Wednesday, July 20, 2011

KIPPS (1941)

A Dickensian coming-of-age story based on what I assume is a fairly Dickensian coming-of-age novel by H.G. Wells. Sometime around the turn of the century, young Arthur Kipps (Michael Redgrave, pictured) is parted from Ann, a girl he's sweet on, and sent away from his home village to be an apprentice to Mr. Shalford in his large clothing store (more the size of a department store—the workers all live in a barracks-style building attached to the store). He reaches adulthood and proves to be a fine worker, but is not totally satisfied with his pinched working-class prospects and goes to a school for self-improvement where he takes a class in woodcarving taught by the lovely, upper-class Helen (Diana Wynyard), to whom he takes a fancy. One evening he is almost run over in a bicycle accident by a boisterous actor named Chillerlow. The actor takes Kipps back to his flat where he puts on a one-man version of a play he's written. They both get drunk and Kipps doesn't make it back to Shalford's until morning, missing the curfew, and is fired. By outrageous luck, Chillerlow arrives at the store to tell Kipps that his name is in the paper: he has been left a nice house and a lot of money by his late grandfather. Moving up in the world, Kipps begins to court Helen (and her brother agrees to manage his money for him) but also meets up again with his grown-up old flame Ann (Phyllis Calvert). Further adventures bring further ups and down, and a betrayal by Ann’s brother brings what seems like a permanent financial reversal, but one more time, Chillerlow has a grand bit of luck for Kipps.

This is a very middle-working class movie; the lower class is to be gotten out of, but the upper class men and women, though attractive, are ultimately presented as empty and worthless. (Hint, hint: guess which woman he winds up with at the happy ending?) Redgrave is good, but like the character of Pip in Great Expectations (of which this occasionally reminded me), he comes off as a rather bland and passive fellow, and the cast of characters around him is more interesting. Standouts include Wynyard, Calvert, Michael Wilding (as Wynyard's brother), Arthur Riscoe (whom I'd never heard of) as Chillerlow, Hermione Baddeley as a friendly co-worker at the store, and especially Max Adrian as Coote, one of those smarmy, insincere people who ingratiate themselves with the upper class in order to get what they want, and who is instrumental in Kipps' financial fall--Adrian looks amazingly like Monty Python's Terry Jones. The episodic film takes its time until the last 15 minutes when it rushes to an end; this is probably because the American print, which I saw, runs 82 minutes, but the original British film ran almost a half-hour longer. [FMC]

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