Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 7, No. 7 July 26, 1944
Film and Stage
Film and Stage
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.
In spite of the fact that I saw the play under the worst possible conditions, and in spite of the fact that I have rightly been taken to task by some members of the cast for earlier reviews, I still think that The Man Who Come To Dinner was a bad production and a bad performance. The company must be thankful that the film hasn't yet screened here.
A wet Saturday matinee with a tired cast is no excuse for a sloppy show, and the playing about which went on was no credit to a professional company. It seems a pity, too, that we are given such an ill-assorted company when New Zealand is so starved for theatre. Granted that there are some competent and experienced straight players, I see no reason why the bulk of the company should still be playing pantomime and musical comedy and vaudeville in straight—and rather good—plays. And that is what happened in The man Who Came To Dinner. This is a clever play, although. I think, too American for New Zealand audiences, and requires legitimate acting of some calibre. It doesn't get it.
The prop of the play, of course, is Sheridan Whiteside, who is on the stage almost the whole time. Lloyd Lamble was. I think, capable in an exacting role, but he was not my idea of Whiteside. He didn't get it over. He made the character a mean, nasty old man, whereas I consider Whiteside to be just a rude, selfish, amusing person, not wholly aware of the devastating effect of his autocratic rule. Also. Mr. Lamble bulged in the wrong places —his padding looked as though it had been done in a hurry.
Neva Carr-Glyn was again good, though better in "Susan and God." But why will she jerk up her skirts like that whenever she sits? Ethel Gabriel, the better aunt in "Arsenic and Old Lace," was excellent in a similar part here. Sam Stern, back in panto., was raucous and annoying. The first time he did that leg business was very funny, the second time quite amusing, the third, fourth and fifth times . . .!
The whole company was inclined to point the dirty lines (the show is "unexpurgated"). I particularly disliked a nasty little lyric (not in the original script) entitled "Don't let's be Beastly to the Huns." And I didn't think it necessary to introduce the name of Paddy Webb.
The set was rather tasteless, and this company seems to make a specialty of banging doors, so that the flats quiver like aspen.
I'm sorry that this is another bad review, and admittedly I saw the show at its worst, but I must be truthful. I think, and one of the leading members of the company agrees with me. that the Repertory production of "Heartbreak House" was streets ahead of this show.