FREDA BRUCE LOCKHART
STAGE plays do not readily make good movies. But there is, I suppose, a place in the cinema for relaying stage successes in a wider context. I did not see Enid Bagnold's play The Chalk Garden ("U", Leicester Square) during its West End run so I welcome the opportunity given by the film to see the performance of Edith Evans as a magnificent picturehatted English aristocratic grandmother, chalky in texture as the soil of her unyielding garden, Deborah Kerr as the enigmatic governess she engaged in a sixth desperate attempt to control her terrible infant of a grand-daughter Laurel (Hayley Mills), self-proclaimed pyromaniac, liar and heiress of a mother-hatred enduring unto the third generation, In a. sense this elegant garden piece isthe drawing-room and French-window equivalent of the now more customary kitchen sink and cobbled street drama of mixed up kids. Like most of them it is a fragment in the mosaic of the class war still grumbling round us.
So long as our entertainment has to consist of chapters of psychiatry on violence in the home, it is a pleasant change to have it set in an attractive house and a garden which looks deliciously green, albeit deceptively.
However aristocratic is the background, the actual household is eccentric through and through in the conventional English theatrical manner. The governess has an air of unsmiling mystery, concealing Miss Kerr's usual warmth, best summed up when she describes herself as "a person who has lost touch with unessentials".
Motherly daughterly affection skips a generation in the St. Maugham family and even the butler bailiff manservant (John Mills) has an interesting enough background to make the monstrous 'teenager say he has murdered his wife and children.
For an ultimate coup de thatre Grandma's old flame, Judge McWhiney, proves to have pronounced sentence on the governess in her Secret past.
Judging by comments I heard after the Press show, the film retains the original quality to please numbers of "Aunt Ednas".
Ronald Neame's direction and Carmen Dillon's set designs make a refreshing picture to look at. The acting is as high grade as the names guarantee with a small extra welcome for Elizabeth Sellars' unaccustomed sympathy as the mother.
But the script could have been spared some of the more theatrical dialogue. Whoever would say in real life: "You lie" instead of "You're lying", or, `It's a lie" and "when I return" instead of "when I come back".
But in its chosen convention of stately craziness, the film can give pleasure.
IF the cinema were never to create anything else it gave life to the Western. I have been argued with on this score by an early afficiortado of cowboy and Indian paperbacks. But it seems indisputable that it was the movies which gave form and speed to the thundering hooves style, to a new odyssey, to the mythology of the American pioneers.
Television seems to have squeezed the last drop of good red blood out of the Westerns. Ruthless rehashes from the film studios ragbag of old Western cuttings, re-slanting of emphasis from valiant clean living heroes to the murk of villainous violence had steeped the old romanticism in the slops from the kitchen sink. After that lovely elegaic tribute to a man and his horse called Lonely are the Brave, the Western seems to have written its own ern taph. Devotee as I was of Stagecoach, The Plainsman, Shane, and many more. I began to think I could not in honesty watch another example of this now debased form.
So it is a simple pleasure to welcome Raoul Walsh's A Distant Trumpet ("A") Warner. It comes as a clarion call from the distant past. Nobody, I think, would claim it as a great Western.
It is set in Fort Worth, is the story of the odious white's attempt, through a change of commander, to go back on his word to the Indians. Troy Donahue makes a quite promising heir in poker-faced manliness to the late Alan Ladd: James Gregory makes a stalwart character of the commanding officer. who is always quoting the classics and was himself a hero to the subalterns of Mr. Donahue's year at West Point. Suzanne Pleshelse makes a more than usually lively Western heroine of a rather ambiguous army wife.
Wheeling columns of horses are magnificently deployed across the bluffs and plains, the rugged escarpments of the Texan desert. Such splendour cannot lack for feathered braves, such a splendid background for their horses lined up for a charge.
The ingredients arc familiar and well-proven. What matters is that they are mixed by the neaster-hand of Raoul Walsh himself, maker of some of the earliest "wild Westerns".
HEN so efficient an actor as Laurence Harvey turns producer to direct a film of a hanging one supposes he has either an artistic ambition or a social, moral or political theme. Any film or play about a hanging is potentially anticapital punishment propaganda.
Perhaps it was my misunderstanding to expect something more coherent front The Ceremony ("A", closes today at Odeon. Kensington).
Set for no apparent reason in Tangier, the ' opening sequences have an appropriate sinister atmosphere in the prison where one brother awaits execution while another plans to engineer his escape by changing places with the priest, But it fizzles out in such a meaningless nonsense and unintentional laughter that it is difficult to gauge Mr. Harvey's purpose. Presumably, too, his preoccupations as producerdirector have distracted him from his usual good acting.
OPENING this Sunday at the Odeon. Kensington High Street, is a small film, Lilies of the Field ("U") to delight all Catholics and indeed all "men of goodwill".
Although it was an 0.C.I:C. award winner at Berlin Film Festival, ibis is one of those wholly unpretentious offbeat little pictures which sometimes score a big success.
The only star is a negro actor, Sidney Poitier. As a negro wandering round Arizona, he comes across five nuns from E. Germany. The nuns want to build a chapel, and the Baptist Homer Smith (Poiticr) takes it on and agrees to do it himself.
By the end the whole community is bringing contributions to dress the chapel. The simple story is made without mawkishness and the minor miracle makes a film which is exhilarating and joyous with scarcely a false note.