Saturday 14 February 2015

Catching Up (2) Mr Perrin and Mr Traill

Another of the J Arthur Rank films screened late night on the ABC for the last twenty five years or so.

Mr Perrin and Mr Traill (Lawrence Huntington, Two Cities Films, UK, 1948)
First a note on the source lifted holus bolus from Wikipedia. The film is based on a novel of the same name by It was the author's first commercial success,  published in 1911. The novelist and biographer Michael Sadleir writes that though some of the six novels Walpole wrote between 1909 and 1914 are of interest as examples of the author's developing style, it is Mr Perrin and Mr Traill that deserves to be remembered for its own sake The book, subtitled "a tragi-comedy", is a psychological study of a deadly clash between two schoolmasters, one an ageing failure and the other a young, attractive idealist. In the view of Hart-Davis, Walpole only once recaptured "the fresh, clear cut realism" of this book, and Walpole himself, looking back on his work in the 1930s, felt that of all his books to date, it was the truest. The Observer gave the book a favourable review: "The slow growth of the poison within [Perrin] is traced with wonderful skill and sympathy ... one feels throughout these pages a sense of intolerable tension, of impending disaster"...
 Way back in 1948 when the film was released Wikipedia further informs us that The Guardian film reviewer observed that the setting of Mr Perrin and Mr Traill – a second-rate public school – was clearly drawn from life, as indeed it was. The boys of Epsom College were delighted with the thinly disguised version of their school, but the college authorities were not, and Walpole was persona non grata  at Epsom for many years....

Two Cities Films did prestige productions for J Arthur Rank. This film is scripted by L A G Strong, photographed by the eminent Erwin Hillier but unfortunately is directed without any great liveliness or insight by a hack, Lawrence Huntington. Marius Goring's Perrin is the stuffy, rules conscious long-standing but rather low-achieving master. Far too late into the story we pick up that Perrin's favourite boy, hints here, has had his attention swayed by the arrival of the boisterous new Maths and Sports teacher, former rugby player, Mr Traill. (David Farrar), Traill's spindly legs don't appear to fit the model of the typical rugger bloke, but he's all charm. He is soon sweeping everything before him,including the nursing aide played by another of those ineffable English roses Greta Gynt in a fashion denoted by an utter lack of colour or charm.

Slowly we learn that Perrin is in love with, but can say nothing to the nurse and is terrified of the Headmaster,  a solemnly pontificating Raymond Huntley playing a character called Mr Moy-Thompson. The rivalry gets bitter and spills over into minor tragedy. I shall not spoil it. Along the way we get a little of the violence, submission and sheer anti-intellectualism of a British public (private) school. Everyone is a failure and the real business going on there is business itself.  Not dull but it took Lindsay Anderson's If... some twenty years later to blow the lid off the system.

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