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Brian McFarlane

Leslie Arliss 1 There is a tendency among critics when writing about Leslie Arliss’s three big commercial hits for Gainsborough Studios to attribute their success to the studio and thus to undermine the director’s contribution, at least by implication. Whatever critics had to say about these films at the time of their release – and these writers were often scathing – nothing could deny their popular success, and, without invoking auteurist claims, a case must be made for Arliss as director and screenwriter on all three as at least a key collaborator in this

in Four from the forties
Author: Brian McFarlane

The 1940s represent a high point in the history of British film, characterised by the works of such recognised greats as David Lean and Michael Powell. But alongside this ‘quality cinema’ there exists a body of popular productions by film-makers who have not yet been the objects of detailed scholarly attention. Four from the forties addresses this oversight, drawing attention to four directors whose career trajectories had a good deal in common and can tell us much about what British film-goers expected from the cinema in this crucial decade. Leslie Arliss, Arthur Crabtree, Bernard Knowles and Lawrence Huntington were all born at the turn of the century. All had been active in a range of film-making functions in the 1930s, and all would do their most proficient and popular work in the 1940s, thereafter prolonging their careers into the 1960s through ‘B’ movies, co-features and television. Taken together, they offer a commentary on the changing fortunes of mid-century British cinema.

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Where to, now?
Brian Mcfarlane

dominated by the likes of those sketched above, a number of directors who had made some mark in the 1940s were to find difficulties in conducting careers at the same level in the succeeding decades. Among those who, like Comfort, had made their names and their most attractive films in the melodramatic mode were Leslie Arliss, Bernard Knowles, Arthur Crabtree and Lawrence Huntington. Arliss and Huntington had worked as

in Lance Comfort
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Brian McFarlane

concerns. The purpose of the present book is to draw attention to four directors whose career trajectories had a good deal in common and can tell us much about what British filmgoers were flocking to see in this crucial decade when they were at their most prolific. They are Leslie Arliss, Arthur Crabtree, Bernard Knowles and Lawrence Huntington. All were born at the turn of the century (Arliss in 1901, the other three in 1900); all had been active in a range of film-making functions in the 1930s; and each would do his most proficient and popular work in the 1940s. After

in Four from the forties
Brian Mcfarlane

, Leslie Arliss, Lawrence Huntington or Bernard Knowles. To refer briefly to Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of the ‘field of cultural production’ 2 may suggest ways in which Comfort’s predilections as individual artist, and British cinema (embracing production, exhibition, audience reception and critical discourse) as the site of his activity, helped to shape a career lasting four decades, two-and-a-half of these as a director. What

in Lance Comfort
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‘You’ve gotta laugh’
Tony Whitehead

it, ‘No film is more of a melodrama than Brief Encounter. Yet the film itself asks not to be treated as melodrama but as realism’.16 A reading which acknowledges this duality sensibly takes into account the improbability of Noël Coward, a gay man writing in the 1940s, creating a story of forbidden love which is quite so bereft of passion as has routinely been claimed. It also allows for more common ground with the near-simultaneous The Wicked Lady Whitehead_01_Chps.indd 5 29/3/07 15:53:03 6 mike leigh (Leslie Arliss, 1945), often supposed to represent the

in Mike Leigh
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Six melodramas
Brian Mcfarlane

, 1943 to 1946 – the British public rewarded indigenous film melodrama with its patronage as it flocked to the Gainsborough series launched by The Man in Grey (1943, directed by Leslie Arliss). These films were derided by the quality critics as fit only – to invoke the class and sex bias of the critical diction -for the delectation of housemaids. It is as though they had been unduly influenced by the sententious distinctions of

in Lance Comfort
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The treatment of the young offender
Philip Gillett

action safely in the past or within a comedy. Both apply in the case of Cardboard Cavalier (d. Walter Forde, 1949). The solution adopted in Waterloo Road (d. Sidney Gilliat, 1945) is to frame the action by using a middle-class narrator. Another tactic is to make the dissident an upper-class character, which is somehow more acceptable. The Wicked Lady (d. Leslie Arliss, 1945) adopts this approach – and sets the action in

in The British working class in postwar film
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Approaching British rural landscapes on film
Paul Newland

process). But other films of the war period more obviously invite a range of contradictory readings. For example, Went the Day Well? (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942) is a complicated film at the level of its depiction of rural landscape. Sue Harper argues that in this film ‘there is a powerful desire to validate the village life and landscape’.70 In Chapter 3, Tom Ryall also notices a ‘darker’ sense of the rural in this film. The famous Gainsborough melodrama The Wicked Lady (Leslie Arliss, 1945), set on a rural estate and shot partly on location at Blickling Hall, Norfolk

in British rural landscapes on film
Tom Ryall

Gainsborough’s 1943 production – The Man in Grey – a costume melodrama albeit with a framing sequence set in the wartime present. The film was a box-office success and it inaugurated a short cycle of melodramas some costume, some in contemporary settings, but all with similar female-orientated themes. The titles included Madonna of the Seven Moons (Arthur Crabtree, 1944), Love Story (Leslie Arliss, 1944), The Wicked Lady (Leslie Arliss, 1945), and They Were Sisters (Arthur Crabtree, 1945), and the films featured an array of new British stars including Phyllis Calvert

in Anthony Asquith