audience under such conditions completely engrossed for two hours and three-quarters is a sufficient voucher for its merit.

      One of Mr. Higginson's superbly-coloured short films of the Lake District delighted another crowded house on November 15th.  The main film was The Silver Fleet, an above-average British film concerning under­ground activities in Nazi-occupied Europe, of the type of which there was such a surfeit three or four years ago.  This film, though hampered by a hackneyed script, is lifted out of the rut by photography, direction and acting.  Ralph Richardson plays with beautiful under-statement and an entire absence of mock heroics the rôle of a self-sacrificing Dutchman, and Esmond Knight, completely overcoming the disability of his blindness, loves a. meaty performance as the inevitable Gestapo chief.

      The last meeting this Term will be held on November 28th, when Stevenson's Kidnapped will add further variety to the programme.  Mean­while, documentary films have continued to be held under somewhat un­satisfactory conditions at 12-30 on alternate Wednesdays in the Music Room.  Of these, Crofters has been by far the best of an uninspired collection. Other films of biological and physical interest have been shown to various groups of boys during the Term, and an entertaining fictional biography of Lord Kelvin was shown to senior boys on October 10th.

      The financial position of the Society is now eminently satisfactory, and it is hoped with a little more support from the Sixth Form to give more and even better shows next Term.

R.J.L.H. (H. VI. A.).


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      There is a good deal to criticize, but also quite a lot to praise in this ambitious British picture, about which more discussion has raged, on which more invective has been poured, and about which more prejudice has been created, than any film produced in this or any other country.  It is an attempt to put Caesar and Cleopatra on the screen exactly as Shaw wrote it in 1898, and it is in this fact that most of the adverse criticism has rightly centred.  The play is by no means first-rate, as Caesar is the only character in whom Shaw was really interested; it is episodic in structure, and its main interest lies in its neat dialogue and in its fresh conception of a wise and tolerant Caesar.  That over a million and a quarter pounds should have been spent in transferring to the screen this minor work of a great writer fifty years after its composition is puzzling to say the least.

      The film will certainly not please Shaw's admirers, who will find that the merits of the play, a mere conversation piece, have been swamped by its settings.  There is an increasing tendency to subject an intimate intellectual argument to the magnified reality of projector and loudspeaker, and the splendour of the settings detracts from the brilliance of the dialogue.  By trying to impress the play's outward spectacle, Pascal has dulled its inward image, with the result that the film leaves one with an uncomfortable feeling of incompleteness.

      Even the spectacular side of the film is not always quite satisfactory.  Vast, vague crowds mill aimlessly about the screen in a careless rapture of disorder; the Battle of the Nile sequence with its vast possibilities has been skimped, so that we are left with only a minute or so of remarkably unconvincing montage; the camera is too often content to remain for too long in one position, instead of turning our eyes now here, now there, to impress the artistic beauty of a set, to watch this action, that reaction, all in a rhythm which imparts the ease or tension of the scene.  In Caesar and Cleopatra there is no such rhythm, only people who talk interminably before the camera, or more in masses before huge studio sets.  The director has not realised that the art of the film does not lie in the oratory of the stage.

      On the credit side there is a good deal to say.  The décor is completely admirable, a feast for the eye and a tribute to Oliver Messel's artistic genius.  Pascal's work must also to a certain extent be respected, when one considers the difficulties attending such a large-scale production, though his handling of it may not be all that could be desired.  The acting is quite as good as one would expect it to be, the cast-list looking as it does like a kind of Debrett of the British film world.  Claude Rains is an ideal choice to play Julius Caesar; his interpretation is warmly human yet forceful and suggestive of the claws beneath the velvet pads, and his polished speech is a joy to hear.  Vivien Leigh's handling of the limited part of the girl­-queen who lusts for love and cruelty and power is a masterpiece of acting, a fascinating study of female devilry which places her among the best of present-day screen artists.  Flora Robson infuses as much credibility as possible into the somewhat wildly pantomimic part of Ftatateeta, Cleopatra's devoted but overbearing nurse; Cecil Parker is in true Shavian tradition as Britannus, Caesar's slave-secretary, and supplies some of the film’s wittiest lines; and Stewart Granger, thoroughly enjoying himself as a Sicilian gallant specializing in the sale of carpets, adds a touch of romance to an otherwise sexless narrative.  Rufio, Caesar's second-in-command, is brilliantly played by Basil Sydney; Ernest Thesiger excels as the crafty and intellectual Theodotus; and the impressive voice and stature Francis L. Sullivan suit him admirably for the part of the boy-king's protector, Pothinus.  Leo Genn, Valentine Dyall, Michael Rennie, Raymond Lovell and Anthony Eustrel stand out in smaller parts.

