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Home Vision Entertainment presents
O'Callaghan: Cromwell's been dead three hundred years.
DVD ReviewThere's nothing quite like a long-nursed grudge, especially one that's been passed down through the generations. The deep-seated hatred in some Irish of the English is to a great extent come by rightfully; of course, all that anger and a pound sterling will get you a pint, if you will. There's nothing quite as dangerous as a true believer, and the heroine of this film is a disciple of the first order.
Deborah Kerr plays Bridie Quilty, who has grown up in small town Ireland, hearing nothing but stories about the evil English, and tales of her late father's heroism in the revolution. On her twenty-first birthday, in 1944, Bridie takes the first train to Dublin, to seek out her father's alleged comrades in arms in the Irish Republican Army—she's ready to join the front line of the revolution, to put an end to the troubles, and doesn't want to be confused by the facts.
Of course the war that's on at the time doesn't pit the English against the Irish, but rather against the Axis powers—and if they're fighting the hated English, then begorrah, they're good enough for Bridie Quilty. What follows is a strange amalgam of coming-of-age story and cloak-and-dagger spy picture; and while it's reasonably entertaining, the crossing of genres means more often than not that the film falls between two stools. Bridie is on the case, under cover as a servant girl in a pub; one of the guests is called David Baynes (Trevor Howard), who allegedly is on vacation, but is met with great suspicion, as a spy with crucial information is in a nearby English prison. Could Baynes be there to sabotage the plan by Bridie's co-conspirators to bust one of their own out of gaol?
The story evolves in a peculiar manner—Bridie turns herself into a Mata Hari to help the cause, but may also be falling for Baynes, an impossible thought for this hardened Anglophobe. Unfortunately, the stakes for the characters frequently remain murky, and because the comedic touch of the picture isn't especially deft, the politics of its protagonist seem dangerously cavalier. Bridie has spent all of her twenty-one years nursing a hatred for the English, and her countrymen would surely maintain that she came by it rightfully; but it's quite a leap from there to doing the dirty work for the Third Reich. Just because you hate Cromwell isn't really a satisfactory reason to sign on with Hitler.
Of course, Bridie's naïveté is very much the point; still, her transformation from Irish country lass to Berlin operative is elided over rather too hurriedly. Is the enemy of my enemy my friend, or my enemy? What's a little disappointing is that Bridie throws in with the Nazis all too quickly, and principally off screen. Similarly, the movie leans far too heavily on Kerr's voice-overs, giving us Bridie's interior monologue, ranging from her thoughts on a possible new beau ("Why shouldn't he be deeply and beautifully in love with me?") to the moral dilemmas posed by her newfound occupation ("I've all the troubles in the world on me shoulders").
Still, the film has some considerable virtues, especially in its leading man and woman. Kerr is charming and sharp as Bridie, and even if the character seems a bit lacking, the actress never is; and Trevor Howard is winning, as always. This film comes right in the middle of what must be considered his golden period, which also included Brief Encounter and The Third Man. The final chase, with buffoonish Army officers on the Isle of Man, doesn't reach the sort of comic frenzy that's called for; but the film is also notable for the performance of a young David Tomlinson. Here he plays an intelligence officer, but would later go on to Disneyfied glory as the title character's employer, Mr. Banks, in Mary Poppins.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: The source print used for the DVD transfer doesn't seem to have been as sharp as one might hope; as a result, some of the shadowy scenes look just muddy, and scratches and bits of debris are present with some frequency, as are random vertical lines wafting across the screen. You can't turn lead into gold, I guess.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Things sound mighty fine, given the age of the film; hissing is at a minimum, and the dynamics are pitched well. Kerr's voice-overs can be a little shrill in the upper registers, but that seems like a creative choice, to pipe her in that way, and not a fault of the transfer.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsThe film is most interesting as a calling card for its leading lady, and for the compare-and-contrast aspects between this and The Lady Vanishes, with a script by the same screenwriting team. A peculiar little movie that seems less than the sum of its parts.
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