Category Archives: British Film

Reach For The Sky

Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Produced by Daniel M. Angel
Written by Paul Brickhill, Lewis Gilbert & Vernon Harris
Starring Kenneth More
Muriel Pavlow
Lyndon Brook
Lee Patterson
Alexander Knox
Music by John Addison
Cinematography Jack Asher
Distributed by Rank
Release date United Kingdom 10 July 1956 (London)
United States 30 April 1957 (NYC)
Running time 136 Minutes

Reach For The Sky is the inspirational true story of Flight Commander Douglas Bader, who despite losing both his legs in a flying accident was able to become a hero of the Battle Of Britain, and then spent four years as a German prisoner of war.

Once upon a time this film, which was the most popular British film of 1956, would have always been shown on Australian TV. I remember seeing it many times on a Sunday afternoon, but it would be over 25 years since I can remember it last being on TV. (Perhaps ABC2 shows it nowadays late at night?!) Fortunately it has been recently released onto DVD by Magna Pacific, through their connection with Britain’s Granada International. It forms a part of their Silver Screen Collection, and is one part of a 3 DVD set, with The Heroes Of Telemark (starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris) and Malta Story.

I found rewatching Reach For The Sky to be a good experience. It is a very British film and I found Kenneth More’s portrayal of Bader to be a little clichéd, with all of the stiff upper lipped fighting spirit and courage that he showed. The crash that crippled Bader is well staged as are the WWII battle scenes, even if they do use some original and stock footage. Overall the film is a  very enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

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The Red Shoes

Directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Produced by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Written by Hans Christian Andersen
(original fairy tale)
Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger & Keith Winter
(add’l dialogue)
Starring Moira Shearer
Anton Walbrook
Marius Goring
Music by Brian Easdale
Cinematography Jack Cardiff
Editing by Reginald Mills
Distributed by Eagle-Lion Films
Release date September 6, 1948 (UK)
Running time 133 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

In recent weeks Magna Pacific has released a series of DVDs containing the best of British films from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Despite being wary of anything that contains the Magna Pacific label, due to past bad experiences with their dodgy products, I have decided to give this series of films a go because it seems that Magna Pacific has licenesed them from UK distributor Granada, who holds the rights for these films.

Watching The Red Shoes I can say that this film alone was more than worth the $10 I spent on the three DVD pack of Powell and Pressburger films (also included is The Importance of Being Ernest and Black Narcissus). The print used is quite nice and there are none of the other blemishes that I have found when I have had the misfortune to watch a Magna Pacific DVD, such as poor syncing of sound or faded picture. Sure the Criterion Collection version of the film would probably be slightly better print, but that costs three to four times as much as the Magna Pacific version, so it really isn’t worth it.

The film itself is mostly very good. It is a drama about the world of ballet and whilst the ballet does play an integral part of the film’s plot, the main theme of the film is about ambition and of course the messy love triangle that contributes to the messy conclusion to the picture.

The ballet dancing sequences are quite stunning, with lots of vibrant colours used to highlight the choreography that was put together by Australia’s own Robert Helpmann, who was a major ballet star in the 1940s. As I said the use of colours is stunning and it has been claimed that this is perhaps the film that uses the Technicolor process to its fullest extent.

The one sour note that the film left me with was the ending, where the ballet dancer, Vicky Page, has to choose between the love of her life, composer Julian Craster, and performing in the Red Shoes ballet. Even for a film made in 1948 it does seem odd that a woman would have to give up her career so that her husband can pursue his and that his ambition and ego are allowed to take precedence over hers. Even Julian’s rival for Vicky’s affection, Boris Lermotov, the producer of the ballet company calls Julian out on this point.

Still the film is quite good and the music is terrific. The dance sequence in the middle of the film is perhaps the best that has ever been put to film.


