Friday, 5 March 2004

Never Before In the History of Motion Pictures

In these turbulent times there is a great deal of comfort to be obtained by watching British films of the forties and fifties on afternoon TV. You know that nothing much will change from one film to the next: the actors playing policemen will be those who always play policemen, and although there will be glimpses of, for example, Thora Hird as a fresh-faced young girl, Alastair Sim will look exactly as he always did. Even the occasional surprise (John Mills as a murderous Nazi, Cottage To Let, 1941) only heightens the general sense of reassuring predictability. American epics of the period had much the same qualities and here is a contemporary review by J Lindsay Kerr of one of them:

A Mr Sol Leventritt, distantly aided by the writers of the Book of Genesis, is responsible for the script of Noah of Ararat. Naturally there is a cast of thousands of animals, but some impressive specimens of homo sapiens, arrayed in togas and nightdresses left over from Quo Vadis, have been provided to help them along.
Noah (Finlay Currie) never amounts to much, pottering about the ark with a bag of nails and an expression of Biblical gloom. But the poor fellow is having trouble with his step-daughter (Deborah Kerr) who prefers strolling on the boatdeck with shipmate Ham (Robert Taylor) to doing the chores for poppa. “Mind the whale,” says Mr Taylor, “remember cousin Jonah.” No wonder Miss Kerr looks startled.
The film is enlivened by the unexpected appearance of Miss Eartha Kitt as the wife of Shem, whose singing of Forty Days – And Forty Nights invests those simple words with a meaning never intended by Genesis 7:17.
Three hours of vulgar, extravagant boredom come to an end when Mr Taylor and his dewy-eyed love finally become man and wife, thanks to the arrival on the scene, several thousand years ahead of schedule, of the prophet Isaiah.

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