Friday, May 30, 2014

Hue and Cry II

I was about to write a blog post saying that in spite of the fact that I'd had the DVD of the movie, Hue and Cry, on my shelves for some time, I'd never watched it. To my surprise, when I checked back, I did watch it in 2007, and wrote about it then. Both my wife and I said last night, I don't remember ever seeing this before. Which is puzzling, because I usually have a reasonable visual memory for movies, and so does she, and at least some aspects of the first viewing will be remembered in the second.

So I don't need to say any more about the film, except to say that it was just as enjoyable on a second viewing as I'd obviously found it on the first. However, what I don't seem to have noted at the time is the detail. Right from the opening credits, which are white-washed onto a real wall, with boys playing, running, fighting in front of them, and with a bit of humour thrown in (Wot? no producer? says one, and Stick no Bills in another, with a tatty Ealing Studios poster fluttering alongside) there's an attitude of 'Let's see if you pick this up, audience.' Added to this is Auric's opening music which fits beautifully to all the zipping around and punching that's going on.

Every time the main group of boys appear - and there are around a dozen of them, and one girl (Joan Dowling, who later married Harry Fowler, the main 'boy' in the film, and who sadly committed suicide at the age of 26) - not only do we get a sense of their individuality, but all manner of other 'business' is going on. In one scene one boy is holding a bag of chips; the arm of another reaches over several times to pinch a chip while the others are talking. One boy is being buried in bricks from the bombed-out building site in another scene, and is left to fight his own way out when the others all rush off. One boy has a pet mouse (which has a couple of important scenes later) and it's casually walking up around his collar when we first see him. There's a scene where the first 'The Trump' - a boy's adventure weekly that plays a vital role in the film - is snatched back and forth between three or four of the boys, including its owner. Nobody ever stands around in this movie: the boys' characters and movements are distinct and well-worked out. Charles Crichton, the director, obviously had a good eye for how boys of that generation behaved, and the movie is full of things to keep the eye attentive.

And there's plenty of comedy: in one notable scene that takes place in a department store at night the boys are waiting for the crims to arrive: the owner of the mouse is hiding under a mannequin's skirt. The mouse escapes, and heads over to a speak-your-weight machine. The boy dives for the mouse and the machine speaks his weight. The shop's caretaker arrives and tries to get the boy and the machine speaks their combined weight, and then other boys come and then the police and the machine, with its pompous voice, can hardly keep up.

Alistair Sim has only a few scenes, and plays a character who can hardly sit still. Crichton has him up and down around his cluttered flat, talking nineteen to the dozen, and performing as only Sim could do, and doing so many bits of business that his brain must have been whirling. He gets star billing in spite of appearing for about ten minutes all up, but as Sim always did, he makes those ten minutes unforgettable.

I mentioned in the previous post that a great deal of the film was shot on location, outside in the bombed-out streets of London. In the background of several shots you can see workers rebuilding, and further away still, the barges and boats on the Thames. The film manages to be a documentary of a particular time in the city's history as well as an entertaining story.

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