The Fabulous Forties #24: Passport to Pimlico (dir by Henry Cornelius)


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The 24th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was the 1949 British comedy, Passport to Pimlico!  Even though Passport to Pimlico is very much a British film (for instance, I had to use Wikipedia to discover the Pimlico is a neighborhood in London) and definitely a product of its time, it’s still a film that felt very relevant to some of the things that all of us in America are dealing with today.  If nothing else, Passport to Pimlico is definitely more memorable than Freckles Comes Home.

Passport to Pimlico opens in London.  World War II may be over but the city is still in the process of rebuilding.  War-time rationing is still in effect and all the residents of Pimlico regularly have to deal with the endless red tape of bureaucracy.  As well, there’s still unexploded German bombs littered around the neighborhood.  When a group of local children accidentally blow one of those bombs up, it leads to the discovery of a previously hidden cellar.  Inside the cellar is everything you could hope to find in a mysterious room: artwork, jewelry, and coins.  There’s also a parchment from the 15th Century, in which the king of England ceded the neighborhood to the final Duke of Burgundy.  Because no one knew that the charter existed, it has also never been revoked.  As a result, all of the citizens of Pimlico are actually citizens of dukedom of Burgundy.

That means two things: First off, the citizens are legally required to live under the laws of Burgundy, despite the fact that the dukedom no longer exists and those laws haven’t been changed since the 1400s.  Secondly, the neighborhood is no longer governed by the restrictive bureaucracy of postwar Britain.  In short, Pimlico — or Burgundy, as it is now called — is a free and independent state.

Soon, the nation of Burgundy is being overrun by greedy businessmen and enthusiastic shoppers.  The British respond by surrounding Burgundy with barbed wire and announcing that no one may cross the border.  The Burgundians react by demanding that anyone riding the underground through their country have a passport or run the risk being kicked off the train.

And things only escalate from there.  The British government is desperate to put Burgundy in its place while the citizens of Burgundy are determined to maintain their independence.  If Passport to Pimlico were made today, this is probably one of those situations that would either end in tragedy or with everyone learning not to question the whims of the government.  Fortunately, Passport to Pimlico was made in 1949 and, as a result, it is a genuinely warm-hearted comedy that celebrates both individual freedom and patriotism.

And really, it’s an enjoyable little film.  The cast is full of British character actors, all of whom deliver their dialogue with just the right amount of snark.  I enjoyed it and I have to admit that I related to it a bit.  As I look at America today and I think about what it’s going to be like in 2017 (regardless of who wins the presidential election because, let’s be honest, they all suck), there’s a part of me that would love a chance to get out of this country and be a Burgundian.

Seriously, come 2017, I’m seceding!

Until then, I guess I can just watch Passport to Pimlico.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: Gandhi (dir by Richard Attenborough)


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I just finished watching the 1982 best picture winner Gandhi on TCM.  This is going to be a tough movie to review.

Why?

Well, first off, there’s the subject matter.  Gandhi is an epic biopic of Mohandas Gandhi (played, very well, by Ben Kingsley).  It starts with Gandhi as a 23 year-old attorney in South Africa who, after getting tossed out of a first class train compartment because of the color of his skin, leads a non-violent protest for the rights of all Indians in South Africa.  He gets arrested several times and, at one point, is threatened by Daniel Day-Lewis, making his screen debut as a young racist.  However, eventually, Gandhi’s protest draws international attention and pressure.  South Africa finally changes the law to give Indians a few rights.

Gandhi then returns to his native India, where he leads a similar campaign of non-violence in support of the fight for India’s independence from the British Empire.  For every violent act on the part of the British, Gandhi responds with humility and nonviolence.  After World War II, India gains its independence and Gandhi becomes the leader of the nation.  When India threatens to collapse as a result of violence between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi fasts and announces that he will allow himself to starve to death unless the violence ends.  Gandhi brings peace to his country and is admired the world over.  And then, like almost all great leaders, he’s assassinated.

Gandhi tells the story of a great leader but that doesn’t necessarily make it a great movie.  In order to really examine Gandhi as a film, you have to be willing to accept that criticizing the movie is not the same as criticizing what (or who) the movie is about.

As I watched Gandhi, my main impression was that it was an extremely long movie.  Reportedly, Gandhi was a passion project for director Richard Attenborough.  An admirer of Gandhi’s and a lifelong equality activist, Attenborough spent over 20 years trying to raise the money to bring Gandhi’s life to the big screen.  Once he finally did, it appears that Attenbrough didn’t want to leave out a single detail.  Gandhi runs three and a half hours and, because certain scenes drag, it feels ever longer.

My other thought, as I watched Gandhi, was that it had to be one of the least cinematic films that I’ve ever seen.  Bless Attenborough for the nobility of his intentions but there’s not a single interesting visual to be found in the entire film.  I imagine that, even in 1982, Gandhi felt like a very old-fashioned movie.  In the end, it feels more like something you would see on PBS than in a theater.

The film is full of familiar faces, which works in some cases and doesn’t in others.  For instance, Gandhi’s British opponents are played by a virtual army of familiar character actors.  Every few minutes, someone like John Gielgud, Edward Fox, Trevor Howard, John Mills, or Nigel Hawthorne will pop up and wonder why Gandhi always has to be so troublesome.  The British character actors all do a pretty good job and contribute to the film without allowing their familiar faces to become a distraction.

But then, a few American actors show up.  Martin Sheen plays a reporter who interview Gandhi.  Candice Bergen shows up as a famous photographer.  And, unlike their British equivalents, neither Sheen nor Bergen really seem to fit into the film.  Both of them end up overacting.  (Sheen, in particular, delivers every line as if he’s scared that we’re going to forget that we’re watching a movie about an important figure in history.)  They both become distractions.

I guess the best thing that you can say about Gandhi, as a film, is that it features Ben Kingsley in the leading role.  He gives a wonderfully subtle performance as Gandhi, making him human even when the film insists on portraying him as a saint.  He won an Oscar for his performance in Gandhi and he deserved one.

As for Gandhi‘s award for best picture … well, let’s consider the films that it beat: E.T., Tootsie, The Verdict, and Missing.  And then, consider some of the films from 1982 that weren’t even nominated: Blade Runner, Burden of Dreams, Class of 1984, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, My Favorite Year, Poltergeist, Tenebrae, Vice Squad, Fanny and Alexander…

When you look at the competition, it’s clear that the Academy’s main motive in honoring Gandhi the film was to honor Gandhi the man.  In the end, Gandhi is a good example of a film that, good intentions aside, did not deserve its Oscar.