Went the Day Well? (1942) was Brazilian born director Alberto Cavalcanti's first feature film for Ealing Studios after he had joined them, in 1940, from the GPO and Crown Film Unit, then under the auspices of documentarian John Grierson. Under Grierson's wing, Cavalcanti had contributed to a number of highly-regarded British documentary films such as Coal Face (1935), Night Mail (1936) and Spare Time (1939). When Grierson left for Canada he was offered the post of head of the unit but declined when it required him to become a naturalised British citizen.
After completing the short film Yellow Caesar in 1941, a propagandist pot-shot at Mussolini that's included on this Blu-ray release, he moved on to this adaptation of Graham Greene's short story 'The Lieutenant Died Last', scripted by John Dighton, Angus MacPhail and Diana Morgan, wherein Went the Day Well? itself became an unofficial form of propaganda that was concerned with the security of the home-front during wartime.
The film opens with a prolonged tracking shot taking us down sunny English lanes and towards a typically sleepy English village as the titles of the film progress and William Walton's music stirringly strikes up. The camera stops at a cottage just after an on-screen quote from John Maxwell Edmunds's epitaphs for the fallen heroes of the war that appeared in The Times in February 1918. The epitaph then forms the title of the film. A man smoking a pipe (Mervyn Johns), sat beside the village church, directly addresses the audience and identifies the village as Bramley End. He immediately raises our curiosity about a gravestone in the churchyard bearing a list of German names and his narration then acts as a flashback to what he refers to as the 'Battle of Bramley End'.
'.... the initiative and determination of the ordinary man which will finally win the day'
This thriller motif, where the audience is ahead of the characters in the film by already possessing knowledge about the British soldiers who have just arrived, works very effectively. The tension in the film is focused equally on how and when the villagers will discover that German paratroopers are masquerading as British soldiers and on what steps will eventually be taken to return us to the inevitable conclusion that many of these Germans will end up dead and buried in the churchyard. Village life continues as the soldiers arrive and with characters of different classes and stations, from the nosy shopkeeper to the squire's cleaner to the vicar and the policeman, keenly noting their appearance in the village.
The hierarchies are established, leading from the lady of the manor through to the Home Guard and the film proposes an inquiry into the levels of trust and loyalty that can be ascribed to the various classes in the film. As Neil Rattigan offers in This is England: British Film and the People's War, 1939-1945 Went the Day Well? "suggests ambiguity about the extent to which the ruling classes... are to be trusted to act appropriately, wisely and in the best interests of the nation." When the squire Oliver Wilsford (Leslie Banks) is revealed to be acting as a fifth column in the village it implies that those we trust should be under as much scrutiny as those we declare as enemies and James Chapman, in The British at War, sees this in opposition to the film's depiction of the working classes "where it is the initiative and determination of the ordinary man which will finally win the day."
Gradually, the soldiers and their officers are billeted around various locations in the village and we are shown Wilsford collaborating with the Germans as they plan to knock out British listening posts in the first phase of an invasion. The tension develops from villagers failing to note or interpret clues or receive urgent messages that would give these bogus troops away until, of course, it is too late. The villagers are rounded up and imprisoned in the church and the Germans savagely shoot down the vicar who refuses to surrender to them and attempts to ring the church bell to warn the Home Guard.
'... absolute monsters'
To confirm the cold-blooded nature of these German oppressors, the gunning down of the vicar is followed by further violence as a group of the Home Guard, not quite sure that they heard the church bell ringing, cycles cheerfully toward the village only to be mowed down by German machine gun emplacements. It is a brutal scene, one that Cavalcanti uses to emphasise that any potential occupation will be one where violence dominates and where his sense of realism, finely tuned in his days working with Grierson, is vital in communicating that cold sensibility. It also perhaps registers that Calvalcanti was himself an outsider and was viewing the British people's indomitable spirit as something far more cold-blooded than the homespun stereotype. Indeed, he believed Went the Day Well? was a pacifist film and it demonstrated that “People of the kindest character...as soon as war touches them, become absolute monsters.”
