Here’s one last Christmas movie review for the season. It’s a small British film from 1952 with Ralph Richardson cast as Reverend Martin Gregory, a parson in a small Norfolk village. He is recently widowered and lives with his older daughter Jenny. His younger daughter Margaret lives in London working as a fashion journalist and his son Michael is in the British Army. Jenny is in love with an engineer named David Paterson but David has a job offer that would send him to South America for five years. But Jenny says she cannot leave her aging father alone and refuses to even tell him about her love because then he would sacrifice his needs for the sake of her happiness.
The siblings will be returning home for Christmas along with two elderly aunts and a friend of the family. The drama turns on the tensions arising out of the grown children’s fears about what they believe are their father’s intolerant religious principles. The younger daughter lives in London to hide the existence of her illegitimate child from her whole family so that they wouldn’t be burdened with hiding this secret from their father.
During the course of the Christmas visit all these secrets come out and Martin realizes that his manner has made him unapproachable to his children thereby isolating and harming them. He has frank discussions with his visiting son and daughter and does his best to convince them that he is not an inhuman religious fanatic but a man who loves his children and is not unrealistic about his expectations for human beings and their problems. And once the secrets are exposed a resolution of the practical problem of Martin’s household needs is very satisfactorily found.
Ralph Richardson’s Martin is quite moving in his portrayal of a man struggling to connect with his children through the distance that his station in life has created. He shows compassion and humility when his children relate the tragedies that have plagued them and he defends the life affirming nature of his faith and rejects the idea that he has not faced similar problems in his life. He shows himself a warm human being and dispels the illusion that he has allowed his children to build of him as some kind of caricature of an Old Testament prophet summoning down lightning on the heads of his erring descendants.
All the actors perform admirably including the more ancillary characters like David, the aunts and the family friend. The script is warm and intelligent and the plot plays out in a streamlined eighty minutes. In fact, I could have wished it had been a little longer. As opposed to the bleak cinema that Britain produced in the 1960s this movie, based on a play by Wynyard Browne, is life-affirming and ultimately optimistic. Highly recommended for Christmas time but really enjoyable at any time of the year.
This is not one of my favorite plays. Part of that is my allegiance to the House of Lancaster. Henry IV and Henry V seemed like my kind of guys so I was sorry to see the House of York pry back the crown from their side in Henry VI Parts I, II & III. But more than that, it’s the spectacle of a monster like Richard crushing the people around him, his family in fact, without any compunction or even much difficulty. His brothers Edward and George are oblivious to his treachery even as it is being accomplished. His other enemies are more aware but equally powerless to save themselves from his malice. He moves from outrage to outrage upping the ante at each stage. Finally, he assigns a merciless assassin to smother his nine and twelve-year-old nephews with their own pillow to ensure that they never have the chance to revenge themselves on Richard for his usurpation of their father’s crown. And then there’s the matter of Lady Anne. She is the widow of the Lancaster heir to the throne, Henry VI’s son Edward. And it was Richard who killed Edward. Having Anne agree to wed Richard is the final outrage that just makes the play a bridge too far for me. I mean, come on! Richard is a hunchbacked, withered armed, monster. Anne spits in his face and calls him a fiend and then willingly marries him. This is a tough play to understand.
Anyway, Olivier plays Richard to the hilt. He is actually comical at certain points in his jocular, two-faced portrayal of the monster. Olivier has surrounded himself with an all-star cast of Shakespearean professionals. Cedric Hardwicke is his brother King Edward IV, John Gielgud is his brother George, Duke of Clarence, Ralph Richardson is Duke of Buckingham and Claire Bloom is Lady Anne. The acting is good. It’s just that I can’t stomach the plot. To see evil just dance along while well meaning people are led to the slaughter irks me. The ending should be consolation enough. Richard gets his comeuppance and pays the price. But the play rubs me the wrong way. It’s the way that good seems to be powerless to resist evil. It’s almost as if it gives up without a fight. Oh well.
So, as you can tell I don’t love this play but I recognize that it’s really about me and my way of looking at the world. I acknowledge that this is a well-acted version of the play and the production is full of nice touches. The chanting monks, the cinematography of the battle scene, the excellent set design, the skill of the cast. Olivier’s elocution and mastery of the part demands it be seen. He gives us a consummate and thoroughgoing villain. All of it recommends this play to the Shakespeare devotee. So, I do recommend this version. It is well done and deserves high praise.
But I’d rather watch Hamlet. I’d rather watch Henry V. Richard III rankles me no little bit.
It’s been a few years since I last saw this old science fiction film. The screenplay was written by H. G. Wells based on his story of the same name. And it has some distinguished British Shakespearean actors in the persons of Ralph Richardson and Cedric Hardwicke. But it also has Raymond Massey who can chew up scenery with the best of them.
The plot is remarkably realistic at the start. A Second World War begins in 1940 (this was made in 1935) and goes on for decades killing off most of humanity. Then a plague finishes off the majority of the survivors and throws humanity into a virtual dark age where isolated communities battle for the meager resources that remain in what is practically a pre-industrial age. In a section of England Ralph Richardson portrays a “Chief” who controls his villages as a rough and ready princeling battling the surrounding mini-states for control of the food and other resources. Suddenly an advanced airplane lands and Raymond Massey reveals that a scientific community has survived the war and is re-establishing civilization and putting an end to nation-states. He is taken prisoner by the chief but the writing is on the wall and eventually Massey’s friends show up with aircraft that looks like something out of a Buck Rogers serial. They use the “gas of peace” to knock out the population and shepherd them into the Global Socialist Future complete with “science.” We are then regaled with the wonderful futuristic science and engineering marvels that allow the world to be converted into a paradise on earth.
Flash forward fifty years and everyone lives underground and the world is a garden of delights where no one seems to work very hard or gets sick and everyone is happy, sort of like San Francisco but without the human feces everywhere. The descendant of Raymond Massey, who looks remarkably like Raymond Massey, is working on the Space Gun that will shoot a space capsule around the Moon. But Cedric Hardwicke won’t have it. He rallies the non-scientists (actors and hair stylists) to attack the Space Gun and destroy it with their own soft and well-manicured hands. Raymond Massey takes his helicopter and races the mob to the Space Gun and loads his daughter and her boyfriend into the bullet just in time to fire them into space and coincidentally allow the shockwave from the firing of the gun to murder all the raging doofuses attempting to stop him.
Then Massey gives a monologue that goes on and on. It’s a panegyric to progress. We’ll go to the Moon and colonize it and out to the planets and then onto the stars. We’ll never stop. It’s all or nothing. There’s even a choir at the end. I think they were repeating “all or nothing.” For someone who is a big fan of the space program he managed to make it sound unhinged even to me.
Here’s my take. The beginning of the movie is frighteningly prescient. He saw the rest of the twentieth century coming. That was right on the nose. But Wells was a socialist. Basically he might as well have been doing forward work for Stalin. All that was missing was the hammer and sickle. His belief that the socialists would build some kind of scientific utopia was laughably misguided. And the smugness of the Massey character made me immediately think of Barack Obama. All he needed to do to make the effect perfect would have been to say a couple of times “it’s not who we are.” Honestly, I was solidly behind the “Chief” character and would gladly have put up with the lice and dysentery to avoid having to hear the speeches about “science.”
This really is a period piece and worth seeing just to get a flavor for what the British socialists thought the future should be. It’s very enlightening. And the histrionics by Massey are so over the top that they’re really quite funny to see and hear.