Reflections on a variety of films and topics - Seven Samurai, It's a Wonderful Life, Don Quixote, We're no angels, War for the planet of the apes, Dunkirk, The African Queen, Babette's Feast, Dances with Wolves, The Prisoner (1967), Inherit the wind, humour in drama, nature of regret, the influence of multimedia, memoirs of a teacher of French.
Please scroll down or find on the right links to articles, pages of reflections on films, books, TV series (including "Seven Samurai", "It's a Wonderful Life", "Don Quixote", "We're No Angels", "The African Queen", "Babette's Feast", "War for the Planet of the Apes", "Dunkirk", “Dances With Wolves”, “Inherit The Wind” and “The Prisoner”), and occasional pieces of flash fiction. These are additions to similar pages which may be found at www.stuartfernie.org .
A link to my YouTube channel with video presentations of a number of my pages.
Having retired from teaching fairly recently, I thought I’d write my memoirs, “What have I done?”, and present them online. Please find links to the various chapters on the right, though chunks of the text (but perhaps not all) may also appear below. If you suffer from insomnia, this may help!
Click on the arrows to access links to 2016 and then December.
I can be contacted through the comments sections or at email@example.com
Written by Akira
Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni
Starring Takashi Shimura,
Toshiro Mifune et al.
notes are based on the 190 minute BFI DVD presentation.
A video presentation of this material is available here.
“Seven Samurai” is
frequently referred to as the film against which all action films that have
followed it should be judged. With its carefully calculated combination of
exciting yet emotionally engaging action scenes, exploration and development of
character and a storyline that appeals to the heart and mind, “Seven Samurai”
was successful not just in its own right but it established a form of template
for numerous ensemble cast adventure films in the 1960s, 70s and beyond.
As I settled to watch
this action/adventure film for the first time in some twenty years, it struck
me that a key element that spans the film and informs the character development
so essential to its success is the code by which these samurai live.
Although by tradition
social movement between castes and classes was impossible, during the Sengoku
period (our film takes place in 1586) there was some loosening of samurai
culture and some born in other castes could make a name for themselves as
warriors, thus becoming de facto
samurai. However, a true samurai was not just a warrior but was one who aspired
to live by a code, a code that set them apart, the code of Bushido, and this same
code seems to underpin the very structure of “Seven Samurai”.
After a little research,
I found Inazo Nitobe’s list of eight principles of Bushido – justice, honour,
benevolence, courage, manners, honesty, self-discipline and loyalty. The
closeness in number between the eight values of Bushido and the seven samurai
(on top of which you might include the farmers they defend) was quite
irresistible to me and as I watched the film I tried to identify connections
between the two.
Eventually, I reached the
conclusion that although our seven display nearly all the virtues, six samurai
seem to lack at least one of the virtues and the seventh allows one of them to
take precedence over the others. In the course of defending the village, each
will have the opportunity to embrace that which is lacking or consider that
which overwhelms him, and we witness the resultant changes in the individual
and benefits for the group. The farmers provide the cause for which our seven
fight but they also learn to defend themselves and in so doing embrace the
qualities personified by our seven.
Our seven are in fact
Ronin (or masterless) and so lack the element of loyalty. Loyalty to one to
whom you owe a debt (usually a member of the Shogunate) seems to have
overridden all other principles of the samurai code and thus led to the
committing of many crimes against common humanity in the name of extending
one’s master’s influence and power.
When Kikuchiyo uncovers
weaponry stolen from defeated and murdered samurai, the farmers are accused of
being underhand, cunning and murderous. However, Kikuchiyo defends them, saying
they have been made this way by the samurai themselves and their own acts of
theft, rape and murder all done through blind loyalty to their Shogun masters
who ruled by force and only exercised humanity on a whim or if it served their
own purpose. The remaining six samurai are stunned and shamed as they are
forced to face the injustice of samurai acts and recognise they have behaved in
much the same way as the very bandits they have been hired to confront.