Cavalcanti certainly focuses on how the villagers are transformed from warm politeness to agents of moral choice and this swing in mood is best seen in the celebrated sequence where the postmistress Mrs Collins (Muriel George), upon discovering the Nazi lodger she's harbouring, blinds him with pepper and murders him with an axe just as he's about to tuck into the dinner she's made him. The coda to this act of violence is that she is then bayoneted by German troops. This shocking moment also underlines how many of the women characters in the film, including the lady of the manor, the vicar's daughter and the postmistress embrace their heroic roles within a community under attack, despite the hierarchical and class differences between them. The film's ending also shows Nora (Valerie Taylor), the vicar's daughter, at first in love with Wilsford and then, upon realising he is a quisling, shooting him in another very effective scene in the manor house, which like the church, is delineated in the film as a space under siege in which the moral and psychological battle between these antagonistic cultures is mapped out.
By the time it was released in 1942, Went the Day Well? emerged into a Britain where the likelihood of invasion had diminished. It didn't do particularly well critically or financially and perhaps this has something to do with the film's suggestion that lurking beneath the British character was a much darker, primeval nature. Certainly, audiences found it difficult to accept British actors such as Basil Sydney and David Farrar, playing British soldiers then revealed as German Commandant Ortler and Leutnant Jung respectively, abruptly switching from authentic English gentlemen in the first half of the film to caricaturish Nazis in the final half. The film has, however, gained in recognition as one of the most atypical films in Ealing's canon and is a reminder of how Cavalcanti arrived at the company and, with Balcon and Charles Frend as collaborators, began to shape its future output.
About the transfer
Good contrast, appropriate grain and some fine detail, particularly in settings, faces and clothes, emerge from this high definition transfer completed in association with the BFI and yet there are still the odd speckles, blemishes and scratches occasionally popping up on the picture. The previous DVD release did boast a reasonable picture and this is an improvement, with many of the previous blemishes cleaned up, and I doubt it'll ever look better than this. Again praise is due to Optimum and Studio Canal for their continued efforts to restore their back catalogue. The mono sound is reasonably clear and hiss and distortion is kept to a minimum.
In this broadcast from September 2010, Simon Heffer concentrates on Went The Day Well? and discusses some of the key points raised above and looks at the realist documentary qualities that Cavalcanti brought to Ealing itself. Well worth a listen.
Went the Day Well?
Ealing Studios / Associated British Film Distributors 1942
Optimum Releasing Blu-Ray / Released 25 July 2011 / OPTBD2066 / Cert: PG / Region B / Total Running Time: 93 mins approx / B&W PAL / Feature Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 / Video: BD50 / AVC / 24p / Feature Audio: Mono 2.0 / Audio Codec: LPCM DTS MA / English Language
A quintessentially British comedy classic, Charles Crichton's The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) is both a thrilling caper and a subversive farce that celebrates a post-war, consensus bound England and simultaneously exposes an underworld activity of spivs and criminals that exists in contradiction to that post-war milieu, one that offers, as Bosley Crowther in the New York Times described, "a serene and casual tolerance for the undisguised lawlessness in man." Ealing comedies of the period reflect the changing times, with Passport to Pimlico (1949) and Whisky Galore! (1949) as acerbic challenges to the deprivations of post-war restrictions and The Lavender Hill Mob and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) as explorations of the post-war aspiration for higher status, class and wealth.
The story concerns Henry Holland (Alec Guinness) a pedantic, reserved bank clerk, working at a gold bullion office in central London who dreams of being rich and concocts the perfect way to steal the gold he so carefully monitors and smuggle it out of the country. The film is bookended by sequences showing Holland, post-crime, seemingly enjoying the high-life in South America, the love object of a young Audrey Hepburn and the benefactor to "victims of the revolution". However, all is not what it seems and Holland proceeds to tell his story in flashback (a common narrative device in Ealing films) and how he became involved with amateur artist and paperweights designer Alfred Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) and a professional gangster double act comprised of safe cracker Lackery (Sidney James) and criminal jack of all trades Shorty (Alfie Bass).
