Wednesday 14 July 2010

Went The Day Well?

Philip French reviews a FNB favourite:

Went the Day Well?
One of Alberto Cavalcanti's supreme masterworks

Philip French
The Observer
Sunday 11 July 2010

Alberto Cavalcanti (1897-1982), born in Brazil to Italian parents, is one of the key figures in movie history. He studied law and architecture in Europe before making a reputation in France as a production designer and a pioneer director of the style that became known as poetic realism. In the mid-1930s John Grierson recruited him for the British documentary movement (his most famous picture from that time is Coal Face), and during the second world war Michael Balcon brought him to Ealing to give the studio's output a shot of documentary realism. Known to his colleagues as "Cav" and signing his movies with just his surname, his first film there was Went the Day Well? (1943), the best, most ferocious picture of the war years. He followed it with three films very much in the British vein Balcon sought to mine: Champagne Charlie, a celebration of the mid-Victorian music halls, Dead of Night, a portmanteau movie of supernatural stories, and a decent version of Nicholas Nickleby that takes its style from Cruickshank's illustrations. He subsequently made the noir classic They Made Me a Fugitive before attempting to revive the Brazilian movie industry.
Rereleased along with the retrospective, Went the Day Well? is a brilliant propaganda thriller developed from Graham Greene's story "The Lieutenant Died Last" about a platoon of German paratroopers in British uniform taking over an English village as the vanguard of an occupation force. It has a sharp sense of place just this side of satire, makes the principal villain an upper-class fifth columnist and is shocking in its ruthlessness. As a 10-year-old in 1943 I found immensely comforting its clever device of using a flashback to suggest that the events took place several years before Britain emerged victorious from the second world war.
Went the Day Well? is one of Cavalcanti's two supreme masterworks, the other being Dead of Night, though for the latter film he shared the directorial credit with Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer, but he was responsible for the greatest episode (the one featuring Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist whose dummy gains the upper hand) and the linking sequences. Themes of identity and class, of appearance and reality run through his films, and there's an authority and decisiveness that make them the work of a true auteur.

The excellent David Borwdell and Kristin Thompson seem to agree:

The opening of Went The Day Well?

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