28 JUNE 1940, Page 11

Primrose Path." At the Gatunont.--‘ , Dr. Cyclops." At the Carlton.

THEit€ is a nice distinction between the " primrose path of dalliance " and the " primrose way to the everlasting bonfire." The former phrase, though disapproving, allows for repentance, even for salvation ; while the latter, in the Calvinistic humour of Macbeth's Porter, keeps us firmly and absolutely damned. So

i path " it had to be for Hollywood, so that the primroses could be forgotten, and it should turn, in the last reel, to the high road which is roses, roses all the way. The result is, unfortu- nately, rather than inevitably, a film which just stops short of being good. But it is without any doubt worth seeing, if only for the intention, and the execution, of the earlier reels.

We are introduced to a story which is as tough as any that has been screened since Marked Woman—that remarkable Bette Davis film of which so little note was taken. The scene is a coast town, and the problem posed is, what happens to a girl whose mother and grandmother are prostitutes, when she is reaching womanhood? (Especially if the girl is Ginger Rogers.) The problem is brilliantly underlined by the director (Gregory la Cava), who uses a stark documentary technique in depicting the shabby old shack, garnished with the garish appurtenances of female allure. The girl's mother, an easy-going, affectionate, sentimental, family-loving harlot ; her husband, a slobbering drunkard with a professorial past ; a savage old madame of a grandmother ; and an eight-year-old girl whose innocent precocity in the routine drill of the streetwalker is staggeringly depicted : these, with Miss Rogers, make up the inhabitants of the shack. They are less documentary than the building, but they have a reality of their own, and the exaggerations do not mask the director's accurate observation of certain types. At the other end of the town is a handsome young man (Joel McCrea), who runs a petrol station with a snack bar attached. He, exercising the prerogative of his sex, is as free with the girls as anyone can be who doesn't need to reek his own rede. He picks up the girl, who in passing steals his wallet but subsequently returns it, and marries her without enquiring into her ancestry. After a few idyllic weeks she rashly takes him to visit her family ; the old grandmother—for no particular reason except that the plot would otherwise collapse—instructs him to believe the worst. He scorns his wife, leaves her in the best melodramatic manner, and the film goes to pieces. Not even Miss Rogers' superb appearance in the style and accoutrements of a super-street- walker can redeem its uneasy progress towards the in- evitable reconciliation, in which even the wicked old grandma is rewarded with a fat wad of banknotes. " 0, come in, equivocator! " But Primrose Path, in many of its sequences, has that tang of reality, that observation of certain strata of society, which was the hallmark of the golden period of the German film. There is a fresh, salty scene between hero and heroine gathering clams on the beach at their first meeting ; there is a convincing quality in the wisecracking customers at the snack bar ; and the restaurant where the wicked women go is sufficiently fusty and sufficiently smoky to be gratefully distinguished from the chromium dives of the average Hollywood film. Moreover Ginger Rogers proves once again that dancing is the least of her accomplishments ; she is not merely content to be handsome ; she welds her attractiveness to a genuine acting ability whose naturalness is born of art and practice, and is therefore twice as effective. Of the rest of the cast Joel McCrea is something more than com- petent, Marjorie Rambeau is as good as ever as the mother, and Miles Mander gives a fantastic exhibition of overacting as the drunken father ; and with all that misses out the three main things which, according to the Porter, are provoked by alcohol. The possibilities of the film in the realm of the fantastic and the macabre are axiomatic ; films like King Kong and The Invisible Man appear at intervals to remind us of the ingenuity with which trick photography can waft us into the Impossible. What is extraordinary is that the convincing success of the trick effects themselves is seldom allied to conviction in the emotional effect ; and ingenuity in such films is nothing if it cannot carry with it a sense of terror or a sense of fairy-tale. Dr. Cyclops is no exception. Here we have the mad scientist who uses radium to reduce his guests to midgets ; and incredible ingenuities are used to establish the mad sense of scale so produced. But there is nothing of the " cauld grue " which we get, for instance, from the country doctor's fight for life with the giant rat in The Pood of the Gods. The household cat in Dr. Cyclops remains a household cat ; the rat in the Wells novel belongs to a category outside our ordinary experience. Here perhaps is a defect arising from the crisp realism of the camera lens ; but one prefers to regard it as lack of imagination on the part of the men behind the lens. In any case, Dr. Cyclops is the first film of its type to be made in Technicolor, and within the terms of novelty it is worth a perfunctory salute.