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Monday, June 20, 2011

THE RED ENSIGN (aka STRIKE!) (1934)

Hollywood marketplace domination caused many countries to mandate film quotas to boost homegrown product. In Britain, their ‘Quota Quickies’ were notoriously poor. But this QQ was from the young Michael Powell, and even in his twenties he does quite nicely on a restricted budget, finding a good story and proving, yet again, that it doesn’t cost a dime (er . . . a tuppence) to put the camera in the right spot. This fact-inspired pic is about ship builder/architect David Barr whose newfangled designs could revitalize British shipping. But he must fight government indifference; replace existing fleets of idling/inefficient ships; stop a devious rival who wants to buy his plans for foreigner partners; inspire his men to work ‘on account’ and not go out on strike when the money runs short; and fall madly in love with a grand lady who happens to have a large trust fund! All in a little over an hour’s running time. Powell makes good use of some exciting shipyard stock footage and manages to create an illusion of scale along with some nifty fires & explosions. Leslie Banks, who also starred for Hitchcock this year in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, is a dynamic Barr, a man with enough character flaws to keep things interesting. Too bad Powell is so concerned about Banks’ disfigured face that he overdoses on his right profile. Every damn shot! The rest of the cast belie the ultra-low budget, but it does, of course, take its toll. Especially, in the third act where important plot strands get lost in the rush. All in all, it’s quite alright. And that’s high praise for a Quota Quickie. NOTE: This comes in a decent looking edition from MPI on a DVD (mis)entitled CLASSIC BRITISH THRILLERS.

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