LAST HOLIDAY (cm ski F.ssF.) Director : Henry Cass
IN an otherwise arid week, I was grateful to A.B.C. Picture Corporation for putting on a special running for me of J. B. Priestley's Last Holiday. Its cast alone was promising with Alec Guinness in the lead and names like Wilfred Hyde-White, Bernard Lee and Ernest Thesiger in support.
And the cast did not disappoint. What a wealth of good film actors we have in this country.
There are few male characters that an author can conjure up for which the casting director cannot find an interpreter. And Mr. Priestley has certainly let himself' go here, not despising the well-worn device of a fashionable hotel in which to assemble them.
Not only is the device of getting
the characters together familiar, but the central figure--George Bird-is one which always seems to fascinate writters, Guy de Maupassant and H. G. Wells, to mention but two. I mean the little, negative, lonely man who seems to have no life outside his work, a two-dimensional creature in whom it is hard to believe.
And I find it hard to believe in this George Bird, who, when he is told by a stupid doctor (he mixes him up ,with a man called Burden) that he has six weeks to live, says he hasn't a single relative or friend in the world.
We are asked to assume that he has led a colourless, uneventful life -and yet a few days after he leaves his job and goes to live in this exclusive hotel, we find him playing a pretty hand of poker (?) against tried veterans-and winning.
Now, you can't be a good card player and at the same time lead a
lonely life. All the time through this film you are being pulled up by discrepancies in Bird's character.
He is, of course, one of Priestley's
good pagans. The material world immediately surrounding him is the compass of his mind. He wants to spend these last days of his life in comfort even luxury. He is emotionally knocked to the ropes on meeting the young gold-digging wife of a currency racketeer-and pays the hotel bill of herself and her worthless husband.
Because he is so poorly endowed with imagination, this little man never quite rouses the sympathy he should.
Only in his scenes with the kindly housekeeper (beautifully played by Kay Walsh) does he come to life. She guesses there is something wrong-and later he tells her. And it is to her that he comes, wild with joy, when he learns that the diagnosis was a mistake.
Here Mr. Priestley uses a gloriously audacious coincidence. bringing the discoverer of the obscure diseage to the hotel as a guest. who gives one cursory glance at the young man, without so much as pulling down an eyelid-and declares him in bounding health.
What the film never does for an instant is to bore. Such a rich collection of types as you find here. obvious though they may be, keep the interest, if not boiling, then simmering nicely. Alec Guinness himself as Bird, turns in a perfectly tailored performance. Muriel George, the cake-guzzling, illiterate widow of a rich knight and Esme Cannon, her brow-beaten companion may not be new creations-but they fascinate all the same.
A rewarding bit of character drawing comes from Sidney James as a Cockney who has made good out of races, fish and chips, and holiday camps. Wilfred Hyde-White as an inventor. Hal Osmond (who rings the bell in two very brief scenes as a trade union leader), Coco Asian as the hotel manager are all excellent.
Incidentally. the doctor turns out to be poor Bird's murderer by proxy in the end. And I don't think that's letting the cat out of the bag for you will probably guess-as I didwhat was going to happen as soon as I heard him borrow the rich Cockney's Rolls Royce.
AMBUSH (EmPlae) Director : Sam Wood This is very much the mixture as before except that I welcome the increasing discrimination that is being used in the more recent Westerns. of which this is one, in the use of
music. Now, instead of a superorchestra, over-amplified, accompanying the galloping of horses, we get the dry metallic ring of hoof on stone and it does wonders for atmosphere.
The terrain is, to quote the synopsis the " sun-scorched, Indianraided Arizona " and although this time there is no yellow ribbon worn in the hair of the heroine to distract the work of the U.S. Cavalry, there are women around iust the same,
Robert Taylor first appears behind one of the most obliterating beards ever, and it needs no second sight to prophesy that a very few reels further on he will be sitting in a barber's chair, and that the famous Taylor profile will emerge.
'John Hodiak, strong and inscrutable as usual. is there to make things difficult for Tayloreven though he obligingly gets himself liquidated in a horrible life for a life encounter with the apaches.
WABASH AVENUE (LEICESTER SQUARE THEATRE)
Director: Henry Joster
Betty Grahle. Torso, torso all the way. Victor Mature and Phil Harris in a double crossing act; a fake wake with a wax dummy and pouring whiskey down a dypsomaniac's throat to "put him out." Not the film for the family.