Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lost Island of VHS...X

The Stars Look Down - Carol Reed - 1940

When 'The Stars Look Down' came out in 1940 the British critics [as a whole] voted it the greatest British film ever made, Pauline Kael has called it Carol Reed's best film and Parker Tyler placed it as one of the 75 best foreign films ever made in his 1962 book 'Classics of The Foreign Film'.

So how does a film with such praise not even make Time Out's recent list of 'best British films'? Well, of course, it is partly because Reed went on to make a trio of terrific films that overshadowed this one and cemented his place in film history; Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. But it shows you how much time's change too.

History shows that it received a lukewarm reception for political reasons. You see, although Reed made a film [based on a novel by A. J. Cronin] that argues against the private ownership of mines and calls for the rights of the miners it also lays blame at the feet of both mine owners [who are presented as criminally greedy] and unions [who turn a blind eye to the dangers of the mine].

Michael Redgrave plays David an intelligent and conscientious young man who aspires to leave the small Welsh community where his family have lived and worked for generations. While away at a university he falls in love with an uncaring woman [Margaret Lockwood] who uses him to get back at another fellow she loves - who is an old friend of David's but who now happens to be in business with the corrupt mine owners. David leaves the school but finds much dissatisfaction in the unhappy marriage. When Redgrave learns that the owners are considering re-opening a particularly dangerous underground seam he speaks up as eloquently as he can to prevent it from happening. But no one will listen. His wife also leaves him telling him he needs to put all this mine business behind him.

The film pretty much stacks the deck against David [and the poor miners] and I have to admit I found the film a bit heavy-handed at times. But the film successfully fits into the category of realism and completely eschews Hollywood formula at every turn.

The film is not on DVD [in the US] and VHS is tough to find. I found a copy on VHS that someone had made [and was renting] from a PAL copy.

- A little history of the film here.

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