This is a somewhat random selection of British films, and I’ve tried to avoid the better-known films. These days, that isn’t easy. So if you’re a Brit flick maven, these films will be familiar. If not, treat yourself to some rewarding viewing on a rainy day. It isn't intended as a complete list and other films are sure to follow.
The Passing of the Third Floor Back (UK) 1935
Viennese director Berthold Viertel’s penultimate film and starring fellow émigré Conrad Veidt, it’s the story – based on a short story by Jerome K. Jerome and adapted by Michael Hogan and Alma Reville – of a veddy, veddy, London rooming house full of posers and social climbers whose lives are changed by a mysterious stranger.
Nicely shot by Curt Courant who had previously shot “Woman In The Moon” for Fritz Lang and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” for Alfred Hitchcock, the production is half the fun. Click here for a decent print for free download from the Internet Archive.
With Anna Lee, René Ray, Frank Cellier, John Turnbull, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Ronald Ward, among others. Music by Hubert Bath.
Sparrow Can’t Sing (UK) 1962
Also known as “Sparrers Can’t Sing” it was Joan Littlewood’s only feature film. Littlewood was one of the driving forces behind British theatre in those days and being open about her politics lead to the government surveilling her for decades.
A sailor comes back from the sea and finds the government has razed his home and his wife is missing as well and this comedy follows the sailor through the East End and its characters as the locals try to hide her and he tries to find her. Shot on location, the tale is in the telling with sights of characters in the East End that rarely make it into British flicks of that era.
With James Booth, Barbara Windsor, Roy Kinnear, Avis Bunnage, Brian Murphy, George Sewell, and Barbara Ferris, among others. Cinematography by Desmond Dickinson and Mutz Greenbaum. Music by Stanley Black.
Brighton Rock (UK) 1947
Based on a novel by Graham Greene – who co-wrote the screenplay with Terence Rattigan – the story takes place in Brighton among the petty criminals, in particular, a young sociopath who goes by the name of Pinkie Brown.
Pinkie’s dilemma is centered on a piece of evidence that is only crucial when coupled with a young waitress’ recollection of a man buying a beer. Pinkie woos and marries the girl so that even if she realizes what she knows she can’t testify against him. There’s always something more – or something else – in a Graham Greene story and this one visits the edges of faith and belief.
An excellent crime film that wanders into unexpected places and some wonderful location shots bringing a whole lot of mood and a sense of place.
Directed by John Boulting and starring Richard Attenborough, Hermione Baddeley, William Hartnell and Carol Marsh, among others. Music by Hans May and cinematography by Harry Waxman.
Séance On A Wet Afternoon (UK) 1964
A domineering wife, a defeated and “ill” husband, and a dead baby form the household of the story. The wife holds regular séances and wishes for a moment where she could prove to the world that she, indeed, can see the future. The wife – who is slowly teetering toward psychosis – devises a plan that involves “borrowing” a child and confining her in a room in the house disguised as a hospital room.
She may be able to see the future but she seems to have missed what happens next. Nicely underplayed and paced and one of my favorite psychic films.
With Kim Stanley, Richard Attenborough, Nanette Newman, Mark Eden and Patrick Magee. Cinematography by Gerry Turpin and music by John Barry.
They Made Me A Fugitive (UK) 1947
A small-time smuggler has issues with the gang trafficking in drugs and so the gang leader sets him up to take the fall for a cop killing. The gang leader isn’t suspected of the killing and he gets the patsy’s girl, too. Pretty nice figuring all around until the smuggler escapes from prison and heads back to the old neighborhood.
Alberto Cavalcanti’s snappy direction, a sterling cast and some wonderful camera work by Otto Heller, take this predictable thriller out of the usual and into the must-see. Would make a great double feature with Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.”
With Sally Gray, Trevor Howard, Griffith Jones, René Ray, and Mary Merrall, among others. Music by Marius-François Gaillard.