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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by Mark Fuller

A Canterbury Tale

By Ewart Hodgson

From: News of the World
14 May 1944 (?)

Gratitude and congratulations for "A Canterbury Tale" (Odeon), written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, whose last two pictures, "49th Parallel" and "Colonel Blimp", earned sinister comments from me because they weren't sufficiently anti-German.

     But here, in "A Canterbury Tale", Powell and Pressburger sensibly present a story free from all German characters. Here, they have at long last got down to the good earth of England, peopled by an odd magistrate (Eric Portman), a pretty land girl (Sheila Sim), an ex-cinema organist turned soldier (Dennis Price) and an American sergeant (Sergt. John Sweet, U.S. Army) who, in his charming, tolerant way, is trying to get Kent to mix with Missouri.

     The background of the story is a village just outside Canterbury. It's summer, and everything is lush and lovely in the way that only England can be. There are pubs and a smithy, the local timber merchant (Edward Rigby - a perfect cameo) and all the other pensive, slow-moving philosophers who inhabit the changeless English countryside.

     But movie cameras are not content with a village scene, however charming. Something must be made to happen. A mysterious crime epidemic breaks out. Believe it or not, glue is poured on to the heads of the local Lamours when they venture out on flirtatious walks with the soldiery.

     Sheila Sim is a victim and, being a little hard-bitten and stubborn - having worked as a London shop-girl - she decides to hunt down the glue man. With the aid of the British and American sergeants, the crime is pinned on Eric Portman.

     And the explanation for the glue attacks? It's a flimsy one, divided into two parts. One: Portman's peevishness over the soldiers preferring the local Lamours to his uplift lectures: (2) because the troops (husband and fiance section) are in danger of being led astray.

     Yes, the main plank of the plot of "A Canterbury Tale" does not stand much examination, so flimsy and unreal is it, but such is the way the picture has been contrived that when you come out you won't be critical on that score.

     The private preview that I saw of "A Canterbury Tale" began at 10.15 p.m. Hand on heart, I swear to you that when THE END came on the screen I thought it to be about 11.30. It was well after midnight. With such an altogether memorable, heart- warming picture it's perhaps a little unfair to sort out a few of the cast for bouquets and leave other equally worthy performers flowerless.

     Yet a bouquet must, under all the rules, go to newcomer Sheila Sim, who brings a new freshness, sincerity and loveliness to the British screen. And Sergt. Johnny Sweet deserves 500 of his favourite American cigarettes, plus a case of Scotch, for so completely typifying America smilingly struggling to solve England. Eric Portman is also excellent.

     To my mind "A Canterbury Tale" is not only great entertainment, it's the most important and effective film contribution yet made to Anglo-American friendship. And it resists the temptation of plugging that old argument that the two peoples are all cousins because they speak the same language and wash behind the ears. Or something.

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