Battle of Britain

Directed by Guy Hamilton
Produced by Harry Saltzman & S. Benjamin Fisz
Written by James Kennaway,
Wilfred Greatorex
Starring Laurence Olivier
Hein Riess
Trevor Howard
Robert Shaw
Christopher Plummer
Michael Caine
Edward Fox
Susannah York
Ian McShane
Kenneth More
Ralph Richardson
Patrick Wymark
Michael Redgrave
Curt Jürgens
Nigel Patrick

Music by Ron Goodwin
William Walton
Cinematography Freddie Young
Editing by Bert Bates
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) 15 September 1969 (UK)
Running time 133 minutes
Country UK
Language English
German
Polish
French

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few“.

Battle Of Britain features an all-star cast of fine British actors BUT their performance is not the major attraction here. The real reason for watching this film is for the terrific special effects and the great scenes filled of Spitfires and Hurricanes taking on (a whole mess of) Messerschmitts in a huge battle royal over London. The actors really have very screen time anyway as we go from one action scene to another. The dog fights are all chaotically brilliant and gives the viewer the feeling that they are in the midst of battle. No wonder that these scenes have influenced most dog fight movies since. This is purely plane porn, while the actors are just props in between the action scenes.


The 39 Steps

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Michael Balcon & Ivor Montagu (both uncredited)
Written by John Buchan (novel) & Charles Bennett (adaptation) & Ian Hay (dialogue)
Starring Robert Donat
Madeleine Carroll
Lucie Mannheim
Godfrey Tearle
Music by Charles Williams
Cinematography Bernard Knowles
Editing by Derek N. Twist
Distributed by Gaumont British
Release date June 1935 (UK)
August 1 (US)
Running time 86 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The 39 Steps was perhaps the first film directed by Alfred Hitchcock in which he gained American attention. It is a fast paced spy suspense story which features one of Hitchcock’s favourite themes, that of a man who has been wrongly accused of committing a crime, in this case murder. There is another element used here that Hitchcock would use to greater effect later by using of a famous landmark, here it is Scotland’s Forth Bridge, as the background for the action. Hitchcock had done this type of thing in 1929 with the climax on the dome of the British Museum in Blackmail, and he would do it again in North By Northwest by using Mount Rushmore. It must be said that here the Forth Bridge doesn’t play such a large part in the 39 Steps as the monuments in the other two films I mentioned, but it is still here.

The film is very exciting and quite enjoyable.


The 3rd Man

Directed by Carol Reed
Produced by Carol Reed
Uncredited: Alexander Korda & David O. Selznick
Written by Graham Greene
Starring: Joseph Cotten
Alida Valli
Orson Welles
Trevor Howard
Music by Anton Karas
Cinematography: Robert Krasker
Editing by Oswald Hafenrichter
Distributed by British Lion Films (UK),
Selznick International Pictures (US)
Release date(s) 2 September 1949 (UK)
2 January 1950 (US)
Running time: 104 minutes
Country: United Kingdom

Holly, I’d like to cut you in, old man. There’s nobody left in Vienna I can really trust, and we’ve always done everything together. When you make up your mind, send me a message – I’ll meet you any place, any time, and when we do meet old man, it’s you I want to see, not the police. Remember that, won’t ya? Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Remember what the fella said: In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.

Just who is Harry Lime? Is he the man who was your best friend for twenty years and who you think you know so well, or is he a racketeer and murderer? Orson Welles’ Harry Lime is central to The Third Man even though he doesn’t appear until after the sixty minute mark of the film. This is a truly great film of mystery and intrigue set in post WWII Vienna.

Harry Lime is dead but no one is sure of the exact circumstances of his death. It is said he was hit by a truck and was carried away by two men, but then his friend Holly Martins hear tales about at third man at the scene, and comes to think that foul play is afoot. Things only become more confusing for Martins after he sets out to solve the mystery and discovers Harry Lime himself, lurking in the shadows. (This is the worst trailer ever made!)

This is really a very enjoyable film that won an Oscar in 1949 for best black & white cinematography, and a BAFTA for best British film.  Carol Reed was nominated for an Academy Award as best director, and was named the 57th greatest film of all time by the American Film institute in 1996, and the #1 British film of all time by the British Film Institute.