Monday, May 31, 2010


Like the 1942 British war drama WENT THE DAY WELL?, this British war drama has a brief opening set after the war even though the war hadn't ended when the film was shot. Also like the 1942 film which was set in a small village, this is largely about a group of people confined to a place: an airfield at Halfpenny Field, from which daily bombing missions into France are run, and a nearby village inn. In 1940, we meet the characters we will follow over the span of the war: Michael Redgrave is an experienced pilot, handsome and dashing, and a bit of a poet; Rosamund John is the innkeeper of the inn whom Redgrave is sweet on; John Mills is a younger pilot whom Redgrave takes under his wing; Renee Asherson is the young girl Mills falls for, but keeps his distance from because of the ever-growing possibility that he'll wind up just another casualty; Joyce Carey is Asherson's snooty, complaining, unlikable aunt who is tolerated by everyone because they feel sorry for Asherson; Trevor Howard is a squadron leader who, a few years on, has to deal with some conflicts between the British men and the American pilots who are stationed there in 1942 and who essentially take command of the field. Redgrave marries John and then is killed, leaving his wife with a new daughter. Married American pilot Douglass Montgomery becomes friendly with John; their relationship is portrayed as almost flirtatious, and when he's told he's going to be sent back to the States to teach new pilots, he has a touching farewell scene with her. Afterward, he decides he wants to stay in England, but soon fate takes a hand and makes his decision for him.

At first, this movie feels like a DAWN PATROL retread, with the pilots heading off on dangerous missions every day, facing the certainty that some of them won't return. But instead of a fatalistic doom-and-gloom mood, this one has a stiff-upper-lip tone of acceptance and perseverance. The characters, their relationships, and their conflicts all feel real, without too much in the way of exaggerated melodrama, and the low-key acting, especially by Mills and John, is superb. The only one who's a little off is the American Montgomery, who seem a little too artificial compared with his British counterparts. The film also features Stanley Holloway, David Tomlinson, and Jean Simmons in a small role as a nightclub singer. The wonderful Basil Radford, known mostly as a comic actor (part of the Caldecott/Charters duo in THE LADY VANISHES and other films) is excellent in a serious role. For a wartime movie, there is surprisingly little "propaganda" present, and there are almost no flying scenes except for some takeoffs and one heroic moment in the sky near the end. An excellent film, too little known and seen. (aka JOHNNY IN THE CLOUDS) [TCM]

No comments: