Coffin nails

Hayley Mills smokes with considerable panache! Not surprising, as she has been TAUGHT BY A MASTER — the film, THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS, is directed by Ida Lupino, one of those classic ’40s starlets who appear anatomically incomplete without a fag drooping from the corner of the mouth.

Lupino’s forehead bulges due to nicotine deprivation.

THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS is a largely oestrogen-fuelled flick: Lupino directs, from a script by TV writer Blanche Hanalis, based on a novel by Jane Trahey, starring a bunch of schoolgirls and a bunch of nuns, driven by Rosalind Russell. Fiona found it “weird” — it’s not quite a regular kids’ film (that smoking!) and it doesn’t have a plot, it just follows some girls through three years of schooling.

Lupino directs smoothly, with some very nice match cuts and sound segues to take us across the temporal jumps of the story, and some nicely stylised colour — at the old folks home, ALL the old dears are in purple and lavender. For a long time, Lupino was the only female member of the Director’s Guild, after Dorothy Arzner quit the business to teach.

Ultimately, this movie’s a slightly sickening ad for the Catholic church, a sinister organisation, I feel. I was horrified at the idea of Hayley Mills marrying Christ at the end. Isn’t the difference in their ages a bit much?

But what got me thinking was the smoking. We look at old ads and see all this propaganda for smoking as a healthy past-time — “The smoke doctors recommend!” and all that. So it seems there was a time, not so long ago, when the truth about smoking’s deleterious effects was not universally accepted. A time when Fred Flintstone could shill for Winston Filter Cigarettes and nobody thought the worse of him for it. What the hell, he’s a caveman, cut him some slack.

But kids were never allowed to smoke. If it’s so damn healthy, why not? It’s obvious that adults always knew that the smokes were a harmful vice, deep down, like swearing and drinking and other things adults are basically allowed to do under controlled circumstances, but which are verboten for the kinder. One more little hypocrisy for the kids to take note of as they learn about the world…


5 Responses to “Coffin nails”

  1. I don’t think Hayley Mills had too much of a problem with age differences, since Roy Boulting was 33 years older than her when they married. Actually, he was ALWAYS 33 years older than her. That’s how time works.

    You’ve absolutely hit on one of my guilty pleasures here, though. The Trouble With Angels always brings a great big stupid smile to my face.

  2. I never realised they actually married. I knew John Mills fell out with Boulting over the relationship. I think they made up (much) later though.

    It’s an enjoyable film. Mills is someone who’s hypnotically watchable in just about anything.

  3. Married for a few years in the early seventies, I think.

    I think this is the last film where she has that hypnotic quality, actually. In later films she seems a little washed out and doesn’t assert her presence in the same way. Have you seen her in Mr Forbush and the Penguins? It’s a drab performance in a drab film, where she’s supposed to be the most incredible creature in the world, and she just looks embarrassed. Of course the same film has John Hurt as a womanising biologist, so it’s a film that’s having trouble right out of the gate.

  4. Even before that 1950 study that established the smoking-cancer link, I think that smoking was regarded as a stimulus, like coffee, and therefore possibly too much for young metabolisms to handle.

  5. Could be. But is it really so stimulating? I can see that too much coffee would manifest itself visibly in a child, but would cigarettes have a noticeable effect?

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