By ANTHONY POWELL
WE are informed that among the more majestic projects recently emanating from Hollywood was a scheme for a film with life in the Royal Air Force as a background. It was understood that some sort of official co-operation might be given ; but at the last moment an unexpected difference of opinion arose. The czars of the movie world wanted Mr. Clark Gable to play the hero ; the authorities of the Air Ministry favoured a British actor for the part : and so the movie czars retired to think again.
No one can visit a cinema or a music-hall, read a magazine or the daily paper in England without getting a fair, if some- what highly-coloured, picture of what life in America is like. Even the least perceptive of observers in this country are beginning to realise that the Americans are different, colossally different, from ourselves or any of the other races of Europe. The old-fashioned view of Americans, the sort of thing to be found in the back numbers of Punch, is passing. The boisterous vandals of Mark Twain have yielded place to Mr. Thurber's inhibited rotarians.
But if we are slowly beginning to guess something of the people on the far side of the Atlantic, there is little or no indication that the same thing is happening with regard to ourselves in America. Sharp enough about all sorts of matters, the average American finds the greatest difficulty in envisaging any wide divergence from the behaviour to which he is himself accustomed. In England foreigners are ex- pected, indeed even encouraged, to behave oddly ; in the United States any deviation from the custom of the country is a perpetual source of surprise to everyone.
• This accounts for the extraordinary bursts of popularity and disfavour which Great Britain enjoys on the other side. If Americans had a clearer idea of what we were like they might not be so fond of us, but at least we should not make them so cross when we behave unexpectedly. This lack of understanding is due to the unenquiring nature of the American point of view. The inhabitants of California are scarcely more interested in how people live in Kentucky than in how they live in Kent. They know that the former are more or less like themselves. Why should not the latter bear an equally close resemblance ?
And to make matters worse the screen shows them English- men who not only look, move and talk like Americans, but very often actually are Americans, so that the more convinced the American public becomes that the only barrier between them and us is our haughty reserve, the angrier they are when something happens that shows British public opinion runs in a diametrically oPposite direction to public opinion in the States. In this way Anglo-American relations are prejudiced.
But to get back to Mr. Gable, if someone who had just written a play about the British Army or Navy asked for advice as to whom they should have for a leading man and one replied : "Of course, the ideal actor would be Sacha Guitry," or "What a pity it is not a musical show when Richard Tauber is such a naval type," mild surprise would almost certainly be expressed. And yet M. Guitry and Herr Tauber would no doubt sustain the roles of, say, a major in Military Intelligence or a surgeon-rear-admiral, respectively, with at least as much verisimilitude as Mr. Gable acting an English flight-captain. After all one would admit that Mr. John Gielgud, talented as he is, would not be ideally suitable to strut the boards an officer of U.S. Marines.
In short, if they want to make a picture of the American Air Force by all means employ an American box-office draw, but let Britons with all their failings be portrayed with all their failings by British actors. It will be better for all in the long run and will not sow the seeds of those fearful heart-bumings which are the harvest of British behaviour misunderstood.