      The film is, of course, on a generally high level of technical competence, and considering the difficulties under which it was produced, has turned out remarkably well, though I still beg leave to wonder whether the theme was worthy of its setting―or needed it.  In any case, it lacks the spark of genius which was necessary to make it into a great picture; it remains merely a notable one.                                              R.J.L.H. (H. VI. A.).


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      Mr. G. H. Higginson's film of school life has been shown during the Term to enthusiastic audiences of governors, masters and boys, and is due for a London showing in the not-too-distant future.  It may be called with­out exaggeration a remarkable, achievement; to crowd scenes representative of every aspect of school life into a silent film lasting just under an hour, and to make the result a well-rounded and interesting composite whole is no mean feat.  It is a feat which Mr. Higginson has achieved with a great measure of success.  What few faults there are were generally un­avoidable; bad lighting conditions were the chief difficulties to be over­come.  Perhaps in the film as it stands at present too much time is spent at the boxing competition and the camps, too little at some other forms of school activity; but this may be rectified by a little careful cutting.  The montage is often extremely effectively done, and there are scores of impressive individual shots, notably that of morning prayers, with the Headmaster coming up the Hall towards the camera, and gradually becoming larger until all else is obscured by his voluminous gown.  Much hitherto undiscovered cinematic talent is also revealed among both staff and boys!  In all, the school film is a worthy and original departure of which its producer-director-photographer-editor may be justly proud.
                                                                                                       R.J.L.H. (H. VI. A.).


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March, 1947:



The Film Society.


Secretary : R. J. L. HALLIWELL.                                              Treasurer : K. W. WARDLE.

      Last Term's least successful meeting has yet to be reported.  This was the occasion on November 28th of the screening of Kidnapped, a Hollywood epic which bears a vague family resemblance to R. L. Stevenson's novel of the same name.  The film is episodic, melodramatic, occasionally exciting but generally dull; it has the precocious Freddie Bartholemew striving to repeat his success in David Copperfield, and Warner Baxter essaying the role of Alan Breck, of which he is no longer physically or histrionically capable.  However, the real reason for its failure to entertain was an idiosyncrasy of the projector, which left us practically without sound.

      Owing to the difficulty of obtaining films, it has been possible this Term to arrange only three programmes, two of which have already been shown.  We cannot go on before acknowledging our debt to Mr. G. H. Higginson, who has manipulated the new school projector with dexterity and complete success.

      Clear photography and ingenious montage were features of Mr. Higginson's film of local army training, which opened the programme on 14th of February.  The main film was The Foreman went to France, a story of the dark days of 1940 in newly-occupied France.  It was hailed on its first appearance as a British film of unusual excellence; so it was then, but more recent technical developments have left it far behind.  It remains nevertheless extremely entertaining, chiefly on account of the cheerful personality of Tommy Trinder, for the more than competent acting of Clifford Evans, Constance Cummings and Robert Morley, and for its strikingly human utterance of the poignant situation of the French people.

      On February 28th we had our most satisfactory programme for some time.  The prize-winning documentary, Song of Ceylon, with its original technique and impressive photography, made a fresh and provocative impact upon our minds; after twelve years it has maintained its strange beauty and fascination, and its startling visual images are memorable, despite some jerkiness of continuity and synchronization.  The lengthy composite film covering the history of the realist cinema, Film and Reality, was also shown.  This film, made by Cavalcanti for the National Film Library, is extremely valuable and interesting to the serious student of the cinema, because it consist of extracts from the best pre-war documentary films of many nations, which are rarely to be seen as a rule.  The extracts from Eisenstein's The General Line, Ruttman's Berlin, Pabst's Kameradschaft, and the Dutch film, Zuyderzee, are aspecially gripping, but not a single foot of the film is superfluous or boring; it suffers only from attempting to do too much in too short a time.

