Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 7, No. 7 July 26, 1944
At the Shows.—San Demetrio, London (reviewed below), is definitely a four-star show; see it. Flesh and Fantasy, with one of the best openings yet seen, falls down badly because of Charles Boyer, who is incapable of playing anybody but Charles Boyer. Squadron Leader X is a war film, period. Don't miss Johnny Come Lately, first production of Cagney Bros., and a fine job. Look, too, for Cabin in the Sky, all-Negro musical coming soon. M.G.M. make a good film from this long-running Broadway show, with most of the original cast.
Having seen one adult film lately in The Moon is Down, I resigned myself to wait for a long time for another to come along. Well, it has arrived, much sooner than expected. Its name is San Demetrio, London. Now, I'm going to try to write carefully. It would be very easy to run riot, as the advertisers have done, and gibber about "England taking it" and all that. But this film deserves more than that. Its beauty lies in its discretion. A British film, it doesn't flap the flag.
Comparisons with In Which We Serve are, I suppose, inevitable. I think this is rather better than the Coward opus, which I consider one of England's best films. Better, because it stands on its own merits, and not on those of one name. The actors might well have been anonymous: there were no stars, except perhaps the ship. Acting is very good all through, with everybody underplaying skilfully and convincingly. Usually the tight lip and the clipped accent bespeaks British reserve, and is very phony; here we see the Cockneys who fought the blitz and the Scots who broke the Mareth Line—tough and uncomplaining and with a grim humour in crisis. The people in this film are real.
The story of the San Demetrio is so bold as to be almost incredible. Abandoned in flames during the attack in the North Atlantic when the "Jervis Bay" gave her life for the convoy, she is again sighted and boarded by the weary men of her crew, who unbelievably make her seaworthy and take her, full of oil, on to England. It is a good thing that we know how the film will end, as the tension at times is very great—in fact there is an almost Hitchcock touch at the end of the film when, safe at last in an unknown harbour, and the audience letting out a long breath and feeling for its hat, the lighthouse keeper reports her in a foreign tongue.
Photography is fine. There is a most memorable shot of the crew sitting in the galley singing mournfully, "If Those Lips Could Only Speak." In only one place does the film slip, I think, and that is in the modelling of the convoy. The long shots of all the ships are too obviously electrically propelled models in a tank. However, I guess the Admiralty can't waste ships just for a film.
I know that this film is propaganda. The American who realises the greatness of the English in danger has been fed to us very often before. But, as I say, there is no flag waving. In one splendid scene a sailor is buried at sea. There is only a red ensign left aboard, and one man says, " 'E needs a Union Jack, don't 'e?" and another sailor replies: "The Red Duster's good enough for anybody, ain't it?" No emotion. I can imagine what the Americans could have done with a [unclear: sqae] like this.
I recommend this film. It made me wipe away a furtive tear and gulp at a lump in the throat—quite a creditable achievement.