Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Favourite movies: Genevieve (1953)

Genevieve is -

  • The best Ealing comedy not to come from that studio.
  • A quintessentially British film written by an American.
  • A  film about motor cars whose leading man did not hold a driver's license.
  • A beloved classic that flopped at previews.
  • An Oscar nominated score whose composer's credit did not air on screens in America or could be mentioned at the ceremony.

William Rose was born in Jefferson, Missouri and prior to America's entry into WW2 he joined the fracas by way of Canada's Black Watch.  He found a home in England after the war and a market for his screenplays such as Genevieve, The Ladykillers, The Maggie and The Smallest Show on Earth.  Later films would include The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, The Flim Flam Man, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and his Oscar winning Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

Director Henry Cornelius had a great success at famed Ealing Studios with Passport to Pimlico and left the studio to set up his own company.  He was enthused about Rose's project concerning vintage car enthusiasts and the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Rally, but couldn't get it off the ground as his first independent film, The Galloping Major hadn't reached the level of success of "Pimlico".  Eventually "Corny" found backing from the Rank Organisation, but only if he put up some of his own money.

For their patient co-operation the makers of this film express their thanks to the officers and members of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain.  Any resemblance between the deportment of our characters and any club members is emphatically denied—by the Club.

The above disclaimer featured at the opening credits let us in immediately on the amused and amusing tone of Genevieve.
Dinah Sheridan, John Gregson
Kenneth More, Kay Kendall

John Gregson (The Holly and the Ivy, Titfield Thunderbolt, Hand in Hand, TVs Gideon C.I.D.) plays Alan McKim, a barrister with a pretty wife and a beloved 1904 Darracq.  His father drove in all the rallies prior to the war and Alan all the years after.  He lives for the vintage car rally and the time he spends tinkering with the car named Genevieve.  At the time of filming, Gregson was learning to drive and had yet to receive his license.  Dinah Sheridan (Breaking the Sound Barrier, Gilbert and Sullivan, The Railway Children) is lovely as Alan's wife Wendy.  Wendy is not so enamoured of bouncing around the countryside in an outmoded form of transportation.  Wendy and Alan have words, but being a young married couple they can't stay angry for long and the trip is on.

Joining in the annual tradition is family friend Ambrose Claverhouse played in his brightest manner by Kenneth More (Reach for the Sky, A Night to Remember, TVs The Forsyte Saga and Father Brown).  Ambrose is the proud owner of a Spyker.  Ambrose also is accompanied on each rally by a different young lady.  It is this playboy's dream to combine the London to Brighton with a "truly memorable emotional experience", but something always goes wrong.  For instance, the year he escorted Wendy, and introduced her to Alan, she locked Ambrose out of her room.  Ah, but this year Ambrose is bringing a model he has just met.  The fashionable Rosalind is played by vivacious Kay Kendall (Les Girls, The Reluctant Debutante, Doctor in the House), who is joined by her neurotic St. Bernard, Suzy.

Ambrose Claverhouse (1980 - 2000)
Beloved Nolan family pet named for Kenneth More's character in Genevieve.

We stop now to applaud Marjory Cornelius, the wife of the director and costume designer for the film.  Rosalind is so very, very chic and modern in her suit, floppy hat and sunglasses.  Wendy is pretty as a picture in a vintage costume suitable for the occasion.  Both ladies get a chance to wear more formal wear for dinner and, again, Rosalind looks like a dream and Wendy as if she never, ever put a foot wrong in the fashion department.  Applause.

Joyce Grenfell as the hotel proprietress, with Dinah Sheridan

Due to that little misunderstanding between Wendy and Alan that was mentioned earlier, they are without a hotel reservation when they finally (Genevieve was acting up) reach Brighton.  Beggars can't be choosers and they take what accommodation they can, although a cranky Wendy does not endear herself to the solicitous landlady played by Joyce Grenfell.  Bad feelings simmer throughout the night, not the least of which is Alan's sudden jealousy toward Ambrose.  An ill-considered bet is the outcome with a secret race on the return trip to London between Alan and Ambrose with nothing less than Genevieve on the line.

Arthur Wontner as an old gentleman

If the journey to Brighton was filled with comic mishaps, the return trip is filled with comic dirty tricks.  Near the finish line there is a charming cameo with Arthur Wontner as an elderly Darracq fan.  Wonter is  most famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in 5 films in the 1930s.  The best of those Holmes films is The Sign of Four and the best thing about all of the films is Arthur Wonter.

The shooting of the film on location and in Technicolor adds immensely to the delightful feel of this comedy, although the weather and logistics of the cameras made the movie a chore for its actors who came down with all sorts of colds and illnesses.  However, what truly distinguishes Genevieve is its Oscar-nominated score by harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler.  The talented Mr. Adler had moved to England in 1949 to escape the black list, although he retained his U.S. citizenship.  His agent advised against turning down the job to score Genevieve as they could not reach his price.  Instead, Adler agreed to a portion of the profits.  His certificate of nomination from the Academy was presented 31 years after the ceremony.  Adler's score for Genevieve is sprightly and keeps the action moving, always moving.  At the same time, there is a nostalgic, sentimental feel that leaves a warm glow long after the movie has finished.  

Along with Larry Adler's Oscar nomination for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (winner - Dimitri Tiomkin, The High and the Mighty), William Rose was nominated for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (winner - Budd Schulberg, On the Waterfront).  Genevieve won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Picture, a BAFTA for Best British Film and BAFTA nominations for Best Film from any Source (winner - Forbidden Games) and for Kenneth More for Best British Actor (winner - John Gielgud, Julius Caesar).

There is something very comfortable about Genevieve.  Even if you are seeing it for the first time, you feel at home and that home is a place you'll want to revisit.



  1. So sweet. I regret I've never seen the whole movie. One of those films that every rare chance I get to see it, something interrupts. Love your opening round of oddball facts about the movie--an impressive assortment.

  2. In a way, it's a nice thing to know that "Genevieve" is waiting for you.

  3. You always select the best films to review! I had completely forgotten that John Gregson was in this movie. Methinks we'll have to dust off our copy and give it another viewing soon, it's been ages. I can't wait to read your article on the "lovely ducks" lady, Joyce Grenfell.

  4. Thanks, gals. The "What a Character! blogathon" will be a real treat.

    After every time I typed John Gregson I had to stop and sigh.

  5. Very interesting facts surrounding the film - who knew!

    I've heard of this film but have never seen it. This is one reason why I love your blog: your incredible library of new-to-me movies. :)

  6. Thanks so much, Ruth, and right back at ya'.

  7. CW, I love your apt description of it as "the best Ealing comedy not to come from that studio." I love the low-key British comedies from the 1950s and early 1960s, including GENEVIEVE.

  8. Rick, that sly and dry Brit humour has great longevity, doesn't it?

  9. Lovely tribute to this film, I so want to watch and revisit this film, was always on in the UK when I was wee. Thanks for your heartfelt post and what a fantastic name for a cat - did they share any attributes?

    1. Well, I would say that our Ambrose did have a way about him that made us think the rest of us were only living in his world because he let us.



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