Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Storm in a Teacup (1937)

STORM IN A TEACUP is a mildly diverting British comedy notable for providing Rex Harrison and Vivien Leigh with early starring roles.

Leigh plays Victoria Gow, whose father William (Cecil Parker) is provost of a Scottish community. William, who aspires to higher office, fancies himself a noble politician, while in reality he's a nasty chap who plans to put down the dog of a poor woman (Sara Allgood) who can't afford a dog license.

Newspaperman Frank Burton (Harrison) turns the provost's treatment of the woman and her dog into a cause celebre, while simultaneously falling in love with Victoria. Matters come to a head during a raucous court case.

The film has been described variously as a drawing room comedy or as having Capra-esque qualities; to some extent both descriptions are true, but despite some charming scenes, the film is too heavy-handed to be a completely successful example of either type of film.

The film is weighted down by the number of scenes featuring Cecil Parker's character, who is completely insufferable, and to a lesser extent by the plotline, with the needless potential death of a very cute dog hanging over most of the movie. Additionally, some of the heavier dialects present a challenge to American audiences listening to a less-than-crystal-clear soundtrack.

On the positive side, I was struck by how much energy and dynamism Harrison brought to the screen in his first major starring role. He's not really conventionally handsome, but the force of his personality makes his scenes the most interesting in the film. Leigh provides a charming foil, and the movie would have been better if they had had more scenes and Parker had had fewer.

The best sequence in the film has Leigh repeatedly putting coins in some carnival-type games ("Allow me!") so that an enraged Harrison can take out his anger on each game in turn. It's played with great charm and culminates in a sweet moment. Harrison's rapture any time Leigh's character says his given name is also quite fun. Harrison and Leigh worked together again the next year in ST. MARTIN'S LANE W.C.2, shown in the U.S. as SIDEWALKS OF LONDON.

A sequence where dogs overrun Gow's house must have utilized every available dog for miles! It's a fun idea, although it goes on too long.

The supporting cast includes Ursula Jeans, Gus McNaughton, Lee Strasberg, Robert Hale, and Mervyn Johns.

This movie was filmed in black and white by Mutz Greenbaum, who later worked under the name of Max Greene when shooting films such as YELLOW CANARY (1943) and SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948). The running time is 87 minutes.

The film was directed by Victor Saville, with help from screenwriter Ian Dalrymple while Saville was off the set due to illness. Saville had directed well-regarded British films such as EVERGREEN (1934) and DARK JOURNEY (1937), and during the '40s he worked in the U.S. on films such as TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (1945), GREEN DOLPHIN STREET (1947), and CONSPIRATOR (1949).

STORM IN A TEACUP has been released in the U.S. on both DVD and VHS.

It was recently shown on Turner Classic Movies.


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