... an exploration of crime, criminality and masculinity
The film, while offering on the surface a typical view of Britishness in relation to the capital city of London, also maps out an alternate vision of London during the hi-jack and the chase and provides an exploration of crime, criminality and masculinty that underlines the 'otherness' of the two lead characters of Holland and Pendlebury as part of what Dave Rolinson, in his essay on 1950s comedies in British Cinema of the 1950s, sees as "a constant tension between a form built on consensus and content built on alienation." Balcon himself suggested the success of Ealing's post war comedies was because the audience were in a "country tired of regulations and regimentation" and where there "was a mild anarchy in the air. In a sense our comedies were a reflection of this mood... a safety valve for our more anti-social impulses."
The Lavender Hill Mob therefore is situated on the shifting sands of the individual desire for freedom, something illicit wealth might bring Holland and Pendlebury, and a duty to collective responsibility, symbolised by Holland's spotless track record and efficiency at the gold bullion office. In the end, we are fooled into believing that Holland has succeeded in his goal but the man he is talking to at the dinner table in South America is shown to clap him in handcuffs, the law having finally caught up with him, reinforcing the message that crime, and the transgression of societal norms, eventually does not pay. The narrative about subversive theft is in direct contrast to the post-war attempts to reconstruct British society and its conventions that is represented in the film by the bombed out landscapes still dominated by the proud traditionalism of London's surviving landmarks.
Holland and Pendlebury's disruption of the social order also reflects, as Richard Hornsey points out in The Spiv and the Architect, a "connotative queerness" that "bubbles just below the surface" in the film. He sees the London sequences of the film featuring the character development between Holland and Pendlebury (his landlady's observation of "I didn't know you were an artistic gentleman" has a euphemistic ring to it and later there is an affectionate equalisation between the two men as they rename each other 'Dutch' and 'Al') as "an outrageous parody of an heterosexual romance." As Hornsey remarks the film's poster even shows the two men happily embracing each other in celebration of their "homosocial romance."
Thus the illicit nature of the crime is also conflated with the unconventional masculinities of the two lead characters and this is equally transposed onto their own understanding of what the city and landscape represents. Katherine Shonfield, in Walls Have Feelings, in discussing the way the gold is transformed into Eiffel Tower paperweights, suggests that "the mobsters don't buy into the city of iconic objects but instead subvert it to their own hidden ends" and their flight across the city, as they confuse police communications, is a partial remapping of familiar landmarks and spaces.
... an unbalancing, giddy illusion of the forces of law and orderMetropolitan Police School Exhibition) the film underlines the notion of role-playing, role-switching between victim, villain and policeman. This sense of doubling and illusion pervades the film. Just as Holland's faked victimhood in the aftermath of the van hi-jack almost becomes real when he falls into the Thames and Pendlebury is almost arrested by the police for stealing a painting (from the spiv character played by Sydney Tafler no less), and the model Eiffel Towers are sold from the real Eiffel tower in Paris, then the police force exhibition, with its fake policeman and real policemen becomes this illusory quality of the film writ large.
As Pendlebury escapes from the exhibition over false rooftops and through a fake prison cell, the figures of the real policemen blend with models of outdated 'Peelers', and false messages are sent to other police cars by Holland and Pendlebury after they steal a police vehicle from the exhibition. They even give a lift to a bobby on the beat who joins in with a bizarre collective singing to 'Old MacDonald' heard over the police radio before its normal communications resume and give them away. Like the dizzying descent down the Eiffel Tower, where the two men clutch each other and give chase after the schoolgirls with the sourvenir paperweights, the police exhibition ends up as a bizarre hall of mirrors, itself an unbalancing, giddy illusion of the forces of law and order. These dizzying images are given further power by the syncopated pizzicato music score from Georges Auric.
Crichton's editing is superb, particularly in the Eiffel tower chase and the tongue in cheek chaos at the police exhibition. Only the last scene showing Holland back in the hands of the police, a moment included in the film at the insistence of the British and US censors, resets a gently anarchic premise that reverses stereotypes and uses complex irony and metaphor to explore a post-war Britain where, very briefly, modest aspiration could surbvert the social order and briefly reimagine the urban landscape of London.
