THE THIEF (London Pavilion: Certificate A) Director: Russell Rouse IFthe youthful team of Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse, who thought up lie idea of a speechless movie, have done nothing else, they have made us sit back and realise that incessant talk is not
When this non-talking film was seven-eighths through, the first human sound came from Ray Milland. It is a howl of macabre laughter that contorts his face and lights up his eyes with a road gleam.
Mr. Milland plays the part of a nuclear fission scientist who has won awards and acclaim from the U.S. Government for his services to this new god of the atomic age. But he has also been caught up in a spy ring and is feeding information, copies of documents and designs to the Enemy.
By the time we meet him he is a nervous, jittery man, lonely as a cloud, apparently bereft of all normal human companionship and no advertisement for the glamour of spydom.
In his drab Washington apartment he waits for the telephone signal that tells him the "boss" awaits him. From his important-looking office in the Atomic Research Laboratory he slips along the corridor to photograph documents (of course, he has a key to all doors and knows the combination of all safes). The film is then passed on to a "contact," going from hand to hand till it reaches New York and the airport en route for the Enemy's country.
It seemed to me that these prowllogs, these furtive meetings, these lingerings in what looks like a New World edition of the reading room at the British Museum, would have been enough to rouse suspicions of the least atom-conscious cop. Even the notorious Glass used to make a semblance of talking to his contact before handing over that famous roll of newspapers.
Still, the point here is that the producers have brought off a movie without a word being spoken with a certain amount of success. True, they have in the place of dialogue used a fairly prodigious orchestral score which perhaps is not playing quite fair. We are, however, allowed to hear the noise of inanimate objects, such as the click of a telephone, footsteps, doors shutting and so on.
The big argument against "The Thief" as cinema is its repetitiveness. Ray Milland is given a very small compass in which to act—the nervous start when the telephone rings; the incessant lighting and stubbing out of cigarettes; the erratic dash for the street; the permanent down droop of mouth to denote misery.
Towards the end the action moves
to the topmost girders and rafters of the Empire State Building, where a strangely-isolated F.B.I. man who is trailing the treacherous physicist gets done to death in a manner most foul.
Neat musical commentary: As Ray Milland is making his way towards escape, the opening bars of what you might think is our national anthem but is actually "My Country 'Tis of Thee" insert themselves into the score. I liked that subtle touch.
But on the whole we must regard this experiment in speechlessness as just a pleasant stunt.
LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES (La Continentale: Certificate X) Director: Jean-Pierre Melville JEAN COCTEAU, to forestall JEAN
wrote a prologue to this film adaptation of his novel of the same name: "I shall always accuse of wickedness those who themselves accuse my children of 'Les Enfants Terribles . . .'" And he adds that those who see evil in them are only reflecting evil in themselves.
Well, that is just Cocteau's opinion. But, however you may like or dislike him, you certainly can't ignore him. You are taken by the scruff of the neck and thrust into the sick room, physical and mental, in which his characters live and move. This time they are a brother (Edouard Dermithe) and a sister (Nicole Stephane), whose father (now dead) used to drink and to beat their invalid mother. She dies in a chair as the teenage boy and girl horseplay around her.
The two live in a world of their own, extending the make-believe games of their childhood into their adolescence. The games become sinister and degenerate into a sickness.
How can it end except in disaster? And so it does.
In the telling, Cocteau and his director excel. It is quite impossible to forget the opening scene—a black and white living reredos of schoolboys in the snow, some mounted on scaffolding outside the building. They begin to throw snowballs, and one. the handsome bully and sadist. hits the boy Paul in the chest. He begins to bleed from the mouth and is taken home and nursed by his sister.
The room in which both sleep is (symbolically—to argue the disorder of their lives and minds) littered with torn pieces of paper, the walls cluttered with pin-ups, their treasuredrawer a chaos of mementoes which have their own significance for the two. And into it, before the end, go the instruments of their respective suicides.
For most of the time the two steal about the house clad in dirty bathrobes in which they climb in and out of their crumpled beds. They scream and fight and abuse each other—always for the benefit of their unfortunate friends. But as the boy gradually grows out of this unhealthy adolescence, the girl becomes ardent and possessive. Sabotaging his first love affair, she becomes his moral murderer.
Nicole Stephane's portrait of the sister is magnificent, an actress of compelling power whom we should see more of in the future.
As to Cocteau. he overloads his film with too much of the abnormal, of the degenerate, the death wish, the undisciplined, the neurotic. the perverse, so that in the end the balance is too much awry and the whole thing assumes the aspect of a psychiatric clinic.
THE PICKWICK PAPERS (Gaumont: Certificate U) Director: Noel Langley ANOTHER Dickensian triumph for British studios, with George Minter as producer and Noel Langley doing a remarkable job of bringing not only Dickens but Cruikshank to life.
To streamline the activities of the Pickwick Club into an hour and threequarters of film time can have been no easy task. There had to be jettisoning of all kinds of "pet" lines and incidents, but the result is a remarkably homogeneous, dove-tailed and coherent production. Dickens, 1 feel. would have loved it.
Pickwick himself, as played by James Hayter, is an inspired piece of casting—the kindly Christian gentleman who always begins by being the victim but who invariably emerges as the victor.
The lengthy cast reads like a Who's Who of the British Theatre. Names that must be mentioned are Nigel Patrick as Jingle, James Donald as Winkle, Alexander Gauge as Tupman and Donald Wolfit, magnificent as Sergeant Buzfuz.
High marks, too, to Harry Fowler for his Sam Weller, to Hermione Batldelcy as Mrs. Wardell, and the enormous supporting cast, which includes such names as Hermione Gingold, Sam Costa, George Rohey (as the elder Weller) and Joyce Grenfell.
MADE IN HEAVEN (Odeon, Marble Arch: Certificate U) Director: John Paddy Carstairs
PETULA CLARK (she's 20 tomorrow) gets her first grown-up role in the story of a young couple who enter for the Dunmow Flitch.
It all has the unreal glow that Technicolor spreads around its subjects, but it has its moments. Many of these are supplied by Sonja Ziemann as a young Hungarian who comes to help as a domestic in the Dunmow household and sets the male population of Great Dunmow by the ears until her Hungarian beau arrives to take her back to a farm just clear of the Iron Curtain.
David Tomlinson as Petula Clark's husband. Richard Wallis as the longsuffering curate. Athens Seyler as his boring sister, A. E. Matthews as grandpa, Charles Victor as father-inlaw and Sophie Stewart as mother-inlaw all help to keep the fun going in slightly jerky spurts.