Saturday, August 3, 2019

Genevieve (1953)

(This blog post is part of the 6th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run was first made in 1896 and was originally called "The Emancipation Run." That first Run was meant to celebrate the recently passed Locomotives on Highways Act 1896, which finally allowed motorcars on the roads of Britain. It was revived as the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run in 1927. To be able to join the Run, one's car must have been made before 1905. Here it must be stressed that it is not a race and the Royal Automobile Club forbids the cars from going above 20 MPH. 

It is the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run that lies at the heart of Genevieve, the highly popular 1953 comedy. Genevieve centres on young barrister Alan McKim (played by John Gregson), whose father had made the Run every year before World War II. Since the end of the War it has been Alan who has always made the Run. Alan's patient wife Wendy (played by Dinah Sheridan) always accompanies him each year. As to Genevieve, she is the McKims' 1904 Darracq. The McKim's friend Ambrose (played by Kenneth More), an advertising salesman, also takes part in the Run, driving a 1905 Spyker. Each year Ambrose has a different woman accompany him, and this year it is the model Rosalind (played by Kay Kendall). Although they are good friends, Alan and Ambrose have a rivalry with regards to their cars and the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, with Ambrose often making remarks that make it clear he thinks Genevieve is a junker. To this end, even though it is pretty much forbidden, the two men decide to turn the return trip from Brighton to London into a race between the two cars. 

Given Genevieve is a very English comedy about a very English tradition, some might be surprised to learn that the film originated in the mind of an American. Screenwriter William Rose was born in Jefferson City, Missouri. When World War II broke out in 1939, he travelled to Canada and volunteered for service. Ultimately he served in the Black Watch and married an Englishwoman, Tania Price. He then remained in Great Britain after the War, writing such films as Once a Jolly Swagman (1948) and Gift Horse (1952). It might also come as surprise that it took sometime before anyone expressed an interest in the screenplay for Genevieve. Eight producers would reject the screenplay before at last Henry Cornelius, who had directed Passport to Pimlico (1949), bought it with the intention of both producing and directing. 

Even once Henry Cornelius had picked up Genevieve, it would face some hurdles before making it to the screen. Henry Cornelius had worked at Ealing as both an associate producer and a screenwriter on such films as Painted Boats (1945),  Hue and Cry (1947),  and It Always Rains on Sunday (1947). With the success of Passport to Pimlico he decided to ask for more money from Ealing. When they refused, he simply parted ways with the studio and went independent. Mr. Cornelius decided to return to Ealing with Genevieve. While Michael Balcon, who headed production at Ealing, knew Genevieve would likely be a hit, the studio's filming schedule was so busy that they had no room for Henry Cornelius to make Genevieve. Mr. Balcon then suggested to Mr. Cornelius that he try Earl St. John, Executive Producer of the Rank Organisation. Mr. St. John was not enthusiastic about Genevieve, even going so far as telling Henry Cornelius that if he made the film he would likely be fired. Fortunately Henry Cornelius persisted and eventually he was able to strike a deal with Earl St. John. Rank would provide 70% of the £115,000 budget provided Henry Cornelius could finance the rest. Fortunately, Henry Cornelius was able to through the National Film Finance Corporation.

Another hurdle in Genevieve being made into a film was the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain, who sponsored the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. The club did not like the idea of the film at all, particularly the race back to London that occupies the latter part of the film. Quite simply, the idea of any kind of race went entirely against the ideals of the club. To placate the Veteran Car Club, it was agreed that no special costumes would be required of the members participating in the film and that they could drive their own cars with passengers of their own choice. Furthermore, the Rank Organisation paid a lump sum to the Veteran Car Club to cover various out of pocket expenses. Those Veteran Car Club members who had participated in the filming of Genevieve would later be given tickets for the premiere of the film at the Leicester Square cinema in London. As if this was not enough, Genevieve begins with a tongue in cheek disclaimer: "For their patient co-operation, the makers of this film express their thanks to the officers and members of the the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain. Any resemblance between the deportment of the characters and any club members is emphatically denied--by the Club."

Originally Guy Middleton and Dirk Bogarde were the choices for the two male leads in Genevieve, but both men turned the roles down. According to Dinah Sheridan, Claire Bloom was the first choice for her part. What is more, originally Genevieve was not intended to be Darracq. In the original screenplay it was two British cars that would have made the run from Brighton to London. Alan McKim would have driven either a Wolseley or Humber, while Ambrose Claverhouse would have driven a Lancaster. As it turned out, no one who owned a Wolseley, Humbler, or Lancaster was willing to loan their cars to Rank for filming. Norman Reeves consented for them to use his vintage Darraq, which was a French automobile, while Frank Reese loaned them his Spyker, a Dutch automobile. 

Upon its release Genevieve received overwhelmingly positive reviews. It also did well at the box office in Britain, becoming the second most popular film there in 1953. It also did respectively well in the United States. Genevieve was nominated for two Oscars, Best Original Screenplay and Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. It won the BAFTA Award for Best British Film and was nominated for BAFTA Awards for Best British Actor (Kenneth More) and Best Film from any Source. Its success would lead to further comedies from Rank.