Although they had collectively found purpose in defending the farmers against
marauding bandits, they are now united in a cause for justice (while perhaps righting
their own injustices) and this may well be seen as filling the gap left by
their loss of loyalty to a master.
In a way, losing loyalty
has allowed them to follow a different path based on other virtues such as
justice, benevolence and honour. And then there is the possibility of a
new-found loyalty they develop toward one another.
Although this change
affects all seven, it is perhaps best personified by Gorobei who initially gets
involved in the scheme purely because of Kambei. He pays little heed to the
whys and wherefores of the venture – he shows faith in and devotion or loyalty
to Kambei alone, but he goes on to discover the value of fighting for fairness,
helps plan the defence of the village and even loses his life while fighting
for a cause rather than for a potentially unscrupulous individual to whom he
felt he owed a debt.
In the case of Shichiroji,
there may be some doubt about his sense of honour. He is an old friend and
former lieutenant of Kambei whom Kambei thought lost. When asked how he escaped
in a previous conflict, Shichiroji replies that he hid in a ditch as the castle
collapsed around him. This may reflect a perfectly sensible and practical
attitude toward survival but this, along with the fact he fails to answer
Kambei’s next question about whether he is ready for another fight, rather
suggests we are being led to doubt the importance Shichiroji attaches to
However, emboldened and
heartened by the cause for which they are fighting and perhaps the unity of
spirit in the group, Shichiroji makes no attempt to conceal himself when the
going gets tough and he dies making a spirited defence of the village.
Heichachi, the spirited
and enthusiastic woodcutter, suggests in a conversation that one can’t be
expected to kill all one’s enemies and if one is outnumbered by 20 or 30
bandits, it is perfectly reasonable to run away. Once again, this may be viewed
as a survival reflex but I think we are being invited to doubt Heichachi’s
courage in the face of adversity.
Once again, however,
strength due to belief in a cause, combined with unity of spirit, enable a
potential weakness to be overcome and allow Heichachi to willingly participate
in a raid on the bandit encampment where the bandits greatly outnumber our
heroes. He dies but has proved himself worthy of the term samurai and the code
Kyuzo, the stone-faced
swordsman who initially turns down Kambei’s invitation to join them because he
simply wants to perfect his skill rather than kill, may be viewed as lacking
the virtue of benevolence. It appears that martial skills are everything to
him, to the point where he kills a man to prove his mastery (though he was
severely provoked and threatened by the man he eventually killed), and so the
others are surprised when he joins them, and he offers no explanation for his
change of heart.
Yet, after seeing Katsushiro share his rice with Shino and
offer to find food for other hungry villagers, it is Kyuzo who offers to do
without his own share of rice in order to help the villagers and he later
volunteers to enter the enemy camp in order to retrieve one of their guns.
Clearly then, Kyuzo has been influenced by the company and purpose of his
fellow samurai and has gained the virtue of benevolence, benefitting both the
villagers and his comrades in arms.
Katsushiro is the
youngest of the group and he displays many of the principles of the samurai
code but he lacks self-discipline. On a number of occasions, he is directed or
advised by Kambei and the others as his enthusiasm and willingness to take
action may not be the best option. It is, however, in a matter of the heart which
overflows into social politics and the mixing of castes that Katsushiro reveals
his lack of self-discipline. Katsushiro and Shino yield to temptation and fear
to make love shortly before the final battle. This causes considerable social
strife among the conservative farmers who think of this as an act of dishonour
and social disgrace. Katsushiro learns to put aside his guilt and personal
feelings for Shino to make a valuable contribution to the final battle,
displaying discipline while fighting for justice.
It should be noted that
Shichiroji (already associated with honour) points out that it is, perhaps,
preferable that Shino should have been “dishonoured” (so to speak) by a samurai
than by a bandit, inviting Manzo (Shino’s father) to keep events and his
attitude to honour in proportion. It should also be noted that at the end of
the film it is unclear whether Katsushiro will pursue his association with his
new-found friends or a relationship with Shino. Perhaps he will value love more
highly than a career as a samurai.
