Saturday, October 3, 2009

So Long at the Fair (1950)

So Long at the Fair is the kind of mystery thriller that the British film industry did so well in the 40s and 50s. A young woman (Vicki) and her brother John arrive in Paris for the Great Exposition of 1889. The book into their hotel, the sister taking taking Room 17 and the brother taking Room 19. In the morning there’s no sign of the brother. Even more worryingly, there’s no sign of Room 19 either! No member of the hotel staff will admit to having seen Vicki with her brother the previous day. His name is not on the register. And the staff insist that there never was a Room 19, it was only ever a bathroom. They suggest that perhaps she has been undue strain, and should return to England immediately to consult her doctor.

The British Consul is sympathetic, but unless she can provide some evidence there is little he can do. All her attempts to find some proof are of no avail until she happens to run into a rather pleasant young man named George Hathaway who borrowed 100 francs from her brother the night before. And yes, he most certainly remembers her brother. Being an amiable if slightly eccentric young chap (he’s an artist, much to the disapproval of his family) and being somewhat bored and having a taste for adventure he agrees to help Vicki solve this puzzle.

This was one of Terence Fisher’s early efforts as a director (he’s actually credited as co-director along with Antony Darnborough). Fisher of course went on to considerable fame as a director of horror movies for Hammer Studios, but he started out making movies in the mystery and film noir genres, and he made some very fine films of this type (Stolen Face being particularly good). So Long at the Fair has one of Fisher’s classic trademarks as a director - it doesn’t waste any time, it gets on with the plot and the pacing never drags. It also benefits from a very strong cast, with Jean Simmons as Vicki and Dirk Bogarde as George Hathaway being entertaining and very likeable leads. David Tomlinson plays Vicki’s brother; he was fated always to play such secondary roles, but he always played them well. There’s a fine assortment of noted British character actors including AndrĂ© Morell and Felix Aylmer, and watch out for Honor Blackman (better known as Cathy Gale from The Avengers TV series) in a small part.

The plot is ingeniuous and although it’s a little far-fetched the movie is so well-executed it simply doesn’t matter. Vicki’s confusion and growing terror at her bewildering situation are conveyed very effectively and the suspense is maintained right up to the end. The 19th century costumes look great, the sets are good and overall the movie looks polished and assured. A very enjoyable and very well-made movie and highly recommended.

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