Seen today it is easy to understand why Genevieve was a success. At the heart of the film are the relationships between the characters. Alan and Wendy McKim are clearly very much in love, but at the same time they have been married long enough to sometimes get flustered with each other. Alan is close friends with Ambrose, but their pride is still enough for them to have a strong rivalry when it comes to their cars. Rosalind would rather be anywhere but in an antique car in the English countryside, but eventually gets caught up in the spirit of the Run. Between William Rose's fine script and the performances of John Gregson, Dinah Sheridan, Kenneth More, and Kay Kendall, the characters seem like real people. Furthermore, any complications during the race from Brighton to London fully stem from the characters or the English countryside. Unlike the race films of the Sixties and Seventies, a race such as the one in Genevieve could conceivably take place.

Seen today Genevieve might seem a bit quaint. It is certainly a very charming film. At the same time, however, it is rooted in reality. The conflicts between the various characters are timeless, so that the basic plot of the film would not be out of place even in a movie seen today. As long as people fall in love and marry, and as long as men argue over whose car is better, Genevieve remains a film that is relevant to this day. 

Friday, August 2, 2019

The 6th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon is Here!

The Sixth Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon has arrived! The Rule, Britannia Blogathon is meant to celebrate classic, British films. While many think of Hollywood when they think of movies, the fact is that many classic films originated in the United Kingdom. From the Gainsborough melodramas to the Ealing comedies to the Hammer Horrors, the United Kingdom has made many contributions to classic film. The British Invaders Blogathon will last from today (August 2 2019) to Sunday (August 4 2019).

Cinematic Scribblings: "The Show Must Go On: The Entertainer (1960)"

Cinema Essentials: "Hell is a City (1960)"

Caftan Woman: "The 6th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon: The Detective (1954)" 

MovieRob: "A Single Man (2009)"

The Stop Button: "Gregory's Girl (1980, Bill Forsyth)"

Cinema Essentials: "The Iron Maiden (1962)" 

Pale Writer: "The Importance of First Impressions: Pride and Prejudice (2005)"

Realweegiemidget Reviews: "FILMS… I Don't Want to be Born / The Devil Within Her / The Monster/ Sharon's Baby (1975)" 

MovieRob: "The 6th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon – Robin and Marian (1976)"

Silver Scenes: "20 Great Little Known British Films of the 1940s-1960s" 

Crítica Retrô: "A Dama de Espadas (1949)/The Queen of Spades (1949)"

A Shroud of Thoughts: "Genevieve (1953)" 

Moon in Gemini: "The 6th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon: The L-Shaped Room (1962)"

MovieRob: "The 6th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon: The Yellow Rolls Royce (1964)" 

Silver Scenes: "Nor the Moon by Night (1958)" 

Retromoviebuff: "Crooked House: Gaslight (1940)" 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

TCM's Summer Under the Stars 2019

Tomorrow August begins, which for Turner Classic Movies fans means the start of Summer Under the Stars, the month long marathon in which TCM dedicates an entire day to one star. This year has a stellar line-up, featuring not only well-known classics but lesser known classics as well. I am particularly looking forward to August 6, when they celebrate Lena Horne and show Stormy Weather (1943);  August 15, when they celebrate Rod Steiger and show two of my all time favourite movies, The Loved One (1965) and In the Heat of the Night (1967); August 16, when they celebrate Irene Dunne and show The Awful Truth (1937); August 19, when they celebrate Buster Keaton and show The Cameraman (1928), The General (1927); and Sherlock, Jr. (1924); and August 21, when they celebrate Joel McCrea and show The Most Dangerous Game (1932).

Like most Summers Under the Stars, this year's edition features many newcomers to the marathon. As shocking as it might seem given she was the top box office star for the Thirties, this marks Shirley Temple's first time on Summer Under the Stars. I am not at all a fan of the movies she made as a little girl, but I adore many of her movies she made once she entered her teens, especially The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947). Shirley Temple's day is August 4. Another newcomer to Summer Under the Stars that one would have thought would have been honoured many times before is also one of my all-time favourite actors, Mevlyn Douglas. They are showing some of his best movies on August 5, including Arsene Lupin Returns (1938) and Ninotchka (1939). On August 10 they honour one of only three PEGOT winners and still one of the sexiest women to ever live, the legendary Rita Moreno. The line-up includes West Side Story (1961) and Marlowe (1969). August 13 is dedicated to Brian Donlevy, another legend one would have thought would have been honoured before. They are showing some of his best films, including The Quatermass Xperiment (1956). The next day, August 14, they honour Liv Ullmann with her films including Autumn Sonata (1978). On August 15 TCM celebrates incredible character actor Rod Steiger, whose films I count among my favourites I mentioned earlier. August 20 is dedicated to Dorothy Maguire, with films including A Summer Place (1959). August 22 will be a treat for Pre-Code fans, as it is dedicated to the beautiful Leila Hyams. Among her films they are showing are the legendary horror movies Freaks (1932) and Island of Lost Souls (1932). On August 25 they honour Dustin Hoffman with such films as The Graduate (1967) and Marathon Man (1976). August 27 TCM celebrates Walter Brennan, showing such films as Rio Bravo (1959) and To Have and Have Not (1944). Finally, August 24 is dedicated to Paul Lukas with such movies as The Lady Vanishes (1943) and The Three Musketeers (1938).

Anyway, this looks to be one of the best Summer Under the Stars in some time, which is saying something given how good they have been the past many years.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Gone to California

For those you who have been wondering where I have been the past few days, I have been in Hollywood, California. I attended a panel discussion and screening of Stand and Deliver at the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, where my beloved Vanessa Marquez was honoured. I met the members of the cast with whom I have been in touch and those I had yet to make contact with. It was an enjoyable evening (I had fun), but bittersweet for obvious reasons. On Instagram and Twitter I have posted a few photos from the event.