Ealing-Comedy

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (Hamer, 1949) - Taken together with the last movie, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, this offers a perfect illustration of how tone, rather than plot, determines the genre of a movie. THE MAN WHO LAUGHS only had an admittedly horrifying disfiguration and a couple of deaths (2, by my count, among them the disfigurer), and a happy ending to boot, but the eerie atmosphere, the heightened feelings, and the gloomy settings make it understandable that it’s classified as horror. This movie, on the other hand, has 7 cold-blooded murders (6 of Alec Guinness’ 8 characters, + 1 girl as collateral damage) after opening with an imminent hanging, yet it’s unmistakable a comedy. It’s the voice-over, mostly, dry and very, very British - a sociopath’s voice-over, sure, but such a suave one. Add the flat lighting, the elision of too-gruesome details, and the cheerful resignation of the protagonist to his fate, and you have something very amusing, eliciting smirks rather than guffaws but certainly not horrifying in the least. 

10

So what you’re saying Peter is the floor wasn’t flat because it was ASKEW? If only you’d said askew ONE more time it would have been four times in forty seconds (while also physically demonstrating the concept) and that must be some sort of world record. 

No, no, I’m being silly, but it’s because I’m so very happy that Richard E. Grant didn’t miss the golden opportunity to let his good pal Peter talk a bit about the stage version of The Ladykillers and not just have him on his Ealing comedies doco program(me) to talk about the artwork on various Ealing posters – which is what it seemed like last week. 

So yay, huge relief about that, and while unfortunately there was no new footage from Peter’s Ladykillers at least what we do have shows that the askew problem seems to be a product of the filming process and NOT the set design since even here it sure seems a lot more obvious when shot from one angle than it is from the other. 

Also, Peter regrets skipping the Alec-Guinness-as-Alastair-Sim buckteeth in his portrayal of Professor Marcus

(but probably not really)

4

Peter’s Great Big Happy Laugh deserves a MUCH bigger showcase than the tiny itty-bitty inline gif I did yesterday– so here it is, in all its very glorious glory!

Which also gives me the opportunity of a lifetime (I may be exaggerating slightly) to leave THIS here which may be of interest to anyone who would like to see the original source. Not the whole thing, just the parts with Peter from both episodes he’s in (about eight minutes), minus one after the intermission teaser from part 3 that’s actually this exact same bit about the teeth – the exact same bit – but in fake film graded black and white inside a circle frame. 

(I guess they thought it was so nice they should show it twice.)

(Not that I’ve ever done anything like that of course…)

8

After watching Richard E Grant’s Richard E Grant On Ealing Comedies, I have even more appreciation for the genius level of detail in Peter’s pet project The Cricklewood Greats.

Aside from everything else, Peter clearly knew instinctively that program(me)s of this sort MUST include a Python to be considered complete. He went with Terry Gilliam (in his Real Life role as mad director with strangely bad luck) while Richard E Grant went with the fully Malcolm-approved Michael Palin

who to be fair does have an entirely legitimate connection to Ealing via A Fish Called Wanda*.

*(Terry’s connection to Cricklewood is arguably less legitimate, but only if you are a small minded pedant who requires an film studio to actually exist on the boring physical pane and not just as a meta-textual construct.)

But the other thing about this scene from Cricklewood – besides the offhand reference to ice cream vans – is how no one being able to understand Brando  reminds me of Real Life Peter’s oft told tale about how Burt Lancaster told Young Peter he had fabulous instincts but Burt couldn’t understand a fucking word Young Peter said.

I wondered at the time if Burt might not have been exaggerating just a tad since he HAD already once worked very closely with another Glaswegian (or close enough to it) who’d gone to the Glasgow School of Art… a director by the name of Alexander Mackendrick.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to see Peter mention Mackendrick by name in the Ealing Comedies,

although for obvious reasons, he only talks about him in terms of his Ealing work starting with Whisky Galore and ending with a little film that has no connection to Peter whatsoever called

(Now I just need Peter to be in something where he talks about Mackendrick’s connection to Burt Lancaster and the circle will be complete.)

FLOREAT, BURGUNDIA!!!

Tonight I finished watching PASSPORT TO PIMLICO (1949, Henry Cornelius), an old Ealing comedy that came out in the same year of Kind Hearts and Coronets. Although it was made by the same studio, I did not enjoy this film as much as Hamer’s. I guess that while the dark humour of KH&C works on more universal and timeless themes, the jokes of Passport to Pimlico are strongly rooted in the problems of the time, such as rationing and the Berlin Blockade, and hence are less felt by a modern viewer who is educated enough in the history of the period, or cannot feel that much connected to it nonetheless.