Hue and Cry
Hue and Cry – 1947 | 82 mins | Comedy | B&W
Hue and Cry became the first of what were later known as the Ealing comedies, although at the time it was not realised that it represented the beginning of a genre. The writer of Hue and Cry was Tibby Clarke, a former journalist and wartime London policeman, who had also found time to be a purser on a tramp steamer and the editor and sole writer of an Australian girl’s weekly paper, among many other improbable jobs. He had persuaded Balcon to allow him to write additional dialogue for a comedy section in Dead of Night (the golfing story) and now, with Henry Cornelius as associate producer and Charles Crichton as director, was given the job of fashioning a story around the mysterious freemasonry of boys. Its first title was The Trump, which was the name of a boys’s weekly filled with lurid blood-and-thunder yarns. The leading youth, Joe, played by Harry Fowler, the young cockney actor who had been a child in Went the Day Well?, has more imagination than most and becomes convinced that a hair-raising serial he is reading about a gang of crooks is really happening, and that the pages of The Trump are being used by fur thieves as a means of communication. First convincing his pals, he takes his theories to the police, but they dismiss them contemptuously and so the boys decide to go it alone and catch the crooks themselves. The first trap they set in a department store only nets a gaggle of plain-clothes detectives, and the boys make a hasty getaway through the sewers. Then they kidnap The Trump’s blonde secretary, who after being tortured by a tame white mouse reveals the plot. The climax of the film involved the coming together of hundreds of boys from all over London to fight it out with the crooks in a spectacular melee on a riverside bombsite.
Hue and Cry was billed with the slogan “The Ealing film that begs to differ”, a line that was later adopted as a sort of unofficial motto for the Studios themselves. Certainly it moved in a new direction, using locations brilliantly as a background to a story of some originality. The character of Ealing comedies could perhaps be described as realistic fantasy, with extravagantly fanciful events taking place in a meticulously believable setting, in this ease the shabby streets of early post-war London. The concept of the film took shape from the sequence at the end of the film, with its agglomeration of boys, which illustrated an idea that Cornelius wanted to express. That its patent absurdity is made believable is due to the skill with which the preceding parts of the film are handled. Many of the boys were without acting experience, including one small youth whose special talent was to reproduce the noise of virtually anything that came to mind, and who in the film delivers plenty of sound effects but not a word of dialogue. The presence in the cast of the adult performers required some courage on their parts, but Jack Warner as a Covent Garden wholesaler and master crook, and Alastair Sim as the retiring writer of the stories, who has a lifelong distaste for small boys, are especially effective.
It was another two years before the genre of the Ealing comedy came to full flower, and in 1947 Hue and Cry seemed an eccentric element in the studio’s output. Nevertheless, it was a great success and was praised by the critics, not least for the strongly indigenous feeling it had – it was, commented the Monthly Film Bulletin, ‘English to the backbone’
Extract© George Perry: Forever Ealing.
Charles Crichton: Director
Norman G Arnold: Art Direction
Henry Cornelius: Associate Producer
Jeff Seaholme: Camera Operator
Douglas Slocombe: Cinematography
Ernest Irving: Conductor
Charles Hasse: Editing
Georges Auric: Music
Michael Balcon: Producer
Hal Mason: Production Supervisor
TEB Clarke: Script
Mary Habberfield: Sound Editor
Stephen Dalby: Sound Recordist
Eric Williams: Sound Supervisor