About the transfer
A great looking restoration with specific improvement in contrast levels and fine detail, retaining the requisite amount of grain and boasting a natural film look. It is perhaps a little soft at times and is not entirely blemish free, but it is looking the best it ever has on a home entertainment format. A very handsome high definition transfer that will not disappoint and it comes with a clean, mono soundtrack free of hiss and distortion.
Introduction by Martin Scorsese (3:38)
A brief nod from Marty about what is obviously one of his favourite films. Some nice anecdotes about writer T.E.B Clarke's inspiration and research for the robbery in the film.
Excerpt from BECTU Archive: Interview with Charles Crichton (12:51)
Sid Cole speaks to Crichton in an interview recorded in 1988. Unfortunately it's very difficult to hear Crichton as the recording is all rumble and low frequency. There are some nice little nuggets about his time at Ealing working with Cavalcanti, Mackendrick and Balcon if you care to persevere with this.
Good Afternoon with Mavis Nicholson: Interview with writer T.E.B Clarke (24:41)
Early 1970s edition of Nicholson's Thames afternoon weekday show that's worth it just for that fact that 'Tibby' Clarke is on screen and chatting about his upbringing, his screenwriting for Ealing and Balcon and his eventual career in Hollywood.
Restoration Comparison (4:11)
Gives you an idea how washed out and grey the original negative looks and how much damage it has been subject to compared to the deep contrast and cleanliness of the restoration.
Behind The Scenes Stills Gallery (1:06)
The Lavender Hill Mob
Ealing Studios / J. Arthur Rank Organisation 1951
Optimum Releasing Blu-Ray / / Released 1 August 2011 / OPTBD1926 / Cert: U / Region Free / Total Running Time: 81 mins approx / B&W PAL / Feature Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 / Video: BD50 / AVC / 24p / Feature Audio: Mono 2.0 / Audio Codec: LPCM 2.0 Mono / English Language
Released in the US as Tight Little Island, Alexander Mackendrick's Whisky Galore! (1949) is based on the book by Compton Mackenzie, itself based on the events of 1941 when a ship, the S.S. Politician, sank off the Scottish Island of Eriskay carrying a cargo of 250,000 cases of whisky. Both the film and the book recount how the islanders (the story is relocated to the fictional island of Todday) relieve the wreck of its cargo. The film clearly reflects the post-war austerity that Britain was struggling through, with rationing continuing until 1954, and coincides with Ealing's move to using more location filming (with the film being the first entirely shot on location on Barra in the Outer Hebrides) but it also has much to say about class, nationalism, gender and ethnicity.
Again, in classic Ealing mode the film opens with a narrator setting the scene (it's Finlay Currie this time operating in Grierson documentarian mode) and he begins to relate to us the story of how the wreck of the S.S. Cabinet Minister (surely, a sly in-joke about the powers that be in Westminster) bequeaths the suffering islanders with a bounty of whisky. At the same time, the island is governed by the visiting British army and their representative Captain Waggett (Basil Radford) who upholds the law through his command of the Home Guard.
This antagonism between two cultures is also carried through into the relationships between men and women in the film and where Maryon McDonald in Gender, Drink and Drugs sees the film romanticising the consumption of whisky by the Scots and "where usually men are the main figures in these dramas and, sometimes, as in much of Whisky Galore!, the men have to hide their whisky from the women as well as from the authorities."
However, this does not strictly hold true when we look at the famous sequence in the film where the local postmaster, having helped retrieve the cargo, decides to celebrate the betrothal of his daughters with a celebration. He is warned that Waggett and the excise men are on their way and Mackendrick deftly constructs a humourous sequence, a montage without dialogue, where whisky is hidden away in all manner of places, poured straight into hot water bottles or with bottles concealed in gutters or even in a baby's cot under the sleeping occupant. This rather shows that a whole community, including the younger women, rallies to prevent discovery of the illicit booze and provide a defeat for the English outsider.