Kikuchiyo is perhaps the
most interesting, engaging and entertaining of the samurai. He is also the one
with the most complex background and the one least likely to qualify as a
When Kikuchiyo witnesses
Kambei’s actions at the start of the film, he is clearly deeply impressed and,
making something of a noisy fuss, he runs up to Kambei, presumably in an
attempt to engage in a friendly conversation or perhaps even to suggest
accompanying him. However, Kikuchiyo doesn’t have the verbal skills to put into
words his feelings and he is even angered when Katsushiro expresses himself
eloquently, doubtless expressing the very sentiments he himself would have
liked to communicate. Reacting badly and with some anger and frustration, he
incites distrust and caution in Kambei and Katsushiro. Kikuchiyo appears to be
lacking in the virtue of manners. He finds it difficult to judge the feelings
and reactions of others and he has some difficulty communicating his own
On top of this, Kikuchiyo
lacks another virtue – that of honesty. He makes quite a fuss of the scroll he
carries, a scroll that validates his family claims and background, but which
the others quickly and easily disprove. Interestingly, it is shortly after this
truth has emerged that he finds acceptance among the others as he also angrily
reveals the truth about the farmers’ attitudes, the guilt of the samurai in
creating these attitudes and his own farming background.
His deep-felt and
long-harboured bitterness and resentment concerning the treatment of peasants
by Shogun and samurai alike feed an eloquent and perfectly reasoned speech
after which the samurai are shamed into seeking justice and Kikuchiyo can
rightfully take his place among them. Honesty has thus led to greater
compassion and clarification of purpose and motivation among the seven. It has
also given Kikuchiyo greater confidence in terms of self-belief and
occasionally abrasive communication as he combines training the farmers with
entertainment and compassion, showing a genuine understanding and regard for
their situation. He has thus gained the two virtues he lacked and this benefits
the group as a whole.
Kambei may be viewed as
the virtual embodiment of samurai principles though he himself points out he is
a Ronin. When freed from subjective loyalty to an individual, Kambei is able to
recognise and commit to objective justice. His actions and manner near the
start of the film suggest he possesses all the values of Bushido and his
benevolence in taking on the farmers’ cause, combined with lack of loyalty to a
master, lead him to a reinforced adherence to justice, if only as compensation
for injustices he is forced to recognise by Kikuchiyo.
At the end, with four of
their number dead and Katsushiro tempted to join Shino in village life, Kambei
concludes that they have in fact lost once again. With their land, the farmers
are the victors and not the samurai who defended them. The cause may have been
won, but the combatants have gained little or lost everything. The farmers have
retained their physical legacy of eternal land (representing growth and
development) and have undoubtedly gained in spiritual strength through their
collaboration with the seven, while the defenders must content themselves with
the knowledge they have preserved the intangible but elemental values by which
My thanks for taking the
time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.
Screenplay by Frances
Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling
and Frank Capra
Starring James Stewart,
Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers
A video presentation of this material is available
The entire premise of
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is rooted in Depression and pre-war issues and
attitudes. Times were hard for working people after the Wall Street crash of
1929, the effects of which continued to be felt for the following 25 years, and
it only served to accentuate and exacerbate social and financial divisions of
With this context in mind
we arrive at Bedford Falls, a small American town, to follow the story of
George Bailey, a small-time American businessman, at various points in his
life, leading to the moment of crisis where he feels he can’t go on …. and
receives help from Clarence Oddbody, angel second class who has yet to gain his
After a couple of
flashback sequences, we pick up George’s story when he’s about to head off for
college which he sees as his gateway to future success. He expresses youthful
ambition and aspirations, wanting to build imposing structures, bridges and
towns, making a concrete and visible mark on life and gaining varied and
valuable experience of life and the world.
combined with a sense of duty and obligation, mean that George’s dreams of
experience and success will be constantly postponed ….
