Passport to Pimlico

Year: 1949

Director: Henry Cornelius

Stars: Stanley Holloway, Margaret Rutherford, Paul Dupuis, Betty Warren, Barbara Murray, Charles Hawtrey

The plot – as if I need to remind anyone – begins with the unplanned detonation of a WW2 bomb. The explosion uncovers a whole heap of treasure, along with documents that prove that the area around a few streets in Pimlico is actually sovereign territory of Burgundy, after it was ceded to the then Duke by King Edward IV.

The locals realise they are rich, and also no longer subject to rationing, licensing laws, and other restrictions. However, the area quickly becomes a beacon for spivs and black marketeers, and to stop this, the British close the border.

Solving the problem of what to do with the locals becomes harder, as the representatives of the various Government officials and the new Burgundians become intransigent. The arrival of the current Duke of Burgundy just adds to the locals’ sense of freedom and privilege.

Cue water and food shortages, and tube trains being stopped at the border. Something needs to be done…

There’s a charm and an innocence about this endearing comedy, with some very funny moments, and some sparkling dialogue, such as when the local copper declares “Blimey! I’m a foreigner!”

Literally strewn with images of post-war London in the process of rebuilding, there is a timeless value as a history piece here. It’s a reminder of the boundless (and sometimes mindless) optimism that carried Britons through the early post-war years and through some very hard times. Most of all, though, it’s hilarious.

One of Ealing’s finest.

The Ghosts Of Berkeley Square

Year: 1947

Director: Vernon Sewell

Stars: Robert Morley and Felix Aylmer.

Two army officers, desperate to prevent the war they see as inevitable, plan to kidnap the Duke of Marlborough and hold him ransom until the threat passes. Unfortunately, whilst testing the trap they set, they manage to kill themselves in a very stupid, Darwin Awards manner. As celestial punishment for their idiocy, they are condemned to haunt their house in Berkeley Square until such time as a British monarch crosses the threshold.

The film traces the story of the two ghosts as they try to prevent undesirable tenants, fall out with each other (causing a rift that leads them not to talk for 66 years) and, reconciled at last, contrive to orchestrate the royal visit so that they can at last ascend to the afterlife. But tenant after tenant somehow slip through their schemes.

The story is a good one, and the leads are OK (especially Morley) but the real worthiness in this film is the different segments, as we travel through nearly 200 years of history and see the way different tenants turn the old house into a bordello, a circus freak-house, and a WW1 hospital. Each age brings its own story and characters to life, as if we’re seeing the home redecorated in current style, whilst in the corner, there’s an ever present piece of furniture in the two spectres.

Verdict: a good old-fashioned movie for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Year: 1949
Director: Robert Hamer
Stars: Dennis Price, Valerie Hobson, Joan Greenwood, Alec Guinness, John Penrose, Audrey Fildes, Miles Malleson, Clive Morton, Cecil Ramage

Louis Mazzini is shunned by his family, the rich, landed, and influential D’Ascoyne family, as a result of his mother’s marriage to a poor, foreign commoner. Growing up without the trappings of wealth and privilege, the death of his mother makes Louis determined to inherit the family title – even if he has to murder his entire family in the process.

Dennis Price plays Louis Mazzini superbly in this darkest of black comedies. He’s very straight-laced, english-gentleman, stiff-upper-lip in all of his murderous dealings. And although this movie is best remembered for the performances of Alec Guinness as the eight members of the D’Ascoyne family between Louis and the title of 10th Duke of Chalfont, it’s really Dennis Price that steals the show every time.

Delivered as Louis writes his memoirs whilst waiting for his 8am appointment with the hangman, we see the life of this proud, down-trodden man as he struggles to claw his way to the top over the lives, and deaths, of those around him. People like his childhood sweetheart Sibella (Joan Greenwood) who I couldn’t help but think of Fenella Fielding in Carry On Screaming when she spoke. People like his boyhood ‘friend’ Lionel (John Penrose) who goes and marries Sibella. This focuses Louis’s mind on the task at hand – the systematic removal of his his relatives and the taking of his rightful place as Duke of Chalfont.

But we also know that he’s writing from prison, and is due to be executed – so where does his plan come unstuck?