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Friday, November 22, 2013

FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH (1933)

It’s raining cats & dogs out there, you can hardly see a thing, and a London bus swerves too late to avoid a collapsing construction crane. CRASH! Two passengers are killed in the accident, but which two? Ahh! . . . there’s the gimmick. And you won’t find out which two die till we flashback (courtesy of Big Ben running counterclockwise) on the six or seven stories that put a dozen riders, along with a driver & conductor, on that doomed double-decker. This clever British pic, loaded with talent in front & behind the camera, and neatly directed by Victor Saville, lets each of its funny or sentimental vignettes make their mark, and you won’t need a scorecard to keep things straight. That’s musical-comedy star Jessie Matthews squabbling with Ralph Richardson, her unlikely school-teacher/fiancé; Edmund Gwenn takes a hilarious Turkish Bath and just might lose a fortune on a bad stock tip; little-remembered comedy actor Max Miller really stands out as a slippery, fast-talking Cockney antique dealer with dubious goods to barter; plus, a couple of two-timing middle-aged love scenes, one humorous, one pathetic; and Emlyn Williams (who also wrote the film’s tasty dialogue) as an opportunistic blackguard out to blackmail nice Frank Lawton. It’s something of an All-Star cast, and a few technical crudities caused by a modest budget & the inevitable substandard British production values of the period shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the heck out of this. Plus, as a historical extra, it’s serves up a fine gloss on the variety of British acting styles still intact, just before the Talkies and the mass media homogenized everything.

DOUBLE-BILL: For a good Hollywood take on the form, with an even starrier cast, try PHONE CALL FROM A STRANGER/’52.

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