Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
United Kingdom, 1954. London Film Productions, British Lion Film Corporation. Screenplay by David Lean, Norman Spencer, Wynyard Browne, based on the play by Harold Brighouse. Cinematography by Jack Hildyard. Produced by David Lean. Music by Malcolm Arnold. Production Design by Wilfred Shingleton. Costume Design by John Armstrong. Film Editing by Peter Taylor.
One of Britain’s most beloved plays is given first-rate treatment in this cinematic adaptation by David Lean. Charles Laughton is rowdily funny as the owner of a boot makers’ store who spends his nights drunk and his days sleeping while his three maiden daughters work his establishment. His eldest (Brenda de Banzie), thirty years old and considered too ripe to wed, gets tired of being underestimated and sets out to change her life’s course, grabbing the illiterate but highly talented bootmaker from below stairs (John Mills) and marrying him before he even has any idea of what is going on. Her sisters object, but when de Banzie reveals to them that her marriage could hold the key to allowing their fiancees to finally wed them (their father won’t spend any money on their dowries because it’s his to drink away!) they end up coming around. Meanwhile, Mills is being taught to read and think by his ambitious wife and gains for himself an education in confidence. The brilliant writing, that chronicles the bitter loss of power by the British aristocracy, never gets too heavy-handed in its allegory, instead focusing on highly watchable characters and the delightful comedy that results from the many turns of the plot. Both male leads are superb, but it is de Banzie’s sterling performance that really carries this one, steaming through the picture like a locomotive in search of its next destination towards greatness. Another fine feather in the great master director’s cap.
The Criterion Collection: #461
Berlin Film Festival Award: Golden Bear