Sunday, May 25, 2014

Fabulous Films of the 50's Blogathon Time

Welcome to my installation in the Classic Movie Blog Association 1950’s Blogathon. I have chosen Last Holiday (1950) which was Alec Guinness’ (1914 – 2000) first starring role in a comedy. In keeping with my Blog theme, I will not review Sir Alec (I am sure you can find plenty on him.), but I will take a look at the film and the really important Bit Parts in this classic British dark comedy. Of course, before this film, Sir Alec made Oliver Twist (1948) and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) where he did have a starring role, but it was shared with others. Last Holiday is his film.

There are two movies called Last Holiday. 1950 starring Alec Guinness and 2006 starring Queen Latifah. I have both films on DVD and they both have their good points. The newer version has a happy ending, which is fine if you are in the mood, and Latifah does a very good job in it, with a very good supporting cast.

The 1950 version has a screenplay written by J. B. Priestley (1894 - 1984), who is also listed as a producer for the film. Priestley was an author and playwright and his plays were often adapted to film and television. Another of his famous works is An Inspector Calls, and the 1954 film version starred Alastair Sim. It was remade in 1982 by the BBC for television.

The British term "holiday" means "vacation" to Americans. The story is about a common working man, George Bird played by Guinness, who is diagnosed with a fatal disease and, having no family, how he spends his life savings on a last holiday fling. George is a farm implement salesman when he goes to the doctor for a checkup and hears the bad news. The acting is superb and I consider this one of the great, classic British films. Think of Basil Rathbone quality.

Once again we see that movies are held together by the small parts adding character to the overall mood of the film. Of course, Guinness is wonderful in the lead, but let's look at the rest of the cast.

There are a few Bit Actors in Last Holiday who are not well known outside of Jolly Old. It makes them no less important to this film. It is a British film, after all. 

Beatrice Campbell (1922 - 1979) as Sheila Rockingham, the wife of a ne're do well, and who is convinced by George to try and turn her life around. Beatrice was only in 17 films.

Beatrice Campbell

Brian Worth (1914 - 1978) was Sheila's ne're do well husband, Derek Rockingham. He may be best known in the role of Fred in the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol. He was also in The Man in the White Suit (1951) and An Inspector Calls (1954). (Plus a lot of British television work.)

Muriel George (1883 - 1965) was in almost 70 titles, but I am not familiar with her other work. Needless to say, she was the perfect, rich British lady as Lady Oswington. Her maid-servant Miss Fox is played by Esma Cannon who has 73 roles listed on IMDb. One can imagine what it was like at this posh resort, with ladies strutting around in their furs, barking orders at their servants. Small parts but what atmosphere they bring! They also help to clarify what the others are thinking...about why George is at the resort.

Lastly I would like to mention Jean Colin (1905 - 1989) who played Daisy Clarence. Jean only worked in 14 films. I was surprised to see that she was also a singer and had the female lead in the 1939 version of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. That is another favorite of mine.

Some actors who may be more familiar

  • Bernard Lee, who later starred in many James Bond films as M, plays an inspector sent to capture Rockingham. 
  • Wilfrid Hyde-White, from My Fair Lady and too many other films to list (156 total), plays an industrialist who just happened to invent some of the machines that George was selling. This opens a door for George, since someone is actually listening to his suggestions for improvement. You can tell that he wasn't very well respected at his old job, and the movie is all about opening doors.
  • David McCallum's father David McCallum Sr. (1897 - 1972) as the "blind" fiddler, who in real life was the concertmaster of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The fiddler in this film just sets the tone of the story and lets you in on the fact that all is not as it seems.

Sidney James plays Joe Clarence, another regular guy at the posh resort where George is staying, so they hit it off right away. James was in the "Carry On" series of British comedies. I counted 36 Carry Ons, in his 143 roles from 1947 to 1976, the year he died. He would be the one to get a card game together, or meet you in the bar to discuss football (that's soccer to Americans).

Lastly let's mention Ernest Thesiger as Sir Travor Lampington, the doctor who discovered the deadly disease George thinks he has. Born in 1879, he started film acting in 1916. Thesiger played Dr. Pretorius in The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935. He also appeared as the undertaker in the 1951 A Christmas Carol, and is in The Man in the White Suit with Guinness the same year. He can be found as Emperor Tiberius in The Robe (1953) starring Richard Burton, and in 1956 he is in Benny Hill's movie debut Who Done It? 

Thesiger made Last Holiday when he was 71 years old, then went on to make another 29 films until his death in 1961. Sir Trevor comes in late to the film. He starts the chain of events that lead to the end. And he does it with flare!

The ending of Last Holiday is will not see it coming...and if you haven't seen the film, I will not spoil it for you. It may have been typical of British films of the era to make an attempt at irony in the way the ending is written, but for me, it lets the rest of the film down. All through the movie you are rooting for George, who is incredibly likable. The best you can hope for is to see the irony as it is intended. It is certainly a film worth looking for, and I much prefer it to the newer, candy coated version. While the two movies are adapted from the same play and have a similar story, they are two completely different films.

(An apology from the writer for my big OOPS! I spelled Sir Alec's last name incorrectly in the pictures above. The program I use is a pain to correct, so I am sorry. I will try to fix it later.)