Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Favourite movies: Hand in Hand (1961)


Once upon a time, between 1945 and 1963, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association presented one of their Golden Globe trophies to the "Best Film Promoting International Understanding". Among the titles accorded this honour are: The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Hasty Heart, Little Boy Lost, The Diary of Anne Frank, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, To Kill a Mockingbird and Lilies of the Field.


The 1961 award was presented to a gentle gem from Britain, Hand in Hand directed by Philip Leacock (director - The Kidnappers, producer - Gunsmoke). I don't know why the award was discontinued. It seems like the sort of category that would appeal to the "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" generation. Maybe I missed the bit about the world becoming a more tolerant place in the last 50 years.


Philip Needs and Loretta Parry
Michael and Rachel

Loretta Parry and Philip Needs play 7-year-olds Rachel Mathias and Michael O'Malley. Their introduction is a rocky one, but quickly the two children become inseparable playmates, welcome in each others homes. It's probably just as well that Mike doesn't overhear his mother's (Kathleen Byron, Black Narcissus) comment that Rachel doesn't seem Jewish or that Rachel doesn't hear her mother opine that in 10 or so years when Rachel is ready for a steady beau that she finds a "nice Jewish boy".


Religion becomes a question at the beginning of the children's relationship when Michael braves the shop of mean old Mr. Pritchard (Finlay Currie, I Know Where I'm Going!) to get the newspaper Rachel was sent out to purchase.

Rachel:  Was that magic you did?
Mike:  What?
Rachel:  Before you went in.
Mike:  Oh, that's the sign of the cross. We're Catholic.
Rachel:  Oh, we're Jewish.
Mike:  We've got a Jewish boy in our class.  He swapped me a water pistol for a space gun.

It is a time some of us may remember when parents would kick kids out of the house in the morning and not expect them back until dark. Rachel and Mike fix up a work shed on an abandoned estate as their playhouse and all is right with the world until Rachel's father gets a work promotion which entails a move for the family. The children decide to become blood brothers, as they have seen on television, giving them an unbreakable bond.



Philip Needs, Rachel Parry and Sybil Thorndike
Mike, Rachel and Lady Caroline

Rachel thinks that the blood brother ceremony is similar to getting married and when people get married they go on a holiday. They decide to go to London to visit the Queen on the chance she might invite them in for tea. They don't meet the Queen, but a friendly Peer (Sybil Thorndyke, Stage Fright) who does invite them to tea and to play with her corgies, once assured their parents don't expect the children home until evening. It is a sunny memory for all, but things are about to get dark.



Peter Pike
Harry 

Mike's pal Harry is fed up with Mike ignoring the boys for Rachel's sake.

Harry:  Mike, we're going to the pictures.  Coming?
Mike:  Shakes head.
Harry:  Always out with that Rachel Mathias, aren't you?  You're sweet on her.
Mike:  No.
Harry:  My dad doesn't like Jews.
Mike:  Why not?
Harry:  You know they killed Christ.
Mike:  She wouldn't.
Harry:  Of course.  They crucified him.
Mike:  The Jews?
Harry:  That's what I said.  Funny you not knowing that.  I suppose it's because you're a Catholic.  My dad doesn't like Catholics either.



Derek Sydney and John Gregson
Rabbi Benjamin and Father Timothy

When Mike confronts Rachel with this terrible truth, she is indignant. She never murdered anybody. She never even heard of him. Mike says they can't be friends any more as it is a sin and God wouldn't like it. Rachel wonders if their blood brother bond isn't stronger than God. Mike devises a terrible and frightening test to discover which is stronger. Mike will go to the synagogue and  Rachel must attend Mass. If they are not struck dead then they know their bond is stronger than God. The scenes in the Houses of Worship ache with the fear and confusion of the children. The unspoken understanding of the rabbi to Michael, and Rachel's eventual calm in the church are quietly emotional scenes.

The children are emboldened by their victory. They can't imagine they were ever afraid of anything. They even face the horrible Mr. Pritchard in his store as they prepare for their next adventure, sailing to Africa. The adventure places the children in physical danger and precipitates a crisis of faith for Mike. The crisis is dealt with sincerely and honestly by Mike's parish priest Father Tim (John Gregson, Genevieve).

An award-winning film about religious prejudice could be heavy-going stuff, but that is not the case with Hand in Hand. It is a forthright and genuine look at the world through the minds and hearts of 7-year-old children. Minds which are a mix of certainty and questions. I believe many of us will see our younger selves in the performances of Loretta Parry and Philip Needs. Perhaps, if we are lucky, we will see some of ourselves in the adults who offer kindness and guidance to the youngsters.












14 comments:

  1. Why is this the first I've heard of my new favourite film? How can I see it?

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  2. Miss McCrocodile, the famous Caftan Woman Lending Library is at your disposal.

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  3. I have never heard of this film! Where have I been hiding. Thanks for informing me about another must see.

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  4. I write a TV and movie Q&A column, and this movie is regularly asked about because it was shown several times on the "CBS Children's Film Festival," a Saturday afternoon show that aired in the late 1960s. It featured films from around the world. Imagine a TV network programming something like that today.

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  5. I only discovered the movie from wanting to see more from Philip Leacock. You never know quite where a movie journey will take you.

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  6. David, it's certainly understandable how this movie will live long and fondly in people's memory. It is truly a shame that we can't imagine a TV network programming such a film these days.

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  7. I've not seen it, either. Sounds wonderful. Love your description.

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  8. Thanks, JTL. The movie has a nice, quiet charm about it.

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  9. I love the idea of recognizing a film that promotes "International Understanding". A shame that it's not done today...

    This film sounds like the perfect candidate for that award. Thanks for posting!

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  10. the need for international understanding grows. The "Globes" really should look into reinstating the award. Surely there are still committed filmmakers in the world.

    It's a pleasure to discover something new and find out that it is already loved.

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  11. This sounds like a really intriguing film! Thanks for sharing!

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  12. My pleasure. It's wonderful how the internet brings all of us movie fans together.

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  13. Filmed in the spring / summer of 1960 in and around St Albans in Hertfordshire, when the children were nine years old, as “THE STAR AND THE CROSS”, it was later retitled “HAND IN HAND”. For some reason, it was taken up for distribution by Columbia Pictures in the USA in 1961, while Warner-Pathe in the UK weren't sure what to do with it and kept it on the shelf until April, 1963, before releasing it on the ABC circuit as the lower half of a double bill with the Tony Hancock comedy “The Punch and Judy Man”.

    A highlight of the film is where Michael and Rachel decide to attend each other's places of worship to see if God will strike them dead in disapproval of their friendship. Michael goes into the Jewish synagogue and takes off his schoolboy cap as a mark of respect. One of the congregation is shocked by this, snatches the cap out of Michael's hand and rams it back on the boy's head. He finds the service very strange indeed and feels like a fish out of water, but manages to go through with it by simply copying what he sees the others doing.

    I ran this film in September, 1969 for the children's Saturday matinee at the cinema where I was the projectionist and the children loved it. Normally a noisy, unruly lot, they were totally engrossed in this film and sat there as quiet as mice. Philip Needs passed away in 2016 aged 66, but as far as I know, Loretta Parry is still with us. She must be around 70 by now. The lovely title music by Stanley Black was released on a Decca single in April, 1963, to coincide with the release of the film in cinemas. It's very hard to find now, but I do have it in my record collection. David Rayner, Stoke on Trent, England, UK.

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  14. P.S. That's not Peter Pike as Harry in your above image, it's Denis Gilmore as Tom.

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