Monday 13 April 2015

Catching Up (5) - Take My Life, Directed by Ronald Neame, UK, 1947

Ronald Neame had a bit of a charmed life in the film industry. After working as an office boy for an oil company, he got a messenger's job at Elstree and by 1929, barely 18 years old,  he was an assistant cameraman on Hitchcock's Blackmail. By 1933 he was a cinematographer. Wikipedia reports that his credits as cinematographer include  Major Barbara (1941), In Which We Serve (1942), This Happy Breed (1944), and Blithe Spirit (1945). His camera work on One of Our Aircraft Is Missing got him an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects in 1943. Wikipedia then reports that Neame formed a production company, Cineguild, with David Lean and Anthony Havelock-Allan. During this partnership, he produced Brief Encounter (1945), Great Expectations (1946), and Oliver Twist (1948). He shared Academy Award nominations for Best Screenplay for Brief Encounter, in 1947, and Great Expectations, in 1948, with co-writers Lean and Havelock-Allan.

But, in between all that activity, Neame found the time space and money to direct his first film, a modest little mystery, Take My Life, made in 1947. He continued his career as a producer after this and directed two more films over the next five years, The Golden Salamander with the delectable Anouk Aimee, (1950), and the rather good Arnold Bennett adaptation The Card, (1952) starring Alec Guinness as a nineteenth century Joe Lampton if you get what I mean.

Take My Life has an interesting set of writing credits being "Adapted from an original screenplay by Winston Graham & Valerie Taylor. Additional Dialogue is by Winston Graham and Margaret Kennedy. The cinematographer was Guy Green. Winston Graham wrote the hugely successful Poldark series of swashbuckler novels. He also wrote 'Marnie' the book on which Hitchcock based his 1964 film of the same name.

Take My Life is a courtroom drama in which a man, Nick Talbot (Hugh Williams), who lives off the money he makes managing the business affairs of his opera singer wife (the scrumptious Greta Gynt), is accused of murdering a former lover. We know he didn't do it because the real murderer's face is shown to us while he commits the dastardly deed. (It's Marius Goring, the brooding presence who plied a trade as a lugubrious figure in many a classic Brit movie, including four for the Powell & Pressburger team.) But some mis-identification and other circumstantial evidence like Nick's violent quarrel with his wife later that evening, propels Nick into the dock. He's found guilty and sentenced to death. His singer wife sets out to save him and being a singer, the major clue emerges from a piece of music. It all takes about 72 minutes to complete. Efficient but rather bloodless and Marius's menace, particularly in the scenes where he shows Greta Gynt around the empty school at which he's the headmaster dont have have any great tension or threat.

Take My Life, Cineguild Production, UK, 1947, 72 minutes. Screens on the ABC as part of the channel's J Arthur Rank package. Copy taken from an on-air screening sometime ago.

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