Monday, October 7, 2013

FI: Hue and Cry

Hue and Cry
UK, 1947
Directed by Charles Crichton

Though it is often considered the first of the "Ealing Comedies"—a string of classic comedies produced by London's Ealing Studios in the 1940s and 50s—Hue and Cry is somewhat more obscure here in the US than its brethren like The Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob, or Kind Hearts and Coronets. Not that any of these films is a household name here, but Hue and Cry still deserves more credit than it gets. In its own way, it establishes the template for the Ealing Comedies: eccentric personalities; a degree of darkness mixed in with the light; communities (children, in this case) coming together to achieve an aim; couched social commentary via working class characters and settings; a love of justice, fair play, and comeuppance. Not all of the films had all of these elements, of course, but they all do draw from the common thematic pool that Hue and Cry establishes so well.

The film takes place in a bombed-out East End neighborhood in post-war London, where the local kids—led by the ambitious-yet-fantasy-prone Joe (Harry Fowler)—think they've stumbled upon a criminal enterprise passing codes through a serialized detective tale in a youth-oriented periodical. When they can't convince the police, they visit the story's author (the eminently delightful Alastair Sim), but upon realizing he's not responsible, they're left to solve the mystery on their own. Soon, the kids are on the radar of both the gang and the police, and have to use all their pluck and guile to sort things out.

T. E. B. Clarke, one of the most prominent writers of the Ealing Comedy cycle, was apparently inspired by a popular German book, though his script here only borrows the book's basic concept of kid "detectives." Charles Crichton's direction shows a great feeling for sight gags and visual invention, but also uses the atmosphere of war-devastated London—captured in sharp contrast by the great cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, who shot many Ealing movies (as well as many other classics and even the first three Indiana Jones flicks)—to add tension and high stakes to the proceedings. The young cast are all terrific, with Fowler proving a capable, likable lead, though Sim steals the show, as he's wont to do. It's a shame that Hue and Cry is probably a bit too old, and its points of reference too Britain-specific, to appeal to kids today, because it's a great, upbeat, adventurous yarn with a lot to recommend in it. It is by no means the greatest work Ealing produced during their run, but who cares when it's such a delight?

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