Archive for The Gentle Touch

Ealing Hands

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2018 by dcairns

When I think of it, there are a surprisingly large number of Ealing films I haven’t seen. Now that I’m interested in Pat Jackson (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty), my attention focussed on THE GENTLE TOUCH (aka THE FEMININE TOUCH), a typical Ealing group dynamic movie about student nurses. Of course, an Ealing take on this subject is quite a bit from, say, a Roger Corman one, but it’s not exactly devoid of “shocking” material, from suicide to questioning the cruelty of God to some frank talk about virginity and colostomy bags.

And all in luminous Technicolor! It’s a surprising choice of subject to show off the process, but Paul Beeson’s work is radiant, excelling in a sunset scene where the golden light and blue shadows recall Leon Shamroy’s Hollywood work.

Best-known ministering angel is probably flame-haired Adrienne Corri, a Scot cast as an Irishwoman on account of all that red hair. She plays it with her strongest Scottish accent and a couple of notes of stage Irish. But she’s fun! Belinda Lee is the soft-spoken lead, good actor but written insipid; Diana Wynyard is the Matron and she’s AWESOME — good in the original GASLIGHT, but better here, and Mandy Miller from MANDY is a child patient with a dicky heart. Delphi Lawrence marries a doctor (“I thought he was a confirmed bachelor!”) and is automatically fired because nurses aren’t allowed to marry in 1956, apparently (!).

Very glad I saw it. Some of the compositions in group shots are stunning, and there are some snappy montages, but otherwise we don’t see Jackson’s more bold and imaginative choices, which I suspect he only resorted to when working on nonsense he thought was beneath him. Too bad, that.

But hey, Technicolor! 

Jackson did another medical drama, WHITE CORRIDORS, which I’m curious about, and I also want to see his early documentary/quasi-documentary stuff (some with Humphrey Jennings).

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Sothern Fried

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2018 by dcairns

Alert! Time for me to explore the works of Pat Jackson (if you’re nasty).

Jackson was a graduate of the GPO Film Unit, the UK postal service’s own film production arm, which also employed the great Cavalcanti, the obnoxious-sounding Harry Watt, and made the famous NIGHT MAIL. He then had a distinguished sojourn at the Crown Film Unit making war docs alongside Humphrey Jennings. He made his feature debut at MGM (as “Patrick Jackson” because “Pat” isn’t distinguished enough for a classy joint like MGM) with SHADOW ON THE WALL, a disjointed psychodrama starring Congo Maisie, Monte Beragon, Fanny Trellis Skeffington at aged 2, Gavin Elster (yay!), Sheriff Al Chambers and Nancy frickin’ Reagan.

Ann Sothern for once plays a villain, managing to incorporate some sympathy into a twisted character, and some subtlety into an intense, melodramatic story. But the film seems unable to decide WHO it’s about. We start on a wide of a lovely house, which is revealed to be an elaborate dollhouse, the first of many in the story. Andre Previn’s music veers from playfully childlike to sinister, then manages to dissonantly suggest both tones at once. We meet little Gigi Perreau, and then her dad, Zachary Scott, and discover through his eyes that his young wife (Kristine Miller, very glam indeed) is cheating on him with Tom Helmore.

While we’re pondering whether one should marry Monte Beragon and cheat with Gavin Elster, or vice versa, murder rears its antiseptic Hollywood head: Helmore was engaged to Miller’s sister, Ann Sothern, and she shoots her scheming sibling dead shortly after Miller’s stunned Scott by striking him on the nose with a hand mirror. When he awakens, he’s been neatly fitted up for murder, and will spend most of rest of the movie on death row, waiting. What nobody realises is that his little daughter witnessed the murder, but is in a state of shock and can’t tell anyone.

We now divide our narrative mainly between Nancy Davis/Reagan, a therapist trying to cure little Gigi, and Sothern, who’s trying to kill her. Much of Sothern’s business is internal, though, as she agonizes about her fear of being caught, culminating in a hilarious hallucination at the hairdressers —

 

There are some other nicer directorial touches. Jackson uses simple wide shots effectively, isolating our child non-protagonist (Gigi has no active goal, so she’s basically a nut for Nancy to crack). There are two major child jeopardy situations, one in which Gigi and a playpal debate which of them is to drink a glass of chocolate milk which Sothern has poisoned. The script milks (sorry!) this a good bit, but Jackson doesn’t do much with it. Probably a mercy.

But then Sothern tries to drown the moppet in the hospital’s hydrotherapy room, and all stops are pulled out, heaped up and set fire to. Looong lurking shot in the corridor, waiting, waiting, while infanticide is attempted behind closed doors. Merciless. Let’s remember that Truffaut said that jeopardising the life of a child in a drama was virtually an abuse of cinematic power (he did it in SMALL CHANGE, but he had reasons and had thought about it). Bruce Robinson, writing IN DREAMS for Neil Jordan, had felt unable to threaten a child’s life, despite the fact that he was writing a thriller about a child killer. This posed a problem. “It took me three months to solve it. It took Neil Jordan three minutes to fuck it up.”

Jackson had no such compunctions, it seems: he’d be back threatening children in cop drama THE GENTLE TOUCH a few films later.

I suspect Jackson didn’t find MGM a comfortable home — at any rate, he was soon back in the UK and back to being Pat. More on him soon.