Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Millions Like Us (1943)

Tonight it was a return to World War II films with MILLIONS LIKE US, a British homefront drama with documentary overtones, from the writing/directing team of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder.

Gilliat and Launder's previous work included the screenplays for THE LADY VANISHES (1938) and NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940). This was the first feature film they codirected as well as wrote. Later they would alternate directing films; for instance, Gilliat directed GREEN FOR DANGER (1946) and Launder headed up I SEE A DARK STRANGER (1946).

MILLIONS LIKE US is an episodic tale of life on the British homefront during the Second World War. Most of the scenes focus on the Clowson family, particularly shy young Celia (Patricia Roc) who is called up to work in a factory. Celia meets an RAF sergeant, Fred (an impossibly young Gordon Jackson from UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS), and falls in love.

Periodically Gilliat and Launder's creations Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) appear for comic relief. Their first appearance, of course, is on a train! I might be wrong but I don't believe they utter a word about cricket in this film. Besides THE LADY VANISHES, NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH, and MILLIONS LIKE US, the Charters and Caldicott duo also appeared in a 1941 film titled CROOK'S TOUR.

There's an interesting subplot about a foreman from the North (Eric Portman) who is attracted to an upper-class girl from London (Anne Crawford). He's unwilling to marry her until he knows if class distinctions will still matter after the war.

Much of the film is shot with a grainy documentary look, so documentary and newsreel footage of real factory workers blends in fairly seamlessly. The film successfully creates a world which feels quite authentic. MILLIONS LIKE US was released during the heart of the war, and the final scene, in particular, is appropriately stirring and encouraging.

It's not a completely great film -- some of the plot shifts, such as the start of the war, are a bit too abrupt and subtle -- but it's absorbing, and I think the characters and scenes will stick with me long after this evening.

Patricia Roc was one of the queens of Britain's Gainsborough Pictures in the '40s, along with Margaret Lockwood and Phyllis Calvert. She appeared in films such as LOVE STORY (1944), MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS (1945), THE WICKED LADY (1945), and JASSY (1947). In 1946 she appeared in an excellent Western filmed in the United States, Jacques Tourneur's CANYON PASSAGE (1946), which also starred Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward. Roc died in 2003. Last summer Movietone News paid tribute to Roc.

Anne Crawford mostly acted in Britain, but she also appeared in a U.S. film, KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE (1953), with Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner.  Crawford played Morgan Le Fay.  Three years after that film, she died of leukemia at the age of 35.

The cast also includes Megs Jenkins (GREEN FOR DANGER), Terry Randall, Moore Marriott, and Valentine Dunn.

MILLIONS LIKE US is not available on DVD or video in the United States. For those who have all-region players, it's available on a Region 2 DVD in the UK; the entire cost from Amazon UK, including shipping, was just over $10 in U.S. dollars. The DVD print is good, although the sound levels aren't well balanced; I found myself constantly turning the volume up for the dialogue and back down again during factory or aircraft scenes.

The film runs 103 minutes, which translates to 98 minutes on the Region 2 DVD due to "PAL speedup." For those new to this concept, nothing has been cut from the film; British DVDs simply play at a slightly faster rate.

MILLIONS LIKE US is an interesting and very worthwhile slice of history depicting life in wartime Britain. Recommended.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Sounds interesting. I'd love to see if only for Gordon Jackson.

5:30 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I really had trouble connecting the "kid" in this (around age 20) with Hudson! Fascinating to see him so young. Hope you get the chance to see it. I think you would particularly enjoy it since you enjoy the intersection of films and cultural life/history.

Best wishes,

1:03 PM  
Blogger Russell said...

I've always had a soft spot for "Millions Like Us". British propaganda dramas released during the war differ so much from the American ones in that they entertain the (at that time fairly likely) notion that 'we might not win!'. This sense of unease and also of a way of life that has been changed forever mark them out as strikingly made films.
Aside from that Patricia Roc is aways wonderful. Anyone wishing to see her at her best should seek out copies of "The Brothers"(1947) and "Two Thousand Women" (1944). She is excellent in both.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Matthew Coniam said...

Glad you enjoyed this one. I was very moved by it.

1:39 PM  

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