Grace Conway on Films
THE PLANTER'S WIFE .11 (Leicester Square Theatre : Certificate A) Director: Ken Annakin "BELIEVE it or not," says Jim Fraser, rubber planter, "he marched LP beside us in the Victory Parade."
That short sentence goes quite a long way to sum up the topsyturvy situation that has developed in Malaya since the war. For the very bandits who are ambushing and killing there now were trained by the British to fight the Japanese. All the tricks our men know. they know too. The memory of the Victory Parade may have faded but the technique of modern jungle warfare has not.
And so the poor planter who as likely as not spent the war in a Japanese concentration camp — or, worse, working on the "death" railway—found only a brief respite from war. Now the barbed wire has again been erected round him — this time voluntarily, to keep his former allies from blowing him to pieces with grenades or riddling him with machine-gun bullets.
We've been reading about this new war for a long time in the papers. "The Planter's Wife" suddenly makes the whole thing come to life. Taken from an original story by Peter Proud and Guy Elmes (they also wrote the screen-play). it has both urgency and impact, with the sense of danger never far away.
Jim Fraser (Jack Hawkins) is on the eve of sending his wife (Claudette Colbert) and small son (Peter Asher) hack to England. The strain of the past months has told on them both. and nerves are taut. He is determined to get her away from the growing peril; she thinks he is tired of her and that their marriage is breaking up.
That is all there is of plot. But it's enough on which to build the bigger story of what is happening in Malaya even at this moment—the drive along the dangerous jungle road in a car that can. at the pressure of a knob, be transformed into an armoured vehicle with only slits for eyeholes: the frightened Malayan men and women who. under threat of death by the bandits. steal out to leave them food; the sudden raid by the military and the summary search for enemy supplies; even the children bulge in unaccustomed places.
No orchestra, consciously at any rate. cuts into the jungle stillness, full enough of its own sinister music —screaming bird and crashing elephant and slithering snake.
NO HAPPY END
But it is indoors that the big snake episode takes place when Mike (the young son) goes into the bathroom and very soon he is shinning up the water-pipes out of the way of a deadly serpent that rears and hisses. It is killed in terrific combat by a mongoose. I have never seen anything more deadly — much worse, even, than a bandit firing from a tree-top.
There can be no neat tying up of ends, no happy finale. in a film like "The Planter's Wife," for the tale that it tells is of the immediate present; probably at this very moment situations like those recorded here are occurring. The jungle twigs still crackle under the stealthy tread of a marauding bandit.
Nor is such an ending attempted here. After a night of terror — in which the planter's bungalow is transformed into a fortress, or at least a stockade— the domestic weather has cleared. and Mike goes hack to England without his mother. That's all. Claudette Colbert came over from Hollywood to play the part of Liz Fraser. and her work is as smooth and efficient as ever. Forsaking glamour, she really does manage to look tired and worn after a night at the Bren-gun. but, as always, sartorially perfect.
Jack Hawkins. worried and preoccupied, Anthony Steel as an officer, Ram Copal giving a moving performance as a Malayan assistant, Jeremy Spenser as a Malayan boy, and seven-year-old Peter Asher carry the brunt of the action between them.
My only criticism is a certain roughness in cutting; Mr. Annakin seems to like to switch his scenes a trifle suddenly. But on the whole we carobe grateful for an absorbing and enlightening picture.
SUDDEN FEAR (Carlton: Certificate A) Director: David Miller
HOW complicated can a thriller plot get? You find the answer here, for never was so tortuous a road trodden by a murderer-elect and his would-be victim as that which Jack Palance and Joan Crawford tread here.
If there is a moral to the tale it is "Never sack your leading man." Joan Crawford as a rich playwright does just that. later marries him and finds he is going to kill her for her money.
The Jack Palance type you may have seen in gangster films, talking out of the side of his mouth, with an ominously bulging coat pocket. So Mr. Palance fits well enough into the part he plays now. So does little Gloria Grahame as his partner in crime; she looks wicked enough for anything.
If Mr. Willer had not strained our credulity at times this would have been a better picture. As it is, it's just highly polished, concentrated. and never dull melodrama.
LOVELY TO LOOK AT (Empire: Certificate U) Director: Mervyn LeRoy THE degree to which you will find this "I echnicolor musical enjoyable will depend on whether or not you saw "Roberta," of which this is a new edition.
"Roberta" had Ginger Rogers (in her heyday), Fred Astaire and Irene Dunne to sing the tuneful Jerome Kerns songs. It was one of the most attractive musicals of all time.
The new version is full of loud personalities, feverish colour. hectic ballets and a mammoth mannequin parade. Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton and Howard Keel—the big names in the cast—are not likely to be remembered for their work in it.