"The Voice of Britain" and "Shanghai." At the Carlton. --" Mimi." At the Empire
Tan superb complacency of the B.B.C. was never more delightfully parodied than in the title of the official 'film made by Mr. John Grierson and the G.P.O. Film Unit : The Voice of Britain. It is certainly the film of the month if not of the year ; but I doubt if the B.B.C. realize the devastating nature of Mr. Grierson's amusing and sometimes beautiful film, the satirical background to these acres of dynamos, the tall steel towers, the conferences and contracts, the enormous staff and the rigid technique of a Kremlin which should be sufficient to govern a nation and is all directed to this end : Miss Nina Mae McKinney singing " Dinah," Henry Hall's Dance Orchestra' playing " Piccadilly Riot," a spot of pleasure, a spot of dubious education, and a spot, just a spot, of culture when Mr. Adrian Boult 'conducts the Fifth Symphony.
This was the most cynical moment of a witty film : Mr. Adrian Boult agonizing above his baton, and then his audience —a man turning the pages of his book beside the loud speaker, a man eating his dinner; nobody giving more than his uncon- scious mind to BeethoVen's music. The picture Vic, of the cramped suburban parlour, the man with his paper, the woman with her sewing, the child at his homework, while " Piccadilly Riot " reverberates noisily back and forth across the potted plant between flowered wall paper and flowered wall paper is even more memorable than the lovely shots of sea and sky and such lyric passages as Mr. Chesterton driving gently like a sea-lion through the little tank-like studios. For this is the B.B.C.'s chief contribution to man's life : noise while lie eats and reads and talks. I wish Mr. Grierson had included a few shots from the damper tropics where the noise of the Empire programmes is not disguised at all as entertainment or education, but is just plain wails and windy blasts from instruments hopelessly beaten by atmospherics. At enormous expense from its steel pylon at Daventry the B.B.C. supplies din with the drinks at sundown.
Shanghai, also at the Carlton, is quite as wasteful as a B.B.C. programme. Mr. Charles Boyer's fine dramatic talent, the loveliness of Miss Loretta Young, who has never been more lustrously, caressingly photographed, are squan- dered on: a story typically second-rate ; typically, I mean, because the second-rate talent so often chooses a Big Abstract Subject to write about in the hope that it may lend importance to the puppets. This week's Big Subject is the Racial Ques- tion : should a 100 per cent. Nordic girl marry a Eurasian ? One is asked to believe that the whole of white. Shanghai ostracizes a successful young Russian business man when he announces that his mother was a Manchu, Princess. This appeal for racial tolerance would have I e more, telling, if market considerations had not prevented the Jewish rulers of the film industry from producing the contemporary theme quite obviously in their minds.
I much preferred' to these earnest abstractions the gentle expert sentimentality of Mimi. James once wrote of La Dame aux Camelias : " The play has been blown about the world at a fearful rate, but it has never lost its happy juvenility, a charm that nothing can vulgarize. It is all champagne and tears—fresh perversity, fresh credulity, fresh passion, fresh pain." Something of the same quality belongs to La Vie de Boheme. It too has been blown about the world and the studios at a fearful rate, and there still seems to me to linger in this slow decorative English version a little of the happy juvenility. Mimi owes much to Miss Doris Zinkeisen's dresses and to the acting of Mr. Douglas Fairbanks, Junior, more perhaps than to Miss Gertrude Lawrence's pinched out-of-place charm, but even without them I would have enjoyed the sense of a period when you had to load your dice to win your tears, when the heroine must die quite fortuitously of consumption on the night of her lover's success. What safety, prosperity, happiness must have been theirs, one exclaims, for them to have taken such an innocent delight in turning the screw of hunlan misery, GRAIIAM GREENS.