ONE of the more hopeful film developments of recent years is the increasing tendency of actors to enter the creative side of movies, and to produce or direct their own, not only for tax purposes.
A fairly film-free week gives an opportunity to concentrate on a minor work by Memorial Films, the strangely named, company founded in partnership by Michael Medwin and Albert Finney.
Finney's own picture, Charlie Bubbles, has of course already enjoyed a considerable prestige success, while the young company's record is distinguished by Lindsay Anderson's If and by Spring and Port Wine, starring James Mason. A new Albert Finney film, The Gumshoe Man, has just begun production.
Memorial's latest novelty to reach the screen goes out on
release with All the Way Up ("AA" general release), Alf Garnett's (Warren Mitchell) second broad comedy film, following up his television popularity. They are odd bedfellows in a programme, but at least the partnership seems likely to ensure a mass audience for The Engagement ("U", general release), which even the presence of David Warner as the hero might not otherwise have guaranteed.
Besides the presence of one of the most fascinating of young British actors, the great interest of -"The Engagement", the glimmer of hope it discovers or rather rediscovers, for it is as old as the cinema — is its
length, or rather its shortness.
"The Engagement," directed by Paul Joyce for a company of stars and featuring one who could almost be called a young "super-star," runs for only 45 minutes. Mr. Joyce tells me that when John Boorman (director of The Bofors Gun and Leo the Last) saw "The Engagement" he commented: "All films should be that length." 1 half agree.
A dogma of the trade is that there is no programme place for pictures of this length. Discerning enthusiasts have long argued that a main feature, perhaps a cartoon (remember the creative Disney) and a 30 minute to 50-minute "short" would make a much better balanced entertainment than a "double feature" consisting of two solid features each perhaps two and a half hours long.
I hoped "The Engagement" heralded a new policy of similar "midi-shorts". But Mr. Joyce tells me his film came about by happy chance. Made originally for American television, it had the money to spend on more professional polish and quality than most shoe-string English shorts can afford.
He stressed the vicious circle whereby once the film is made, a place may be found for it; but the money can't be found to make it until the place is assured in advance.
Mr. Joyce has had two strokes of luck. In his early twenties, he made a 16mm movie of a Samuel Becket play, Act with Figures II, which launched him on further experience making professional publicity pictures.
"The Engagement" is a highly professional job. It is a genuine short story film written by Tom Stoppard (author of Rosenkranz and Guildenstern), almost an anecdote. Dominic Boot (David Warner) is a bit of a misfit dciing a sinecure job in his late father's business. In a bowler-hatted, city, about-tobe computerised job, Dominic is a nice, ineffectual sort of chap my mother would have called "fusionless".
The announcement of his engagement to beautiful Vivian (Juliet Harmer) is enough to expose in a lunch hour his inability to cope. Vivian chooses too expensive an engagement ring, he has to hold back on the lunch; and when she leaves him in a taxi he is down to his last fi vepence.
The taxi takes him to each of his banks to cash a cheque, but all in vain. His mother (Barbara Coupes) pays her share for a lift but is also deaf to his plight.
The rest of the picture he spends almost as closely bound to the taximan as Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy until, stripped of finance and fiancée. Dominic is revealed as totally dependent on the taximan who leaves him (as I must admit Paul Joyce pointed out to me) nothing more to lose but his soul — or of course gain. This is an extremely neat screenplay. beautifully directed and played, with the self-contained accomplishment of a good short story and the accompaniment of John Dankworth's music. Although the hero's harassment is almost too painfully close to modern life as in The Out-of -Towners) to be really funny, the character is just right for David Warner's appealing non-conformity.
The Central Office of Information film unit has a more than usually relevant and useful function to perform in preparing us all for so-called decimalisation next February. Its quite ingenious little textmovie, Granny Sees the Point was previewed at the National Film Theatre and will no doubt be bobbing up (no pun intended) on many screens before "D-Day."
The film is as helpful as possible in getting a nice little boy to teach his grandmother how to buy eggs in new pence. In fact the Government's film unit strikes me as having done all it could to make simple what the Government's decimal currency board has made so crassly complicated.
Having always found decimal currency perfectly logical in Europe and the Americas, I don't believe you need be a grandmother to think it might all have been done more logically here — say with a ten shilling unit instead of clinging to our unwieldy antique coinage.
Who but the British having so recently rid themselves of the halfpenny would adopt a new halfpenny, worth 1.2 of an old penny and looking like a farthing?