This contrasts somewhat
with the most successful businessman in town, the ageing banker Henry Potter.
For Henry Potter, the
people and businesses to whom he lends money or rents accommodation are merely
a means of developing his wealth, power and influence. He is portrayed as
opportunistic and devoted to self-aggrandisement, failing (or refusing) to
recognise that building a successful business can be viewed as the means of
developing, supporting and reinforcing society, and not simply as an end in
In contrast to Mr
Potter’s hard-hearted approach to business, we have Bailey Bros. Building and
Loan Association, founded by George’s father Peter and his uncle Billy. These
businessmen do not seek to get rich but are content to make a modest profit
while helping their neighbours and customers escape the clutches of potentially
heartless and greedy landlords by offering them loans which allow them to
become independent home-owners.
The variance in approach
and attitude between the two is summed up in the scene where Potter proposes
the liquidation of Bailey Bros. He mocks and belittles taxi driver Ernie Bishop
and refers to the working class as a potentially discontented and lazy rabble
if they were to gain access to the means of home-ownership. This stirs George
to respond that the “rabble” are largely responsible for the everyday workings and
smooth running of society and that it’s not too much to enable them to enjoy
decent living conditions and help them leave Potter’s slums. He also suggests
that home-ownership makes for better citizens and better customers.
This scene, perhaps more
than any other in the film, may be said to articulate and encapsulate director
Frank Capra’s views of the social and financial situation of the time. There
had been vaguely similar challenges in some of his previous films but none, I
think, quite as clear-cut in its observations and criticism as this one. It is perhaps
unsurprising that the FBI listed this film as suspected communist propaganda
from 1946 to 1956.
The suggestion appears to
be that there are two types of capitalism – one based on pure financial
commercialism wherein anything goes in an attempt to maximise profit and
minimise accountability, and the other in which social awareness and
responsibility are taken in to account. Bedford Falls and its population are
society in microcosm with fellow inhabitants lending one another a hand and
each making a contribution to their community. Frank Capra is clearly on the
side of the “little men” who make a relatively small but cumulatively essential
contribution to the workings of society and their neighbours’ lives.
Although George is held
up by his friends as a paragon of altruism, humanity and selflessness, it
should be borne in mind that he had ambitions to travel, gain experience of the
world and make his mark through construction and design. He has known inner
conflict as he was aware that his personal desires and ambitions were
sacrificed to instinctive values and principles, leading to a vague sense of
failure or lack of fulfilment. Yet, even when he faces ruin (when uncle Billy
misplaces $8000, found and retained by Potter) and is tempted by Potter’s offer
of personal wealth and “success”, he cannot bring himself to abandon the
principles on which his company was founded and by which he has lived his life.
He chooses principle over personal advancement and security and as such acts as
Frank Capra’s beacon of light in what he saw as the darkness of commercial
However, all too aware of
the devastating effects of bankruptcy and overcome by a sense of failure and
the prospect of scandal and ruin, George considers suicide in a desperate bid
to cover his apparent losses and leave his family financially secure by way of
a life insurance policy. It is at this point that he meets Clarence, angel
second class, who will change George’s perspective on his life as he affords
George the privilege of seeing how his community would have turned out without
George (and we, the
viewers) come to realise the extent of each person’s impact and influence on
others’ lives. George learns of his input (simply by being himself and
intermixing with others) on the lives of his wife, mother, family, neighbours,
colleagues, customers, friends, strangers (lives are saved indirectly due to
the impact of his actions) and even the very tenor of his home town. Clearly,
Frank Capra is pointing out that we all influence and impact on the lives of
those around us, indeed ultimately we depend on one another for the continuance
and survival of our society, and as such we should, perhaps, be mindful of the
way we conduct ourselves and treat one another.
perspective is altered by Clarence’s intervention and while he sees and
appreciates his own positive influence on those around him, there remains the
matter of the missing $8000 ….
