The Film Festival has shown two newly restored British classics directed by the supreme Alberto Cavalcanti — WENT THE DAY WELL? and THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE. While the former is a well-known classic in the UK which is only now slowly gathering a reputation elsewhere, the latter is probably better known abroad, thanks to Kino’s DVD release, which treats it as a noir.
The description seems accurate, yet I suspect the filmmakers’ influences go farther back, to the pre-war American gangster film and the pre-war French poetic realism. Anyhoo, Trevor Howard plays a drunken ex-serviceman bored by postwar London who decides to carry on fighting to pass the time, hooking up with gangster Narcy (short for Narcissus), plays by Griffith Jones. But when he realizes how rotten his new boss is, he rebels, is framed for the murder of a copper, escapes from prison (it’s a convoluted structure) and tries to clear his name. The whole thing ends with a terrific brawl in an undertakers, which deserves it’s own post.
“They don’t want sincere actors nowadays,” Jones would grumble when drinking with my friend Lawrie. Looking at him here, his sincerity is not in doubt, and for a Welshman he essays a passable cockney accent, but his face is curiously unmemorable. Cavalcanti comes to the rescue with an amazing sequence where Narcy batters his ex-girlfriend, showgirl Sally (Sally Gray, at her most beautiful). Here’s Narcy before he strikes the first blow ~
And here he is, immediately after ~
Cavalcanti’s use of a warped mirror finally gives Narcy the face he deserves. Seconds later, Cav is spinning the camera around as if in a washing machine, as Narcy lays into the stunned Sally. And so it goes — unlike an American filmmaker like Hawks, for who violence is usually a mere break in the patter, to be dispensed with as soon as possible (Hawks on Peckinpah: “I can kill three men and have ‘em buried in the ground in the time it takes him to kill one”), or Walsh, who can imbue everything with a sense of impending or actual violence, Cav treats the conversations straightforwardly and gets positively delirious whenever blows are exchanged. There’s a sadomasochistic flavour to a lot of it. See also the tender scene where Gray picks buckshot out of Howard’s shoulder with her eyebrow tweezers. “She loves me… she loves me not…” he mutters as each fragment of lead is dropped into the waiting bowl…