Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Waterloo Road (1945)

When we bought our all-region DVD player last summer, one of the first Region 2 sets that caught my eye was a 12-disc set of '40s British films starring one of my favorite actors, Stewart Granger.

The set contains a significant number of the films which made Granger popular in England before he moved to America, where he signed on with MGM and became an international star in KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950). When the collection recently went on sale at Amazon.UK, I couldn't pass it up. It arrived today, and this evening I watched WATERLOO ROAD, an interesting wartime story written and directed by Sidney Gilliat.

Gilliat frequently collaborated with Frank Launder, whether on screenplays for films such as Hitchcock's THE LADY VANISHES (1938) or on films they wrote and took turns directing themselves, including GREEN FOR DANGER (1946) and I SEE A DARK STRANGER (1946). WATERLOO ROAD was a solo writing-directing effort by Gilliat.

The movie concerns a working-class British soldier, Jim (John Mills), whose nosy sister sends him a letter suggesting that his wife Tillie (Joy Shelton) is seeing too much of Ted Purvis (Stewart Granger). Jim goes AWOL at Waterloo Station in order to track down Tillie and Ted, with the hope of saving his marriage, and maybe beating Ted to a pulp while he's at it. Jim spends most of the day one step ahead of British MP's and one step behind Tillie and Ted, but then he catches up with them just as an air raid starts...

The film is narrated by the absent-minded yet perceptive neighborhood doctor (Alastair Sim); it's interesting to note that Sim also filled the role of narrator in GREEN FOR DANGER the following year.

I found the story a bit slow-moving at the outset, especially as I initially found the lower-class London accents a bit difficult to follow. (The accent seemed rather incongruous coming from the typically elegant Granger!) And although we had a peek at Jim and Tillie's relationship in a flashback scene, and further aspects of their characters are revealed as the story moves along, viewers might have been better served if they had a chance to get to know the characters better before Jim went AWOL.

At the same time, I enjoyed the footage of Waterloo Station, especially as we stayed in a hotel near the station during our visit in May. The movie also provided an interesting peek at wartime life in London -- for instance, sleeping in station shelters and shuffling home the next morning. I thought the film grew more interesting as it went along, building to a satisfying conclusion.

It was fun to see John Mills when he was relatively young; I'm not sure I've seen him in anything except Disney's SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON -- and an episode of NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR with his daughter Juliet. I've recently taped several of his movies, including THIS HAPPY BREED (1944), THE WAY TO THE STARS (1945), GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946), and SO WELL REMEMBERED (1947), so I look forward to becoming more acquainted with his work.

Granger believably depicts a cad who turns out to be a bit of a brute as well. Shelton is appealing as Tillie, who has been living with her in-laws and longs for her own home and a baby. The mischievous Sim is fun as he drops in and out of the story.

The cast includes Alison Leggatt (I remember her from TV's EDWARD THE KING in the '70s), Beatrice Varley, and Jean Kent, who adds some needed fizz as one of Granger's ex-girlfriends.

WATERLOO ROAD was shot in black and white and runs 73 minutes.

The DVD print was quite good. There were chapter selections, but no extras. The boxed set packaging is beautifully produced, with each film on its own disc; glossy stills from Granger's films are seen as the set unfolds to reveal the DVDs. A 16-page booklet on the films in the collection is included.

As a side note, classic film fans might be interested in Barrie Maxwell's new column at The Digital Bits. After analyzing the reduced number of classic film releases in the U.S., he notes: "So much has come out in Region 1 over the past half a dozen years, that one tends to forget that a number of classics have also appeared in other regions and some are titles not available in Region 1. With region-free players being so inexpensive, this is a good time to investigate and invest in such titles."

I'm definitely enjoying starting to explore the films in both the Granger and Anna Neagle Region 2 boxed sets I've acquired in recent weeks. It looks like there are many more interesting titles which have been hiding behind the Region 2 curtain, so to speak. I wonder if one day the practice of encoding DVDs for certain regions will come to an end?


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