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Submitted by Mark Fuller

You'll like this U.S. Sergeant
in a truly British film


By Ernest Betts


*** "A Canterbury Tale"
(2 hours 4 minutes)

From: Sunday Express
14 May 1944


What a man this Sergeant John Sweet is, and what a picture he appears in! A brilliant, beautiful, but baffling picture singing a song of the English countryside rarely heard on the screen.

I must deal with the sergeant first before pointing out to you that the merits of the picture will by no means blind you to its faults.

     Sergeant John Stevens Sweet, of the U.S. Army, plays his own real-life part in this Canterbury Tale. Maybe that's why he's so good. He has the effortless ease and naturalness of a Spencer Tracy, and the friendliest voice in the world.

     He has toughness with charm. He moves around slowly, in a detached, baffled, good-humoured way, never hurrying, never losing his natural dignity. He is the best of America in battle-dress. I believe he will make tens of thousands of fans in this country.

     The sergeant is 26, has never appeared in films before. He comes from Ohio, hoped to be a teacher, but the war stepped in and collared him. Shortly before he came to this country he married. He has a baby daughter he has never seen.

     Now just as Sergeant Sweet, by no means a good-looker, but a guy you would certainly like to meet, is the essence of America, so this picture is the essence of Britain.

     The film shows you, through the eyes of four modern pilgrims, how a typical American, visiting our pubs, farms, fields and tea-shops, meeting the vision that is Canterbury, meeting the girls, the villagers, the craftsmen and workers, comes to see that Britain isn't such a bad place after all, that it is a glorious place, that it is, in fact, terrific.

     But it is a strange tale that interprets this theme. The four pilgrims - Thomas Colpeper, the local J.P., Bob Johnson, the US sergeant, Alison Smith, the land girl, Peter Gibbs, the British sergeant, all get mixed up in the extraordinary case of the Glue Man. What on earth is glue to do with Canterbury? Nothing. But it sticks to Canterbury and smears the tale.

     The Glue Man is an oddity who secretly pours glue on the hair of local girls during the black-out. They know him to be a soldier. Consequently they are scared of being around with soldiers.

     The hunt for the Glue Man provides a brilliant and amusing opening, but seems to strike a false note in this magically English scene.

     For the glory of "A Canterbury Tale" - and parts of it are really glorious - is in the way it captures the deep, warm beauty of the countryside, the thrill of an English summer.

     The photography of Erwin Hillier, the cameraman, has honey in it. You can smell it. I congratulate him on a miracle.

     Then the film has a wonderful sense of people and what they are made of - our own people and the amused American sergeant fighting mock battles with roaring kids. That is its great merit.

     The land girl, once a shop assistant whose memories draw her irresistably back to the Pilgrims' Way; the cinema organist, now a British sergeant, who gets 30 a week for not doing what he wants to do - these are characters, not types. You will see yourself in them. The mirror is held up to nature.

     The faults of the picture are mystification and obscurity. Is this film about Anglo-American relations, is it a hymn to England, or what? I don't know. A film should know what it is about.

     Eric Portman as the magistrate gives a fine, incisive performance, though he gets a bit stuck in the glue. Sheila Sim, a newcomer, has a candid, attractive charm, and Dennis Price (the organist-sergeant), who has a nice style, is fearfully British - (Odeon)


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