Fun in uniform
By FREDA BRUCE LOCKHART
RITISH films are haunted the figure of a volatile engineer by a nostalgia, not so much for war as for the greater British films created in the last war. I can only suppose that some such memory causes the general hankering of British films for service backgrounds. I know no explanation why this British tradition should associate the senior service with farce. NavaI farce is a cherished and recurrent tradition into which Kenneth More sallies gaily in We Joined the Navy ("U", Warner).
An ex-naval man himself, Mr. More gets evident amusement out of the kind of officer too bright for his seniors cornpiacency and therefore to be left long in any one job. Admirals, we are given to understand. suffer fools more gladly than they suffer being made to look foolish.
Posted from ship to ship, he becomes an instructor at Dartmouth only to be sent, with his three prize idiot cadets. to an American ship lying off the Riviera.
On board is everything and everybody needed for a romp in blue—or rather in white duck: American sailors, their Admiral (Lloyd Nolan), his Doberman Pinscher dog, a very engaging nurse (Joan O'Brien). This enjoyable nonsense is not far above the Doctor series (Doctor Sparrow indeed puts in a momentary guest Peep). But the director, Wendy Toye (who directed Mr. More in that happy family film "Raising a Riot") gives it a style that is light and gay rather than broad and hilarious.
A much grimmer set of adventures in uniform is A Prize of Arms ("A", Plaza Cinema). The lead iag figure, Turpin (Stanley Baker) is an ex-officer who got himself dishonourably discharged and now plans his perfect crime as an operation within an actual military operation. By its total concentration, this picture of planned robbery of an army payroll invites comparison with such classic thrillers as Rififi or Le Salaire du Pear.
Cliff Owen's direction has the meticulous, undeviating attention to objective detail that commands respect as well as attention. To me it falls short of the great suspense thriller it aspires to be for two reasons, First my inability to understand what was going on, to see why the obviously slightly arsonical companion Fenner (Tom Bell) was lighting systematic fires from a flame-thrower. Secondly. although the principal characters throw out faint hints, they are far too scantily developed to interest on their own. Stanley Baker in particular is an admirable actor who quietly conveys hints of human drama in his past. Tom Bell, too. easily creates
whose lack of self-control is always a risk.
About Swawek (Helmut Saimid) all we knew was that he had worked for the Polish wartime Resistance and all I irritably wondered was why British films invariably cast German actors to play Polish parts. although there arc so many Poles in this country. Academically this is a thoroughly good thriller, which failed to engage me.
AA LMOST the lowest form of cinematic life is the sprawling Biblical spectacular epic. More often than not the vast technical resources. thousands of dollars. extras. girls. acres of desert sand are squandered in terms as static as charades or lantern lectures. Worse still, respected Bible stories are butchered to make an international circus while their titles cloak a multitude of offences against any censors code. At least the title of Sodom and Gomorrah ("X" Odeon. Marble Arch) frankly proclaims a certain pre-occupation with sin.
Otherwise it is both characteristic and a fairly lively example of its kind, stressing that this is my least favourite kind of film.
When Lot (Stewart Granger, very venerable) reaches the court of Sodom, the most striking thing is its likeness to the world of today: life is one long orgy and the only principle is that what gives pleasure is good. Lol leads in his Hebrews carrying whitewooden pitch forks and similar agricultural implements which some in handy as weapons (Mr. Granger's pastoral crook does smashing work in a notably savage duel).
Most of the action is long and boring. hut certain really superior spectacular effects are scored: the ominous black-draped Sodomite armies trooping through the valley. unusually well managed crowds of horses and men charging. arrows shot in formation. Lot's wife (Pier Angeli) is duly turned to salt; tire and brimstone rain upon the wicked city. But the great surprise was to find at least one really exciting performance -Anouk Aimee. a marvellous villainess or Demon Queen. as the Queen of Sodom. And her princely brother, (Stanley Baker) is almost as formidable. and Stewart Granger really quite a creditable Lot.
Strictly a tourist attraction is Gigot ("U" Carlton). It is something of a miniature mobster. a movie about Paris made by Americans for Americans. with a cast speaking broken English. It is shamelessly sentimental, with an appealing little girl. dogs, a cat, and. for hero. a mute concierge played by Jackie Gleason with memories of Raimu and Charles Laughton. Not quite as bad as it sounds, there is pleasant photography of Paris and just room for Iwo fine French actres se s. Katherine Kerr as the child's mother. and Gabrielle Dorziag as his landlady.