Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


THIS ABOVE ALL (1942). Director: Anatole Litvak.

Prudence Cathaway (Joan Fontaine) appalls her snooty uppercrust British family by enlisting in the WAF during WW 2. She meets and falls in love with a bitter, disillusioned soldier, Clive Briggs (Tyrone Power), who has come to feel he's only fighting to preserve the unfair and hypocritical class structure -- although Prudence argues that the Germans must be defeated (oddly the term Nazi is never used. The film probably started production before the U.S. entered the war). Briggs has decided that he's going to be a deserter no matter what the consequences. This Above All (to thine own self be true) has some uncompromising attitudes in its depiction of Briggs, but the first half is superior to the second half. Once Prudence learns Briggs' secret, the picture veers a bit from romance into soap opera and becomes jingoistic. The business with Briggs encountering an unctuous priest who sets him straight is tiresome. However the performances are good and Alfred Newman's sensitive musical score embellishes every sequence. Fontaine is lovely in the film, although some may feel that she's borderline cloying at times. Power's performance is not so much great as rigorously earnest. Gladys Cooper is snippy and exact as Prudence's disapproving Aunt, and Nigel Bruce is excellent -- and nearly unrecognizable -- in the character part of an inn owner that is quite different from his Watson in the Sherlock Holmes movies. Certain scenes, such as a bar scene with melancholy songs, are imbued with the brave, sad, hopeless atmosphere of London during the Blitz, and an Air Raid sequence is chilling and well-done.

Verdict: Compelling if imperfect romance. ***.

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