Here, Capra returns to a
motif common to several of his films – the value of friendship and respect.
George’s many friends (including all those who hold him in high regard or feel
he has done them a service in the past) pitch in and bail him out of trouble.
Capra clearly believes in people and their innate goodness and willingness to
help and support one another, if they have not been corrupted by greed, power
and influence. Just as George acted out of compassion, humanity and community
spirit to positively influence others’ lives, so his friends are willing to act
similarly with each making a relatively small contribution to make a big impact
on his life.
The gaining of respect,
good will and affection may be viewed as a sign of success in life, as opposed
to the accumulation of money, power and influence at the expense of genuine
wealth of friendship, family and esteem. George felt this applied to his father
when he told Potter that Peter Bailey was a richer man than he would ever be.
Perhaps Clarence helps George realise this tenet applies equally to him.
Through the device of
Clarence and his heavenly overseers (although this is treated lightly and
playfully), Capra appears to express an affirmation of the existence of a system
of omniscient and paternal supervision and care. He avoids reference to
organised religion, indeed at one point as George turns to God in desperation
he states that he is not a praying man, but this underpinning structure lends
the film a moral assurance and substance while supporting a conviction that
mankind is essentially good and responds to love and respect.
While eminently worthy
and admirable, this “message” and the means of delivering it were perhaps
somewhat at odds with the jaded and existential realism of the immediate
post-war period and as a result the film did not do very well at the box-office
on its initial release. However, with the passage of time and the softening of
existential attitudes, audiences became more receptive to the fantasy element
and viewed the themes of perspective and personal and social value and input as
timeless and universal, eventually according the film cult status. Of course,
circumstances, themes and attitudes in the film may have resonated with more
recent audiences given the reach and consequences of the financial crisis of
2008 (and ever since!).
Some Capra films appear
breezy and light in their first half before becoming more hard-hitting and
thoughtful in their second half. In the case of this film, another transition
(with the fantasy element) is brought in to play, and it works!
The film has been accused
of being simplistically optimistic and even idealistic at the end, yet there
are some tough and thought-provoking scenes and themes before we reach that
point. It may not have fallen in with the vogue for post-war realism and moral
challenge, but there is surely a place for a carefully developed and thoughtful
piece which offers hope and a way forward in times of despair.
The script engages,
entertains and advances characterisation and storyline in every scene while
Capra’s stock players lend a comfortable and familial atmosphere in their
almost joyous interplay. James Stewart’s performance makes you feel the gamut
of emotional response as he goes from innocence and hope to disappointment and
frustration, to love and elation. It is certainly one of his best performances,
maybe even his greatest.
My thanks for taking the
time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.
Reflections on “Don
Quixote” and its relevance today
When Miguel de Cervantes
Saavedra wrote “Don Quixote” (in two parts, 1605 and 1615), the literary vogue
was for exaggerated and romanticised tales of chivalry where knights indulged
in acts of derring-do in order to impress and win over fair maidens.
Cervantes states quite
clearly in his preface his desire and intent to produce a satire of these
stories of knights-errant. He wished to undermine, mock and destroy the very
basis of these tales and this he did by creating a hero so absorbed in
chivalric myth and perception that he sees everything brighter, better,
idealised and heroic. In short, he confuses reality with this embellished and
glamorised chivalric world. So immersed has he become in chivalric lore and
thought that his very perception of the world he sees around him has been
affected and skewed to fit his chivalric expectations. Objective reality ceases
to function for him – only his distorted perception and interpretation based on
chivalrous precepts feed his understanding.
Cervantes seeks to ensure
that this chivalric version of literature is revealed as a modified,
exaggerated and worthless copy of life in the early seventeenth century where
acts of so-called courage and derring-do might end in brutal death or painful
and life-changing loss of limbs (Cervantes lost his left hand in the battle of
Lepanto in 1671), where “castles” are in fact run-down and unclean inns managed
by petty thieves out to fleece their customers, and where “damsels in distress”
are more akin to prostitutes out to make a quick buck. In other words, reality
may bear little resemblance to Quixote’s gallant image of the world.
