Saturday, 7 February 2009

Painted Boats (1945) plus a goodie

I haven't written much lately about my friend Richard who has a 13-seat cinema in his garden where he projects a varied selection of films once or twice a month, mainly because we've not been recently (partly down to my excessive transatlantic hopping last year and partly because I have my own copies of some of his choices). However, we returned last Sunday evening, just as our "big" (ho-ho) snow storm was beginning to see the above movie which was certainly both an obscurity and one totally new to me. Its credentials were good, being an early Ealing Studio production by Michael Balcon and the third film to be directed by the venerable Charles Crichton. However from the studio that one associates with sparkling comedies mixed with serious dramas, it was a very mundane affair. Shot on location on the Grand Union Canal, it tells the tale of families who have lived and worked on the canals for generations and how they must adjust their lives to adapt to the more modern world. While this may sound potentially interesting, the acting was pedestrian and the photography adequate at best. A narrator related the action to the history of the canals which gave the film a pseudo-documentary feel, but in the end I felt that I had managed to sit through a not too interesting school lesson. Well, at least I never have to watch it again!

However the evening was far from a wash-out, since Richard chose to screen a short film to fill out the scant 63 minutes above. His choice was "Incident at Owl Creek" (also known as "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge") which I have known about for years, but which had eluded me. This 1963 film is actually French-made though shot in English (albeit mainly ambient sound) and its original title is "La Riviere du Hibou". Based on a short story by the mysterious author Ambrose Bierce who disappeared into the desert, it is set during the American Civil War as a plantation owner is about to be hanged for sabotage by the Union troops. The rope breaks and his bound body falls into the river and we then follow his escape and flight homeward -- until the jolting shock ending, 28 minutes of pure cinema. The film was actually picked up by Rod Sterling and transmitted as an episode of "The Twilight Zone" way back when -- a bit of trivia new to me but as fascinating as this short film itself.
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