In this defeat the film also comically explores the idea of emasculation. Whisky Galore! is set during a conflict where the fittest men have left for war and those that remain are weak and infirm and can only be restored by the infusion of copious amounts of whisky. There also seems to be a matriarchal dominance over the men of the island, symbolised specifically in the feminisation of a schoolteacher (Gordon Jackson) who is locked in his bedroom by his old mother and prevented from marrying his sweetheart. The teacher then imbibes in whisky to provide him with the masculine strength to defy his own mother's wishes. In a way, the islanders themselves also emasculate Waggett, both by preventing him from ceasing their rescue of the whisky and simply because they denote him as the weak outsider and the unmanliest of men.
(Bruce Seton) and the resolution of a marriage proposal to provide the audience with access, using him as a guide, into this island community and as someone who must understand the cultural differences on our behalf.
This sense of community is linked to the film's use of landscape and how the beach and the sea provide a sense of beauty left uncorrupted by the modern world. The environment symbolically protects the islanders and ensures that the survival of the fittest is maintained. The community and the island, Charles Barr notes in Ealing Studios, embodies "an ancestral Celtic shrewdness and toughness from which we should learn... Waggett does not; failing, he goes under." The audience might end up feeling sorry for Waggett perhaps, as the Blimp-like orthodox Englishman defeated by the more cunning islanders, and you could certainly question the morals and behaviour of a group that does not play fairly by the rules.
Tony Williams, in Structures of Desire: British Cinema 1939-1955, certainly argues that the "community operates on the level of allowing access only on total submission to its rules" and the character of Sergeant Odd is pivotal to understanding the often ruthless demands of the islanders. The film underlines this in the sequence where Macroon, the father of the girl Odd wants to marry, explains that without whisky there is no possible way that Odd can marry his daughter Peggy, blackmailing him to look the other way when the islanders head off for the wreck of the S.S. Cabinet Minister to recover the whisky.
In tandem with this requirement of the community to follow only its rules, Whisky Galore! could also been seen as continuing to promulgate, as offered by Colin MacArthur in Scotch Reels, Scotland's "detestation of modernity as related to the city and to the power of capital" and where Scotland's identity can only be partly revealed, and often inauthentically in the use of national stereotypes, through the laughter generated by such comedies.
Again, this may well be a side-effect of Mackendrick's unsentimental approach to the film when you compare it to the daydream qualities of T.E.B Clarke's The Lavender Hill Mob. What Mackendrick succeeds in doing is to subvert the Ealing formula by generating some sympathy for the outwitted Captain Waggett and then also adding a darkness to the anarchic behaviour of the islanders. This moral ambiguity was something he would then take further in The Man in the White Suit (1951).
About the transfer
Another very good, clean transfer with great contrast levels. Perhaps not as detailed as the transfers for the other two releases and certainly with more softness in the picture, this still performs well and is an improvement on the previous restoration on DVD from 2005. This comes with a crisp, clear mono soundtrack.
Short but informative introduction to Whisky Galore! by film critic and journalist George Perry.
An exceptional commentary from writer and producer John Ellis that is full of background information about the making of the film and MacKenzie's original story. He also explores Alexander Mackendrick's lasting legacy at Ealing Studios.
Distilling Whisky Galore! (52:05)
Channel 4 TV documentary that takes you from the sinking of the S.S. Politician in 1941 to the development of the film in 1942, how MacKenzie ('a professional Scot') wrote the book, featuring interviews with director Alexander Mackendrick.
The Real Whisky Galore! (19:46)
Interview with islander Angus Campbell covering his recollection of the original events surrounding the sinking of the S.S. Politician.
Hilary Mackendrick in Conversation (36:55)
Anthony Slide interviews the late Hilary Mackendrick, wife of director Alexander Mackendrick.
Ealing Studios / General Film Distributors 1949
Optimum Releasing Blu-Ray / Released 8 August 2011 / OPTBD2065 / Cert: PG / Region B / Total Running Time: 85 mins approx / B&W PAL / Feature Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 / Video: BD50 / AVC / 24p / Feature Audio: Mono 2.0 / Audio Codec: PCM / English Language
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