Film-Forward Review: IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY (1947)

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Googie Withers and John McCallum 
Photo: Film Forum/Rialto Pictures

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Directed by Robert Hamer
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by Hamer, Angus MacPhail, Henry Cornelius, from the novel by Arthur La Bern
Director of Photography, Douglas Slocombe
Edited by Michael Truman
Music by Georges Auric
Released by Rialto Pictures
UK. 92 min. Not Rated
With Googie Withers, John McCallum, Jack Warner, Edward Chapman, Sydney Tafler, Alfie Bass, Jimmy Hanley, John Carol, John Slater, Susan Shaw, Patricia Plunkett & Betty Ann Davies

With It Always Rains On Sunday, Rialto Pictures continues mining gorgeous gems of overlooked European black-and-white noir for U.S. re-release, as it did for Carol Reed’s The Fallen Idol and Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows.

Like Raoul Walsh’s High Sierra from six years earlier, there’s a hunky escaped con on the lam, a tough broad who loves him, a failed heist, and a determined copper on their trail. But coming from the Ealing Studios that became more known for comedies, this is mostly a rich slice of urban, post-World War II working-class British life. Filmed in the neighborhood of Bethnal Green, the heart of the East End of London similar to New York’s Lower East Side, the streetscape dominates, sunrise to sunset, as the rain starts and stops, again and again.

Sunday unfolds differently for each of the interconnected characters, whether they read the paper for the sports or the headlines about the escapee. Working folks sleep in late and prepare for a leisurely day at the pub, arcade, picture show, or the fights. Married to boring, older George Sandigate (Edward Chapman), ex-blonde barmaid Rose (Googie Withers) is using up wartime food ration cards and bossing around her stepdaughters, dutiful brunette Doris (Patricia Plunkett) and blonde Vi (Susan Shaw). Vi’s caught sneaking around with a married saxophone player, Morry Hyams (Sydney Tafler), whose wife, Sadie (Betty Ann Davies), tartly puts him in his place with cockney-accented Yiddish zingers. And there’s no rest for most of the neighborhood’s crooks. A trio of thugs is as comic as they are tough.

Amidst the delightful panorama of wise-cracking local color, where the women shine, runaway prisoner Tommy Swann (John McCallum) hides in the Sandigate’s crowded home, turning it into a tense minefield all day long as he and Rose electrically recall and reignite their past. (Off-screen, the pair has been married for 60 years).

Director Robert Hamer revs up the pace as the crisscrossing characters are overtaken by the crisscrossing railroad tracks in the exciting climax, though the cynicism and desperation of the genre are surprisingly tempered with humanity. Douglas Slocombe’s exquisite cinematography of smoke and light goes up, down, under, and over grimy coal cars and belching steam trains in a thrilling chase that makes it seem as if he was working at a disadvantage in filming the Indiana Jones’ movies in color 40 years later. Nora Lee Mandel
March 7, 2008



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