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February 09, 2012

Car of Dreams

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Graham Cutts and Austin Melford - 1935
Shanachie Region 1 DVD

Unless this is the only film blog read, you may already know that a new "For the Love of Film" blogathon has been announced just over a week ago. Hosted by Farran Nehme of Self-Styled Siren, Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Film, and Rod Heath of This Island Rod, this third outing will be devoted to writing about film, united by a common theme, and raising funds for film preservation. The blogathon will begin on May 13. Start saving those pennies now, because the goal is to make the recently rediscovered silent film, The White Shadow available for temporary online viewing. And you like to watch, don't you?

The story of a former white NBA player coaching basketball in an inner city high school twin sisters, one good, one evil, was considered lost until recently. Keep in mind that at this point, what we have is three of six reels. So why bother with a partially restored film? In this case, because of the work of one of Graham Cutt's uncredited assistants. Cutt's career is a strange one of starting more or less at the top, cofounding Gainsborough Studios, and directing the top productions, and ending his career with quota quickies, before totally retiring from any film activity while still in his 50s. Cutts is more famous for the filmmakers who worked with him early in their careers such as Michael Powell, Rowland V. Lee, and Charles Frend. Most famous of all was the multi-talented Assistant Director, Set Designer, Editor and Screenwriter - Alfred Hitchcock. The White Shadow was the second of three films Hitchcock made under Cutts.

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Even with Car of Dreams are a couple of Hitchcock connections. Charles Frend, who began as an editor for Cutts, worked as Hitchcock's editor on several of the British films. As a director, Frend helmed the detective film, The Third Key, as well as several episodes of the TV series, Danger Man. John Mills' connection to Hitchcock is a bit more tangential, having a supporting role in Don Sharp's version of The Thirty-Nine Steps, considered by some to be one of the better remakes of a film first made by Hitchcock.

How much of Car of Dreams was directed by Cutts or screenwriter Austin Melford, I don't know. It is certainly a far better, more clever film that I had expected. Particularly noteworthy are a series of traveling camera shots in the films opening, and the use of sound, especially in scenes of a musical instrument factory secretary, and the instrument tester next door. One funny bit is a close-up of the secretary's hand, tapping on the desk, mimicking the sound of supposedly walking away to confer with her boss. There is also the film's title song, performed by the two leads while the rear screen projection changes from one locale to the next. Perhaps not original or innovative, but with a bit more imagination and style on what is essentially a quota production with a running time of about seventy minutes, The story is only in the movies as rich boy John Mills impulsively buys poor girl Grete Mosheim a Rolls-Royce, and pretends to be a chauffeur.

Given her history, Grete Mosheim would probably be seen to better advantage than in this film. On the other hand, John Mills is quite charismatic, in an atypical song and dance performance near the beginning of the film, weaving his way through a retinue of instrument makers. One aspect where it was obvious that pennies were counted is in the soundtrack, where a couple of the songs are repeated. The final shot of Mosheim and Mills driving away after all the misunderstandings have been cleared away might surprise and delight with an ending that anticipates a very similar film ending with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, forty-two years before Grease was the word.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 9, 2012 08:04 AM