Lust, jealousy, ruthless conniving...and that's for starters. No, this isn't a Lana Turner and John Garfield film. This is Genevieve, one of the greatest of the classic English comedies from the late Forties and early Fifties. The movie is witty, warming and, above all else, funny.
Genevieve is a 1904 Darrocq roadster, driven by the ordinarily levelheaded young barrister, Alan McKim (John Gregson), on the London to Brighton and back annual antique car rally. By his side is his indulgent and sometimes exasperated wife, Wendy (Dinah Sheridan). Joining him in a 1904 Stryker is Alan's best friend, the irrepressible Ambrose Claverhouse (Kenneth More). Joining Ambrose is the beautiful creature he hopes to have an emotional experience with overnight in Brighton, the elegant and slightly off-center Rosalind Peters (Kay Kendall). Stuffed in the Stryker's small back seat is Suzy, Rosalind's Saint Bernard. And off they go, the cars snorting and puffing, wheezing and sometimes breaking down. We have a chance to see how much the annual rally and Genevieve mean to Alan and how much Wendy, who'd rather be at a party that evening, loves him. We learn what a loud and funny man Ambrose can be, and how just below the surface is a competitive streak just waiting to break free. And we see what a beautiful creature the long-legged and fey Rosalind is, and that she just might be Ambrose's match. Says Rosalind to Wendy, "Ambrose only seems to think about two things. That silly old car - and the other thing." Says Wendy to Rosalind, "What other thing? Oh. My husband only thinks about the car."
The four reach Brighton and enough things happen to them to keep us smiling. But then a little misunderstanding leads to a 100 pound bet as to who will get back to London and cross the Westminster Bridge finish line first. What had been a friendly run turns into a cutthroat competition. Ambrose comes into his own...and nice guy Alan matches him. It's not too long before Wendy and Rosalind, who at first thought the men were behaving like boys, join them in the thrill of the race. It's nip and tuck all the way, with stratagems, close calls and some truly ruthless plotting. It's great.
Among the many reasons for this movie's charm and success are the four actors. Sheridan is an expert actress and light comedienne, likable and believable. Gregson is stolid but equally likable. They make a nice couple. Almost blowing them away, however, are Kenneth More and Kay Kendall. More had been the confident, energetic bit player or second lead for years. Kendall, with her looks, style and way with words had been slowly inching up the star ladder. With this movie and the following year's Doctor in the House, they both made it to the top. More was a much more versatile and subtle actor than his movie persona might have you believe. Ambrose Claverhouse may be loud and confident, he might even be just a bit of a bully, and he certainly has a victory laugh that will drive you crazy, but More is able with all this to make the guy funny and even appealing. We feel rather sorry for Ambrose when his emotional experience with Rosalind is not to be. Kendall simply was one of a kind...so elegant, so funny, so off the wall. When, tipsy on the champagne Ambrose has been giving her while the four of them dine, Rosalind decides to play the trumpet, Kendall is so funny you'll want to watch the scene again. Kendall has to set up the character at the table. She has to sound a little slurred. She has to walk carefully to the bandstand. She has to mime playing the trumpet, first slowly and sweet and then swinging, and she has to pass out back in her chair. Kendall does all this with exquisite timing and style. She's so funny because she knows not to try for a moment to be funny. Kendall didn't have much time at the top. She died six years later at 33 of leukemia.
Not the least of Genevieve's charms is the jaunty, quirky music for the film composed and played by Larry Adler, perhaps the best harmonica player ever. Adler was one of those great American artists who were blacklisted because he wouldn't knuckle under to the vogue for self-abasing testimony before Congressional committees about his political beliefs. Unable to find much work in America he moved to Britain and started over. When Genevieve was released in the United States, his name was removed on the credits as the composer and another name substituted. When the music won an Academy Award, there was no mention of Larry Adler. It took years before the Oscar organization rectified this. Adler decided to stay where he was, in Britain. He kept his citizenship but only returned to the States later for concert or composing gigs.
Genevieve looks fine but the movie deserves a first-class restoration treatment. The listed run time of 110 minutes includes a 25-minute documentary about the making of the movie titled A Profile of Genevieve.