Surprisingly eclectic bunch of films here with great prints, two of which we found exceptionally entertaining, although for very different reasons. THE DIVIDED HEART, a BAFTA award winner, is based on the true story of a German couple who adopt a boy thought to be a war orphan, only for his 'natural' mother, played with heart rending sincerity by the marvellous Yvonne Mitchell, to turn up and claim him seven years later. The German 'bread' mother is played equally well by Cornell Borchers, a German actress who bore a close resemblance to Ingrid Bergman in looks and talent. The little boy, Toni, is played by a delightfully wide-eyed child actor called Michel Ray, who I have also seen in US movies, notably Space Children. The Divided Heart is a real tear-jerker with an ending that apparently left audiences of the day shocked. I'm not surprised. Unusually for Ealing, it's filmed on location in Bavaria and what was then Yugoslavia. Sublimely involving. By contrast, SALOON BAR is a light-hearted, but well acted comedy thriller, which we bought just to see Judy Chapman, a muse of Noel Coward and mother of Jane Birkin. However, the whole cast were great and the film is very entertaining.
The other two films are more for stalwart Ealing enthusiasts, although it was good to see a young and pretty Betty Driver (famous for playing Betty in Coronation Street for decades) in LET'S BE FAMOUS - and what a voice she had! HIS EXCELLENCY could have been very boring, a dated satire about British dignitaries in the 'colonies', where the main preoccupations of the day were dressing for dinner, cricket and afternoon tea. However, boasting a cast that includes the wonderful Eric Portman, who specialised in no-nonsense Northerners, Cecil Parker and Edward Chapman (Mr Grimsdale in the Norman Wisdom comedies), it is actually very watchable. We also get the lovely, fresh-faced Susan Stephens, who used to play opposite stars like Dirk Bogarde and John Gregson in 1950s light comedies.
An extraordinarily varied selection from which one film stands out, namely "The Divided Heart".
The film opens innocently enough with a young boy (Toni) of ten years out on the hill slopes (mountain backdrop, we are not quite sure where exactly) in winter snows enjoying skiing, something at which he has become quite skilled. The idyll is soon to be shattered by the brief visitation of two officials who make known to the adoptive German parents of the boy that his blood mother (a Yugoslav refugee) has been located and that she wishes to have the boy back with her.
The procedure by which the boy's future is to be determined by a panel of three dedicated judges from the American Control Commission proceeds by a series of harrowing flashbacks set in the period of the Second World War, and at various locations.
One's sympathies are in a constant state of tension and flux as we sympathise with both parties and with the boy at the fulcrum of all this upheaval and uncertainty. The primary objective is to secure a humane settlement for the boy but as with much of life there would appear to be no simple or single solution that excludes pain.
The film achieves its mission without recourse to an audio backdrop. Outstanding in every regard.
The other three films all have something to offer the serious viewer, and in the case of "His Excellency", we have another film that poses a series of moral questions, though with a lighter touch than the film above.
Worth buying for "Saloon Bar" alone, a wonderful under-rated film about the customers of a bar solving a murder to save a regular from hanging for a crime he did not commit (look out for Martin Clunes Dad!). The other films demonstrate the variety of films made by Ealing Studios. Both "His Excellency" and "Divided Heart" stand up in their own right, though "Lets be famous" is rather dated and more for the Ealing enthusiast.
In this volume, 'The Divided Heart' is a gem. I've watched 10 volumes out of the 14 of this collection. The selection is, let's say, uneven, since most British movies of the thirties usually run out of steam quickly as compared to their American equivalents of the same period, They lack the genuine 'spirit' that can be found in the screwball comedies of Hollywood but they remain interesting for anyone curious to learn about the mindset of the pre-war British.
All I should like to say about these great films, which I greatly recommend for their great values of wit, heart, charm, and inspirational examples of character, is something which I have found quite impossible, despite my very best, altruistic efforts ,to have included on the Internet Movie Database : unless I HAVE been successful, but just impatient, should anybody want to check, before the few of us who care are gone, and the knowledge is lost forever, please could I make it known that Raymond Huntley is uncredited in this film, as one of the all-male singing trio, accompanying Betty Driver, near the end. This film , as I write, is not on his official Filmography. If somebody later should like to see if I have been just impatient for the credit to be added to the Internet Movie Database, or, should like to try for themselves, I should be very grateful. At least I've made it known, here.Thank you.
Four old Ealing films, which I found to be good with the exception of "His Majesty", which I thought a bit far-fetched. "Saloon Bar" was an amateur detective story, which was quite good. On the whole, good value for money, as you can't see these films elsewhere. As there were so many Ealing films, some are sure to be better than others.