Quote of the Day: At Sea

knock knock 

Aspiring actress calls at the offices of Optimum Films: 

“I tried to phone, but they said it was out of order.”

“Oh — how nice of them to put it that way.”

“Mr. Draper, the casting director, said if I came back next month — that’s now — Mr. Murington the producer would see me.”

“Oh, I’m afraid the casting director is no longer with us.”

“Isn’t he?”

“No, Murington alone remains, and he faces you.”

“You mean you’re the Mr. Murington?”

“No longer ‘the’. ‘That.’

“It was about a part in your new film.”

“My new film. Ahumm.”

“The casting director thought there might be a part for me.”

“Look — sit down, my child. Surely you have heard of the British film crisis?”

“I thought it was over.”

“My dear girl. What with television to the left of us, Hollywood to the right of us, and the government behind us, our industry — laughable term! — is forever on the brink.”

“I didn’t know, I’m sorry.”

“Not more than I. I have sat here for months, waiting to start my new film. I have my breakdowns, my crossplots, my shooting schedule…I even have a script. Heh heh. All I need is a quarter of a million pounds. But they won’t give it to me. Miss Clarke, when I tell you that in the past my films have been so successful that no other producer in the country has lost less money, you’ll understand how ludicrously impossible the whole situation has become.”

She Played With Fire

I’ve been spending — I’m not sure why — a lot of time strolling the film-worlds of Mssrs. Launder & Gilliat. I could put a little season of their best work together and they’d be reappraised as forgotten masters. A full retrospective might get them dismissed as also-rans. The real pearls, like GREEN FOR DANGER and I SEE A DARK STRANGER, both quirky, cinematically exuberant, and sharp-witted, are surrounded by numerous disjointed time-passers like FOLLY TO BE WISE and the ST TRINIANS sequels.

LADY GODIVA RIDES AGAIN is decidedly of the latter camp, but like most L&G shows it manages to rustle up a few delights. The scene quoted above, featuring L&G stalwart Alastair Sim as the Last Gasp of the British Film Industry, come into his office one last time to watch the gas get cut off, has a desultory gloryabout it, and still stands as one of the timeless commentaries on cinema in this country. Perhaps the reason the film as a whole lacks drive and compulsion is that it regards the showbiz horrors it unveils — beauty pageants, commercials, the Rank Charm School, publicity shoots (“Throwing snowballs in bikinis?” “Not necessarily.”) and “French revues” not with anger and satirical spite, which would have elevated it to the level of the Boulting brothers’ I’M ALRIGHT JACK or, later, Lindsay Anderson’s BRITANNIA HOSPITAL, films full of gumption and bile, but with a very British acceptance, a sad shake of the head — things are awful, awful to a ridiculous degree, but they could not be otherwise.

Sim’s little uncredited cameo reminds me of my old friend Lawrie’s entry into films. He was adrift at sea in a lifeboat. It was World War II. He had only a newspaper for company and he read it from cover to cover. There was an article about the man who discovered Leslie Howard. Lawrie had always loved films. “I decided that if I was ever rescued I would look him up.” True to his resolve, once ashore and released from service, Lawrie knocked on the man’s door. “I’ve come about a job.” The Great Producer looked briefly hopeful, then realised that Lawrie was not, after all, offering him a job. 

“Only a few years ago, Marjory, my name was known to every financier in the city. Oh, it’s still known to them, but not quite in the same happy light.”

(The lights go out.)

I See a Dark Stranger


6 Responses to “Quote of the Day: At Sea”

  1. Alistair Sim’s presence in any film whatsoever marked it as a “must see” for me as a youngster I especially treasure the Ur-St. Trinian’s classic The Happiest Days of Your Life and of courseThe Ladykillers.

    The mention of “French revues” brings to mind Joe Orton’s Between Us Girls — a brilliant comic novel not published until decades after his death. Read it immediately.

  2. dcairns Says:

    Ah, your memory deceives you — The Ladykillers is Alec Guinness in Sim mode, a Sim-ulation if you will, as discussed in my blog post on the subject.

    I’d recommend London Belongs to Me, The Ruling Class and Green For Danger as the three most extreme Sim performances, embodying his lugubrious, flustered and antic sides, respectively.

    Thanks for the Orton recommendation, I love his stuff.

  3. Completely off topic, but I just was told about a site I think you’d enjoy, if you don’t already know about it. Since WordPress doesn’t seem to like to let me embed links, I can’t point you directly, but if you search for “Steven Hill’s Movie Title Screens” you should find it. It’s a collection of movie title screens, organized alphabetically.

  4. dcairns Says:

    Oh yes, I often come across that when I’m looking for images for the blog. Unfortunately he doesn’t let anybody “quote” his images directly, though I guess I could copy them into My Pictures and then transfer them to Photobucket.

    But now that I start browsing the place, yes, it’s quite good fun. I like the title card for “Ace of Hearts” best!

  5. My goodness, you’re right about Sim. “My bad,” as Jack Nicholson would say. Please replace that with An Inspector Calls — the film version of which scared the hell out of me as a child.

  6. dcairns Says:

    Oh yes, he’s good at being sepulchral too. As I said in my blog piece, as a child I was convinced that WAS Sim in The Ladykillers, even as I was watching it.

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