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Cottage Classics - two films seen recently

27. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), dir. Robert Hamer

I hadn't seen this before it was screened at the Cottage, and had some vague idea that it was a high drama about an aristocratic dynasty - maybe a little like Il Gattopardo. Far from it, though! It's about an aristocratic family all right, but it is actually an Ealing comedy, with a typically blackly humorous plot. Dennis Price plays the son of a disgraced daughter of the noble D'Ascoynes, who was cut out of the family circle after eloping with an Italian tenor. His one goal in life is to bump off enough members of the family so that he inherits their fortune in spite of his mother's ex-communication, and so he goes about it with cunning and ingenuity. Alec Guinness, who somehow always looked like a venerable older statesman even when (as here) only in his early 30s, plays no less than eight members of the D'Ascoyne family (including one woman), all of whom fall successively victim to Price's dastardly schemes. Meanwhile, Price's character hedges his bets between the fiery but dangerous Sibella and the beautiful but very straight-laced Edith, and also climbs the career ladder from a position as a humble lingerie salesman to the chief executive of the D'Ascoyne family bank.

The whole thing is brilliantly funny from start to finish, full of beautiful satire on the hypocritical callousness of the English class system, irony-laden situational farce and razor-sharp dialogue. Its clever paradoxes and studied trivialism masking a darker subtext feel rather Wildean, and indeed the story bears quite some resemblance to Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, with its equivalent central joke of a character going about the grisly crime of murder in an elegant and debonair fashion. It had some great secondary characters too, like the aspirational hangman on the verge of retirement, quite carried away with self-importance at the prospect that his final 'client' might be a Duke, and busily practising his bows and the correct form of address ready to fulfil his duties with the appropriate deference. And the ending reminded me a lot of The Italian Job. Just when it seems Price's character, the lovable criminal we've come to identify with, is going to get away with his string of murders and walk scot-free from prison, he realises that he has left an extensive memoir recounting every single one of his murders on the table in the prison cell. Will he manage to get back in there and retrieve it before it gives him away? We are left to guess.

28. Singin' in the Rain (1952), dir. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen

As recorded previously in these pages, this year is the centenary of the Cottage Road cinema, and as part of that they seem to be trying to add a little extra to some of their screening. Certainly, this screening was introduced by Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, who was born and brought up in Leeds, and whose favourite film this apparently is. Gerald is no spring chicken these days - I looked him up on Wikipedia afterwards and discovered that he is 82 now. ms_siobhan also noticed that he was wearing a hearing aid, which probably explains why his little talk was A BIT SHOUTY. Still, he clearly knew a lot about the film, telling us all sorts of stories about its production and pointing out some things to look for for first-time viewers like me. Wikipedia also tells me that he has written a couple of books about films, so it is obviously quite a serious passion for him.

Presumably in recognition of Sir Gerald's presence, the usual pre-show selection of vintage ads included two party-political adverts from what I think must have been the 1979 election - one for the Tories and one for Labour. Both were really effective adverts, actually, with a clear, strong message. The Tory one showed a cinema-going couple who were looking for the queue for the 50p stalls, but all they could find were queues for benefits, operations, buying council houses etc - the explicit message at the end being that this is what happens with Labour in control. Meanwhile, the Labour one worked with the idea of the 'X' on a ballot paper, showing all the things that voters would be crossing out if they voted Conservative - schools, hospitals, benefits etc - and closed by urging voters to put their X in the Labour box instead. Both of course elicited bitter laughter and / or cheers from various parts of the audience, depending on political preference. They certainly showed that very little has changed.

Then it was time for the film itself - the third Gene Kelly picture I have seen on the big screen this year (after Ziegfeld Follies and On the Town). The man can certainly dance. I'd seen some of the famous song-and-dance numbers before, but never the whole thing, so had no idea about what the overall plot might be. It turned out to be one of those meta-referential films which were so popular in the Golden Age of Hollywood which are about the film business (or, just as often, the stage business), and use this as an excuse to shoe-horn in lots of choreographic extravaganzas which otherwise have no particular relation to the plot.

The core plot in this one dealt with the period of transition from silent films to the talkies, and I now see in retrospect that The Artist was in part a tribute to it. Gene Kelly is the big star who has some learning to do but makes the transition successfully, and Debbie Reynolds is the plucky, likeable newcomer with an as-yet-unrecognised talent who eventually wins the attention she deserves and supplants the established diva with the bad attitude. And, of course, they fall in love. Along the way, though, there are all kinds of only-tangentially-related musical numbers, such as a whole extended 'Broadway Melody' sequence which included some borrowed footage from Ziegfeld Follies, and an amazing ballet scene involving a long wind-blown sheet of fine silk flowing upwards and away from the ballerina as she danced.

I don't normally like musicals very much, but in this one all of the songs had been carefully chosen from the 1920s and '30s to fit with the chronological setting of the film, and that suited me very well. In fact, I liked the selection here so much that I'm half-considering buying the soundtrack. I particularly enjoyed seeing the full sequence for 'Good Morning' for nostalgic reasons. Mum would often wake us up on childhood holidays by singing that to us - although when I asked her on the phone this evening whether she knew it from this film she said no, it was just something everyone sang when she was younger. Indirect knowledge, then. Anyway, the dance sequence which goes with it is pretty amazing, and I have been singing it joyously today as I enjoyed my first proper research day at home for several weeks. It definitely goes well with a sunny holiday mood.

In short, another great two nights out at the Cottage which I'm extremely glad I went along to.

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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 12th, 2012 09:14 pm (UTC)
Drat. I would have so gone for kind hearts and corenets....
Oct. 12th, 2012 10:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, sorry - I would have let you know if I'd realised you might be interested. But you can sign up for their mailing list here so that you don't miss future films you might like. ms_siobhan and I go to pretty much all their Classic screenings, so you would always have people you knew to go with. :-)
Oct. 13th, 2012 06:35 am (UTC)
It's fine - I just really like that movie - its a genuine comedy masterpiece.

I'll sign up and see what else is coming.
Oct. 12th, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
Two really excellent films. I'm amazed you've never seen Kind Hearts, it's such a wet Sunday afternoon film. Brilliant though.
Oct. 12th, 2012 10:07 pm (UTC)
I've pretty much never seen any of the Classics they screen at the Cottage before, though ms_siobhan is the opposite, and almost always has. I'm building up a pretty good knowledge of them now, though. Experiencing most of them for the first time on the big screen instead of day-time TV, in spite of being born in the '70s, must make me a bit of an oddity!

Edited at 2012-10-12 10:07 pm (UTC)
Oct. 13th, 2012 07:06 am (UTC)
I've always loved Kind Hearts - my favourite bit is the good relationship he has with the banker D'Ascoyne, which makes him so glad he doesn't have to kill him because nature intervenes - a touch of heart in all that chilly elegance.
Oct. 13th, 2012 04:59 pm (UTC)
Kind Hearts is my favourite film, full of ambiguities. It's a while since I've seen Singin in the Rain, but enjoyed it both as musical and as Hollywood self-mythologising. (I also saw Tommy Steele in the stage version, many years ago...)
Oct. 15th, 2012 01:38 am (UTC)
I rented the DVD of Kind Hearts and Coronets some years ago, because I'd never seen it and wanted to, if only for Alec Guinness playing so many roles. I agree, it's a wonderful film, and reading your review has made me want to watch it again!
Oct. 15th, 2012 08:57 am (UTC)
I was thinking of getting the soundtrack too - I would also kill for the lovely black spider dress one of the attendess at the premiere was wearing.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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