Of course, another way of
regarding his confusedly noble acts is to consider the possibility that he
recognises that his actions may, in the end, be futile, but he considers that the
principles on which they are based are nonetheless worthy and admirable. He may
be out of kilter with the sad and cynical world around him but his mindset and
actions may be the result of seeing base conduct and low moral standards and
wishing to introduce and act upon more worthy mentality and conduct which may
evoke admiration and aspiration. It may be that he chooses to perceive the
world in a better light. Comedy and drama derive from the distance and conflict
between these two worlds and approaches.
It might be worth
considering the possibility of parallels in today’s society and the distinct
possibility that Cervantes failed in his valiant attempt to warn us of the
dangers of pursuing fame, honour and glory at the expense of reason, sanity and
perhaps dignity to the point of delusion and self-deceit.
Is it possible to identify
a curiously Quixotic attitude among those who dupe themselves into believing that
spending excessive amounts of time focusing on reality TV, computer games and
devotion to celebrity are worthwhile activities?
Many choose to pursue a
somewhat skewed view of the world and see or attribute worth to artificially
created dramas or situations (claiming to be “real”) which indulge emotional
response and reaction. Worse, many aspire to emulate or become part of this
artificially cultivated culture and respond emotionally to the least
provocation whether in real life or on social media, following examples set in
the media by cynical, ambitious and manipulative producers. While this is
clearly far removed from the world of chivalry Quixote seeks to emulate, the
pattern of becoming immersed in and seeking to copy a style of behaviour falsely
established as admirable remains the same.
Many love the concept of
being a hero and computer games allow their players to feel like heroes,
committing acts of courage and daring without even leaving their seats and the
comfort of their own homes. Such games offer an alternative universe without “real”
discipline, commitment or consideration but gratify the players’ desire to act
out feats of daring and courage and allowing them to feel a certain
satisfaction, albeit in a virtual reality. Quixote was equally enamoured of the
concept of heroism, though he loses himself in his own virtual reality.
Cervantes railed against
the absurd and baseless admiration of heroes as laid out in the tales of
chivalry read by Quixote – details of their acts and quotations of their “wisdom”
are discussed and held up for adulation. Is this very different from the cult
of celebrity which underpins and reinforces our modern mindset? Actions,
attitudes and utterances gain instant approval and glorification simply because
they come from one who has become well known, even if such instances are
without particular merit in themselves. Surely this is an example of the attitude
Cervantes criticised in his book, though with the development of communication and
the media, many different types of “hero” are now held up for admiration and
receive unqualified adulation.
Of course, modern writers
go to great lengths to present their characters as human and flawed and they
may overcome challenges through positive qualities such as courage,
determination and intelligence. However, it appears there will always be an
obsessive section of the public whose desire to find and follow a hero means
that they are willing to hold up virtually every aspect of their character as
admirable and worthy of emulation. This can fairly be called Quixotic.
entertainingly captures the universal and enduring qualities of man’s apparent
need to believe in something (or someone) greater than himself and human delusion,
cleverly combined with mankind’s worthy aspiration to lead a principled and
laudable life. Although it was written in the early 1600s, it would appear
Cervantes managed to encompass various aspects of modern society, an
achievement of which he could be proud, though it begs a number of questions
about the evolution of society through the years ……
My thanks for taking the
time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.
based on the play “My
Three Angels” by Samuel and Bella Spewack,
which was based on “La
Cuisine des Anges” by Albert Hussan,
starring Humphrey Bogart,
Aldo Ray and Peter Ustinov
A video presentation of this material is available here.
Just as I enjoy “traditional”
angel films, I also appreciate
those in which men act in much the same way as angels, perhaps having been “sent”
by some omnipotent string-puller who can organise the crossing of paths of people
in need and those who can help them.
