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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Passing through Pimlico

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


6 June

* Contains a wealth of spoilers *

Although I cannot think of a time (perhaps six months?) when I did not know the title of Passport to Pimlico (1949), and convince myself that it must have been on t.v. in my youth (although I was expecting Peter Sellers to be in the cast-list, because I was also thinking of I'm All Right, Jack (1959)), a screening yesterday convinces me that I did not really know the film at all. (And I had little conception of where Pimlico was until 30 years ago and an initiation to what, before it became Tate Britian, was The Tate Gallery.)

Not, at any rate, beyond the basic tenet - implied by the title - that Pimlico (actually, just a small part of it) becomes a separate domain. What follows is informed both by seeing it (again?), and by a review at New Empress Magazine, the work of one Ben Sheppard.

As you might have gathered from reading Ben’s review (if you have done so), Passport is not the best of the so-called Ealing comedies, and it is a little patchy: it would be interesting to research into how it was edited into its circulated form, whether Pimlico was merely chosen for euphony (and, in any case, what the name derives from, which has to be more plausible than the alleged origins of Elephant and Castle!), and how the idea was first hit upon. Maybe some day…

Essentially, the scope of the film episodically, dictated by the to and fro between the residents, the British Cabinet Ministers, and all those, such as the spivs, who would exploit the situation, divides into (in no particular order) the actions of :

* The bullish, even belligerent*, Arthur Pemberton (Stanley Holloway), fronting and furthering this series of stand-offs and stalemates between HM Government and the occupants of what appears to be part of Burgundy

* His daughter Connie (Betty Warren) as a siren, initially yielding to the fishmonger, but finding herself preferring the attentions of the Duke of Burgundy (Paul Dupuis)

* Margaret Rutherford, who, with convincingly scatty eccentricity as Professor Hatton-Jones, propounds the territorial claim, and then, at a key moment, approves the rather unlikely Duke's credentials

* The fishmonger's female employee, whose attentions he has overlooked in favour of buttering up Connie, and who (by leaving the tap on before the water-supply, which has been cut off, comes back on floods the pub basement) loses Pimlico its stockpile of provisions

* The character of Edie Randall (Hermione Baddeley) as a lady of lingerie

* The bank manager, Mr Wix (Raymond Huntley), as the Nick Leeson of his time, and, with Pemberton, part of the brains behind the outfit (although not often in agreement about the tactics)


Much is good value, with a sense of exhilaration when, for example, the Pimlico crew halt and board an Underground train that they have climbed down to intercept passing beneath their territory, or when the local constable (Philip Stainton) creeps out and reinstates the water, whilst Connie and others lure the attention of guards on the barbed-wire boundaries.

As Ben rightly says, the Berlin air-lift, which began midway before the year of release (and ended almost 11 months later), must have been a major source for the idea, and there is quite an uneasy feeling to the comedy in places, when, for all the tricks that the Burgundians try (the blockade is busted by air-drops, including a pig on a parachute), the aim of Whitehall is wilfully to starve them into submission.

By contrast with a better Ealing film from the same year, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), where the idea of a man taking revenge on and systematically murdering his mother's snobbish relatives (who had either cut her off when she married for love, or stood by when it happened) is deliciously wicked and cleverly executed, this tense and awkward feeling means that one cannot really enjoy the stand-off in Passport to Pimlico and how the game plays out, because it is just that little bit too close to home to seem like sheer fun.



End-notes

* Or, in its genuine meaning, ‘feisty’.





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