As the month comes to a close it’s time for the Mad Movie Challenge when Kristina from Speakeasy assigns me a film I’ve yet to see and I in turn do the same for what I hope to be her viewing pleasure. This month she’s done me a great service by handing me a wonderful film to finally catch up on starring some masterful performers in front of David Lean’s camera.
Charles Laughton gets top billing here as the title character who is a widowed boot shop owner with three daughters. He’s uncouth, a drunken sought and isn’t exactly the fatherly type to his trio of marrying age daughters. He treats them more as slave labor than he does family. Especially the eldest daughter Maggie wonderfully played by Brenda de Banzie who at 30 years of age is destined to be a spinster as far as Laughton is concerned and forever be there to look after him.
The two younger daughters don’t pose any trouble to the status quo, but when Laughton cruelly points out to Banzie she’s forever to be single, she almost picks it up as a challenge to better herself and sets her sights on first a man, secondly a successful business as a way out from her dreary days. That man happens to be the best maker of boots and shoes in the city, John Mills. Mills is like a hermit who works for Laughton beneath the floor boards of the shop. “You’re my man.” Benzie proudly claims as she sets about turning a marriage into a business arrangement.
She’s a spirited free thinker in a man’s age.
These early scenes with Benzie and Mills are pure delight. First she must rid him of the girl he is assumed to be marrying sometime in the future and secondly convince him that he has a future and she’s the one to spend it with. With his handicraft and her business skills, they are bound to be a success in both marriage and business. Mills may be rather slow but he knows he’s on to a good thing. “It’s like a happy dream.”
When Laughton’s anger at this sudden development turns to violence, Benzie rebels and Mills gets the courage to go through with the marriage and open a shop to compete against Laughton’s. When news hits the market place that the master boot maker who crafted footwear for Laughton’s shop is now on his own, Laughton’s high end customers flock to the new shop run by his own daughter and her new husband.
I have to point out that this is all done with a decidedly comic slant that easily makes this one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen this year. Laughton’s drinking will escalate to the point of arrest and it’s his exiled daughter who will seize the opportunity to make things right between Laughton, his daughters and his new son-in-law. Laughton is splendid as usual here and the playfulness of Lean’s angled direction combined with Laughton’s performance make this a winner.
John Mills proves once again how versatile he can be. At first he’s nothing more than an uneducated, meek shoemaker without any dreams or drive. Once giving himself over to Benzie, she opens up his eyes to education and the power he can wield thanks to his talented handiwork. One can’t help but get caught up in the romance between these two unlikely people and wholeheartedly root for them to succeed in life and love. While Mills delivery here is more than worthy of a supporting Oscar nomination, he would finally claim the Award itself in 1970 for Ryan’s Daughter. Once again working for director David Lean.
Leading lady Miss de Benzie delivers an Oscar worthy performance as the aging woman past the acceptable marrying age. She was nominated for the British Awards at the time and rightly so. The film itself won the British Award for Best Film of the Year. It’s a whimsical tale that is not just playful but endearing and one I am quite sure I’ll be enjoying again as it’s worth repeated viewings.
A special thanks to Kristina for steering me to this charming film from a group of talented masters.
Now as is the custom during the Mad Movie Challenge, you have to head over to Speakeasy and check out the film I’ve “gifted” to Kristina this month. I have a feeling she’ll be thanking me for steering her to a film starring one of her all time faves that for some reason she hadn’t gotten around to watching. It’s a western featuring the likes of Jack Elam, George Tobias and Dean Jagger playing support to a couple of star players of the studio system.