      The screening of mid-day documentaries has been continued this Term, and their standard seems to be improving.  A Canadian nature film, Life on Western Marshes, has taken the honours so far. Films on economics, history and biology have also been shown to selected audiences.

      Friday the 13th will be shown on Friday the 14th of March; and it is hoped to hold at least one meeting next Term.                                                     R.J.L.H. (H. VI.A.).


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                              Thy levels, Bolton, war-like Mars' retreat,
                              At once the sportsman's and the scholar's seat,
                              Invite my lays.  Amid the snowy plains,
                              A sky-dropp'd Swan, no mortal, Monarch reigns.
                              For lo! the levels shine with sudden frost,
                              Their beauty wither'd, and their verdure lost.
                              All Nature mourns, the Skies ne'er cease their show'rs,
                              Gone are the Pigs, asleep the shiv'ring flow'rs,
                              And all the youthful flocks to shelter tend,
                              As from the Heavens snow-fill'd clouds descend.
                              The white Orbs harden on the scene of strife,
                              Once host to lusty Youth, which now seeks indoor life.

                                                                                                   R.J.L.H. (H. VI.A.)


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FILM REVIEW—" Great Expectations."

      There is no doubt that " Great Expectations " is a very great film indeed: great, in that it marks the British film industry's furthest forward stride in all-round competence to date, as well as being both the most successful screen version of a Dickens novel yet produced and an admirable film in itself.  The problems confronting any would-be translators of Dickens' magic to the film medium are many and formidable; in this case the most energetic and brilliant of British production teams has tackled the job with commendable vigour and courage, and expert work in every department has produced a lengthy strip of celluloid which should certainly have a place in the international gallery of cinematic masterpiece.

      All this does not mean that " Great Expectations " has reached that impossible ideal, the perfect film, although Cineguild has done all that any film company can be expected to do.  The film, like the novel, has its drawbacks and limitations, but both film and novel are true classics, and will continue to have a widespread and devoted body of admirers for a long time to come.

      The most difficult problem to deal with was that of selection and emission.  A bulky mass of incident, character and sub-plot had to be jettisoned, and on the whole this has been done with feeling and common sense, although it has meant that very little flesh has been left on the skeleton.  Unfortunately, the larger-than-life magnification of the screen shows up the many improbabilities of the original story, which hardly illustrates Dickens at his happiest.  Furthermore, understatement, a virtue not often found in the cinema, is carried too far, almost as far as unintelligibility.  The writer who so carefully prepared the script seems to have forgotten that a large percentage of cinema audiences have never read the book: he would have been justified in showing us exactly how and why the story begins, progresses and ends, instead of leaving us to infer this from indirect hints.

      Nevertheless, Dickens' dialogue, compressed and chopped about as it is, comes across remarkably well; it is given verbatim, with no concessions to the twentieth century.  The happy ending is not so happy artistically as one would wish, but the wholesale conversion of Magwitch (from an evil life) of Pip (from snobbery) and of Estella (from heartlessness) is performed with such enthusiasm as to become almost credible, and the film rounds itself off in a blaze of glory before the audience has time to consider.  The whole hangs together without breaking down, which is all guar really matters, for the real Dickens is never in the plot.

      What does matter is the acting and character-drawing, in which the warm, human, valuable part of Dickens is always to be found.  The gallery of unforgettable people in this novel is not so extensive as, for example, in " David Copperfield " or " Pickwick Papers," and some of the most priceless characters have been cut right out.  I find it hard to forgive the telescoping or direct omission of Uncle Pumblechook, Wemmick, Trabb's boy and Mr. Wopsle's " Hamlet "; an extra half-hour would have been well spent on these delightful irrelevancies. However, those characters which are left are superlatively well portrayed.  John Mills achieves the impossible in making a real and attractive character out of Pip, who was used by Dickens, as he used David Copperfield, as a mere vehicle through which to relate the story.  This is a fine performance which should redound considerably to his credit.  Francis L. Sullivan is a tremendous Jaggers; his performance has the bluff, whole-hearted Dickensian flavour, and he makes one wish that the whole film were about him.  Bernard Miles, though a little too Mephistophelean, is as convincing a Joe Gargery as any mere actor can be, but the hacking-down of the part amounts almost to sacrilege.  Finlay Currie is excellent as Magwitch, brutal, coarse and affectionate by turns; but his make-up is not always convincing.  Alec Guinness is delightfully just right as Herbert Pocket, and Ivor Barnard does what he can with the part of Wemmick, reduced almost to nothing.  One must also mention two minutes of pure joy, supplied by O. B. Clarence as the Aged P.

