Those Were the Days
Those Were the Days – 1934 | 80 mins | Comedy | B&W
An adaptation of an Arthur Pinero play, which must have looked dated even in the early 1930s, seems a curious start to Will Hay‘s career in the cinema. Pinero was famous for his theatrical construction and craftsmanship, and would hardly seem to provide rewarding material for the schoolmaster comic. Although Hay takes the paterfamilias part with aplomb, it is not surprising that his film career proper is generally regarded as beginning with Boys Will Be Boys, and that Those Were the Days is now virtually forgotten.
Thomas Bentley’s film, based on The Magistrate, has Hay as Brutus Poskett, a typically Victorian pillar of society, apparently secure in his own tightly moral world, exuding the authority of office and the self-satisfaction of social prestige. After a series of misunderstandings centred on a visit to a music hall with his stepson (John Mills), he finds himself sentencing his own wife and sister-in-law to seven days’ imprisonment.
The unlikely premise of the plot is that the worldly-wise stepson, an energetic, cocksure young fellow, is pretending to be fifteen years old so that his mother can pass herself off as being younger than she actually is. A stolen watch precipitates a brawl at the music hall, from which the magistrate escapes to spend a night on a park bench, borrowing a boy’s bicycle to get to court the following morning. His wife and sister-in-law appear before him under false names after being arrested in a fracas. As their faces are veiled, he does not recognise them. Another magistrate is brought in to sort out the confusion which follows and the family is reconciled.
Thomas Bentley had been a variety artist before entering the cinema, and he ekes out the thin plot with a lot of music-hall footage. Unfortunately, the variety turns are clumsily integrated with the rest of the material, puncturing it instead of punctuating it. The formula of a respectable middle-class citizen involved in disreputable goings-on was the right one for Hay, but this film was not so much a vehicle as a straitjacket for him and his essential screen personality was yet to emerge. He has little scope to develop the character of the compromised magistrate, and it is left to an ebullient John Mills, who enjoyed a musical-comedy reputation in the 1930s, to inject fife and bravado into the film. It is difficult to tell whether Hay’s bemused expression is ‘part of the act’ or his own reaction to the proceedings. Perhaps both. He was reported to be neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with his screen debut.
Thomas Bentley: Director
Duncan Sutherland: Art Direction
Otto Kanturek: Cinematography
Edward B Jarvis: Editing
Idris Lewis: Music Direction
Walter C Mycroft: Producer
Frank Miller: Script
Frank Thompson: Script
Frank Launder: Script
Frederick A Thompson: Script
Cecil Thornton: Sound Department