This is a comedy Christmas
film like no other as three “wise men” arrive at a family home in the French
penal colony on Devil’s Island on Christmas Eve 1895 and set about helping the
family to resolve a variety of issues.
However, this is no
morally secure, reassuring and treacly Christmas fare, for our three “angels”
are, in fact, escaped prisoners (a thief and two murderers) obliged to spend
Christmas taking refuge with a kindly family of shopkeepers (the Ducotels) as
they await the opportunity to board a ship bound for freedom. Not only are our
three angels escaped convicts, but they are unrepentant, steeped in (largely
criminal) wisdom and experience, good-hearted and utterly charming to boot.
In terms of plot and
character development, there is no question of rehabilitation – our three
heroes do good by plying their criminal skills. The villains of the piece
(businessman André Trochard and his nephew Paul) deserve their comeuppance
though their deaths may be considered a trifle extreme, but that issue is
deftly avoided as the whole is treated with dark humour and a lightness of
touch shared with the audience from the very start. Our angels are defiantly
humorous and single-minded in their desire to see the villains disposed of and
the family benefit from their nefarious actions, but very cleverly they do not
actually cause the deaths, though they do nothing to prevent them and are very
happy to see the Ducotels profit from them.
They make moral judgments
but are willing to take direct and potentially amoral action to enforce these
judgments. The whole is a consciously playful and amusing (as opposed to
broadly comic) mix of genres as our three angels maintain a moral distance from
the family (skewed in this case toward criminal simplicity and inferiority
rather than principled and complex superiority) and they act to resolve
financial, familial and romantic issues using amoral methods more in keeping
with those seen in a film noir.
Comedy stems from their
unremorseful acceptance of their own criminal natures which they put to good
purpose while protecting the “good” who remain blameless, their almost gleeful
inflicting of punishment on the villains, and then there is their complicity
with the audience. There are numerous asides, the full import of which only the
audience will understand while other characters cannot, thus creating collusion
while developing empathy and sympathy.
It could be suggested
that the three combine to form the perfect angelic unit of assistance (spirit,
heart and action) sent from Heaven to help this good-natured family in their
time of need. Indeed, this is vaguely implied at one stage as our trio literally
look down from above (while repairing the roof) as they assess the situation
and decide on the appropriate action, but their unconventional methods rather
deliciously call in to question the whole nature of morality and justice.
In the end, our three heroes
are so disappointed and traumatised by this encounter with “civilisation” with
its underhand ways and complexities that they decide to return to prison where
they will feel more secure! Our angels are open, genuine and sincere – they are
what they are, accept it and act on their instincts, while some of the “honest”
folk they have met are duplicitous and downright cold-hearted, characteristics
they find unpalatable and unacceptable.
Humphrey Bogart (whose
film noir credentials are essential to both the amoral and comic elements of
the film), Aldo Ray and Peter Ustinov play off one another beautifully and in
determined good humour as the well-intentioned criminals willing to put their
dark natures to good use, especially opposite Basil Rathbone who plays the
law-abiding but black-hearted villain with dismissive and superior gusto.
The script is sharp and
fast-paced and plays in an almost farce-like style which contributes to the
lightness of the atmosphere and makes good use of audience complicity and understanding
to achieve its unique effect.
The whole is carried off
with such verve and knowing playfulness that the rather confined staging and
sets which betray the theatrical origins of the piece go virtually unnoticed.
There are frequent
references to the angelic nature and worthiness of our heroes and there is even
a clear suggestion from Jules at the end of the film that they may, indeed,
have been Heaven-sent (confirmed by the appearance of halos above their heads
as they saunter off to prison), so what we have is a comical angelic
Christmas-themed film noir which reinforces the old adage that God works in
mysterious ways – who would have thought it possible?
My thanks for taking the
time to read this article. I hope you found it of some value.