      The women are somewhat less admirable, because their parts are not so credible to begin with.  Valerie Hobson is good, but rather more cold and statuesque than the part of EsteIla warrants, and Martitia Hunt does not get enough scope to convey the unutterable chill and pathos of Miss Havisham.  But Jean Simmons, who plays Estella as a child, is a real and vital discovery of great promise, and Anthony Wager's young Pip is nearly as good.

      The film never drops from a high level of technical competence, and is flawlessly directed.  David Lean, after his grand work in " Blithe Spirit " and " Brief Encounter," has here changed his technique and quite rightly gone all out for melodrama.  The sudden impact of the first meeting of Pip and Magwitch in the graveyard, the breathless frenzy of the burning of Miss Havisham, the exciting running-down of the boats by the paddle steamer… all these are better than one would have imagined possible, and are indescribably gripping.  The photography also makes an important contribution towards the film's success by its attractively gleaming and clearly-fixed blacks and whites, by the broad effects which create an instantaneous atmosphere of dingy streets or foggy fen, and especially by the novel uses to which it puts sunlight and silhouette.  In particular, Pip's delirium with its prolonged blackout shot deserves mention, and one's attention is drawn irresistibly towards the screen by unusual camera stances and angles, by clever cutting which preserves the interest throughout, and by the trick of placing important characters in corners of the screen.  The sets themselves―the blacksmith's cottage, the spider-ridden Miss Havisham and her dust-laid wedding table, the London streets, the ballroom, the lawyer's office―are painstakingly effective and have an air of tangible reality.

      " Great Expectations " is one of those films which give one the impression of being really worth making and worth seeing.  It reflects a good deal of credit on all concerned, on every cog in the formidable wheel of film production.  It has that feeling of warmth, well-being, actuality, good humour and glorious extravagance which belongs exclusively to Dickens, and will certainly ensure that many a dusty copy of the novel is taken down and read with fresh zeal from cover to cover.  It is many months since I enjoyed a film quite so much, and of one thing I am positive―Dickens himself would have revelled in it.
                                                                                          R.J.L.H. (H. VI.A.).


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July, 1947:



The Film Society.


Secretary : R. J. L. HALLIWELL.                                              Treasurer : K. W. WARDLE.

      There have been no meetings of the Society this Term, nor is it likely that there will be any until the end of September.  However, one of last Term's meetings has not yet been reported.

      This took place on March 14th, when the film Friday the Thirteenth was shown. This British comedy-thriller was extremely enjoyable despite its great age of fourteen years.  A London bus crashes late at night and two people are killed; the film then turns back the clock to show how the various people on the bus came to be on it, and we are told half-a-dozen stories in moods varying from the farcical to the tragic.  Quite naturally, the film creaks a little in its technique, but a celebrated cast puts its stuff across with such verve that this revival is much more interesting and worth while than many a much boosted modern " super " film.  Supporting it was World of Plenty, now a little out of date but still a fine example of documentary film-making.

      The Society hopes next year to continue its policy of showing more and better films from France and Germany as well as from British and American studios.

                                                                                                 R.J.L.H. (H. VI.A.).


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      Many of our great novelists, classic as well as contemporary, have suffered much at the hands of Hollywood since talking films were introduced in the late twenties.  Their works have provided a happy hunting-ground for those script-writers who have no ideas of their own and this tendency has more often than not had disastrous results for varied but fairly obvious reasons.

