What a wonderful movie “Hue And Cry” is. Widely loved, it is the first of the Ealing comedies. The hour and a half of this free screening at the Museum of London in Docklands flashed by and seemed worthy of my affectionate memories of it.
Watching it again, I realised I had forgotten how different it is from anything that came before it and how much it has influenced so much that came afterwards. It feels like it sums up post-war austerity accurately. But London itself is a star and the look of the bombed-out city streets is amazing, even if you have seen pictures and other movies.
The whole approach seems to bring a fresh start for film noir and comedy, using plot strands to say something really distinctive about London-based Englishness. Charles Crichton’s directing, T.E.B. Clarke’s script and the lighting, photography and music are all great achievements.
It has an utterly compelling story and shows off its young and older stars to great effect. A young man (Joe Kirby played by Harry Fowler) becomes convinced that his comic serial – which has quite a lot more text than modern comics – is being used by a criminal gang. He warns his new boss (Nightingale played by Jack Warner) and a new policeman friend (Ford played by Jack Lambert). He gets ridiculed. He goes to meet the comic’s writer, played to the hilt by a fantastically entertaining Alistair Sim.
From there, events move fast and the frenzied group scenes push the plot forward. I won’t give away the ending, but it is an Ealing comedy so you can assume that things will end happily enough.
Joe is part of a gang of friends who appear to be choregraphed in their group movements, but naturally enough that it all entrances rather than jars. There is the feeling of ballet in the group scenes of young people running, hiding out waiting for bad guys and escaping through a sewer.
Much has been written about the movie so I won’t go over the interesting references to work, the police, the Church via Joe’s choir singing or the extraordinary way light and music are used in a climactic scene in ruined buildings. These thrilling scenes feel fresh and new and not 63 years old.
The ages of the 50 people in the audience at the Wilberforce room ranged from very young to very old and everyone laughed at the right places and appeared to be as hugely entertained as I was. The room is as comfortable as any Soho screening room and the ability to sit in a comfy chair with leg room was much appreciated. In a way, this film transports you so much to another time and place that you could be sitting on a park bench. But I wasn’t and that was good.
What heaven to have a “no eating or drinking” rule. It is nice to hear dialogue free of crunching and slurping noises.
All in all, this was an afternoon of great joy. The film was ably introduced with a minimum of effective detail by the Museum’s communications person, Antony Robbins. I even stayed around the Museum for an hour, enjoying the displays and maps which chart the changes close to its West India Quay location.
Pat and Greg Kane famously named their intelligent and distinctive Glasgow band of the 1980s “Hue And Cry”. The movie “Hue And Cry” is clever, fascinating and draws you in from the first scene. Nobody looked at their watch. Is there anything wrong with it?
Okay, the women aren’t the best role models. Joan Dowling and Valerie White play stereotypes. But that is a minor quibble with a great ensemble piece.
Of the male characters who aren’t the leads, Douglas Barr, Ian Dawson, Alec Finter and Arthur Denton get the most clearly-defined characters. The shops, cars, Covent Garden, Wapping and Docklands will charm you and whisk you away to another London. Few movies can do that so I say that this was a great choice for the first of a series of Ealing comedies.
“Passport to Pimlico” is on September 26th, “The Ladykillers” is on November 28th and “The Lavender Hill Mob” is on January 30th 2011. “Blow-Up” is on September 5th, with lots of other great films scheduled. Grab the chance to see these classics free on a big screen in a comfortable room, while you can.