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December 18, 2007

The Powell-Pressburger Blog-a-thon: The Waiting Game

michael powell.jpg

Michael Powell - 1975
St. Martin's Press

The Waiting Game is a novel about Ireland, published in 1975, but taking place in 1952. What is revealed through this novel is how certain themes from Powell's films are repeated. Because of the details and descriptions, Powell proved that even if he could not make films anymore, at the very least he could write in such a way that one could easily visualize the novel as an imagined movie.

Like several of Powell's films, his novel takes place in one of the more remote areas of the English speaking world. The main character, Diarmuid O'Connell, a Canadian of Irish descent who takes the job as gamekeeper at the estate near a small village. The village, where everyone knows everyone else, is a destination for hunters, and as such, relies on tourism. A murder taking place the previous year of an American hunter and his sons remains unsolved. The insularity of the community is challenged by the economic dependence on strangers whom they eye with suspicion.

Powell's story is about people who are haunted by their past. Similarly, though perhaps unconsciously, The Waiting Game seems to be haunted by John Ford. The most obvious reference is when several of the characters see what is referred to as a John Ford western at the local movie theater. No title is mentioned but based on when the novel takes place, I am assuming it would be Rio Grande. The hunter's two sons are named Jack and Ford. There is also reference to someone named Aloysius Ford, Aloysius being one of the director's claimed middle names. It was also in 1952 that John Ford made his film about Ireland, The Quiet Man. The description of a fight between O'Connell and another man could easily remind readers of the fisticuffs between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen. And Powell, who had an eye for redheaded women, may well have had Maureen O'Hara envisioned in his creation of Sue, the woman with the "big, handsome figure". That Sue is caught between O'Connell and a local man echoes the romantic triangles of such films as Gone to Earth and I Know Where I'm Going.

As Powell never completed his autobiography, there is nothing to put The Waiting Game in any context that does not require some speculation. The very brief description of the author mentions that Powell was preparing to film The Tempest. At the time the book was published, Powell was known chiefly for The Red Shoes and Thief of Bagdad. My own introduction to Powell was through Wllliam K. Everson. Powell's last feature, Age of Consent was barely released in the United States in 1969. What is certain is that if Michael Powell was unable to make any of the films that he imagined, he did the next best thing by writing a vivid, cinematic novel.

Others taking aim at "The Archers" can be found at Beyond the Valley of the Cinephiles.

Posted by peter at December 18, 2007 10:04 PM