      Foremost amongst these is the necessity of ensuring box-offirce appeal.  In 1937 Samuel GoIdwyn announced with a fanfare of trumpets his screen version of Wuthering Heights.  But the film we saw was not Wuthering Heights at all, being far removed from Emily Brontë's grimly fascinating study of lost and thwarted human creatures on a moor.  The film ended where the important part of the novel really begins, and was little more than a cheap tragedy providing an excuse for Miss Merle Oberon to go mad in white satin and die on a sofa.  The novel achieved its greatness not by dialogue or character-drawing but by its general atmosphere of overpowering horror, by a descriptive phrase here, by a striking adjective there, the gradual accumulation bringing the reader to a sense of utter revulsion.  Celluloid could not do that; the film had no atmosphere of brooding evil, no depth of feeling, no sincerity of purpose—thing, in fact, but popular appeal, which was present in abundance.  The stamp of Emily Brontë's personality was quite gone.

      Personality is one of the things which film adaptations of novels must almost inevitably lack.  Novels are intensely personal things, the unrestrained expression of one mind.  The cinema is necessarily an impersonal art produced by a multiple mind, because it must have breadth of appeal if its makers are to recover their huge expenditure.  The resulting commercial concession to lowbrow sentiment has long been troubling serious filmgoers, who are seeking in vain for individuality in the cinema.  One of the best of our modem writers, W. Somerset Maugham, has been badly treated by the cinema in every sense but the financial one.  Of some half-dozen film adaptations of his novels, only one, The Moon and Sixpence, was even remotely successful, and that was because its production team dared not to tamper with it, but to screen it as it stood.  Two of Maugham's most delightful points are his casual and disjointed first-person narration and his flawless prose style; the first of these seems irritating and clumsy on the screen, and the second can hardly be used at all.  Thus the film of The Razor's Edge, despite its sincerity and interest, proved to be quite uncinematic in theme and treatment.  Both versions of Of Human Bondage were unbearably sentimentalized so as to lose credibility, and Christmas Holiday and The Painted Veil were so much adapted as to be unrecognizable, and were made ridiculous by pathetic happy endings.  All these are common faults of Hollywood.

      Dickens has been comparatively well-treated by the films, largely be­cause in his wide range of characters and locations, actors and directors have something extravagant and unusual to get their teeth into.  But he illustrates another drawback to the practice of turning books into films.  Producers are chary of making films that last more than two hours; yet the average length of a Dickens novel is 750 pages.  How is everything to be fitted in?  The answer is that everything is not fitted in by any means.  So in Nicholas Nickleby, recently filmed, we see a great deal of the rather dull hero and heroines, and are given the involved plot in full, but the real Dickens, to be found in Mrs. Nickleby, the Squeers family, the Mantalinis, little Tim and Miss La Creevy, has dwindled to almost nothing―there simply wasn't time for them.

      Just as there are exceptions to every rule, so some novels, for different reasons, have turned out to make very fine films indeed.  The outstanding merit of Great Expectations, for instance, lay in its brilliant direction; Odd Man Out had unity and compelling interest, Kings Row had a powerful theme and fine background music, Jane Eyre scored on its grand Wellesian black-and-white photography, and for sheer pictorial beauty in colour Black Narcissus will be hard to beat.  Again, a great many novels are secured each year by film companies, coupled up with top-flight artistes, and turned into extremely good screen entertainment without being in any sense outstanding.  Thrillers meet with the greatest success in this field, especially those of Graham Greene, Eric Ambler and Raymond Chandler, whose work is admirably suited to film technique.

      Despite this, the most impressive and interesting films are those few which are conceived and written solely in terms of celluloid.  Into this class fall fantasies like A Matter of Life and Death, the Chaplin films, early German and French silents, and many modern American comedies written by bristling geniuses such as Preston Sturges.  In them the cinema is exemplified in its purest form.

      The moral problem of " borrowing '' films from books remains to be considered.  It is safest to call the practice regrettable.  It stifles originality and encourages laziness, as well as helping to diminish the small number of people who read books nowadays.  Many times one hears such a remark as this: – Oh!  I don't need to read it―I've seen the film."  Too often do we see the phrase " book of the film " instead of " film of the book."  It is admittedly easier to see films than to read novels, but the easiest way is seldom the most profitable.  There is little point in being proud of our separate art-forms if one is to reign supreme at the expense of another.                                                           R J.L,H. (H, VI A.).


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