When I watched Whisky Galore! last week I commented on the way that Ealing comedies pit small groups of determined individuals against corrupt or small-minded or bureaucratic opposition and see them come out on top without resorting to foul play. Here the residents of a small village want to buy up and save a small railway branch line and are up against stuffy Whitehall officials, pernickity lawyers, corrupt business men and paid-off saboteurs but by pitching together, showing ingenuity and good old British pluck they win out against all the odds.
It’s nonsense obviously, but good-hearted and entertaining and morally-sound nonsense. I mentioned the word British earlier and this is a typically British kind of film. The film is packed with British stereotypes- the scoundrel poacher, the fussy old maid, the drunken Lord of the Manor, the police sergeant who isn’t afraid to turn a blind eye, the eccentric vicar and so on- and a kind of gentle, pastoral humour which appeals more now, perhaps, with the added lustre of nostalgia. At a Town Hall meeting to decide the fate of the branch line, a heartfelt appeal is made:
“Don’t you realise you are condemning our village to death? Open it up to buses and lorries and what’s it going to be like in five years time? Our lanes will be concrete roads, our houses will have numbers instead of names, there will be traffic lights and Zebra crossings … [the railway] means everything to our village.”
It sums the film up beautifully. The locals know best that progress will be the ruination of their idyllic lifestyle and they pull together (or, indeed, push together) to do the right thing.
The film is technically well-made without being spectacular- filmed in colour (the only other colour Ealing I can think of is The Ladykillers) it looks wonderful and has a delightful attention to detail in the witty sight-gags throughout: the Fragile parcel tossed carelessly from the train; the Transport Minister arriving on a folding motorcycle, the antique train smashing through a ‘Guinness For Strength’ poster, a cowboy film showing in one room of a bar reflects the railway saboteurs plotting in the other bar.
Hugh Griffith and Stanley Holloway battle it out for the standout performance and it’s just about honours even- they’re both smashing and make the most of the film’s best lines. The direction is tight- the whole thing wraps in about 80 minutes- making the most of the charming script, resulting in a delightful gem of a film. 7/10