So Long At The Fair

So Long At The Fair (Co-Directed by Terence Fisher and Antony Darnborough, 1950)

I see this is airing on TCM April 17th at 10:00 EST. Consider this post a TIVO warning. This is worth seeing, and I don’t think it gets aired much of anywhere and the only DVD I’ve found is an R2 Spanish one:

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Contrary to my usual methods, I’m not going to overspoil this one too much with screencaps.

The story is a missing person search. A British brother and sister (David Tomlinson, some years away from stuffy dad-dome in Mary Poppins, and Jean Simmons) have been making the grand processional around Europe. They’re more or less heading home, but are going to put in along with a few hundred thousand close friends at Paris for the 1889 Paris Exhibition. They arrive, check in to their hotel and adjourn for the night to their separate rooms, ready to go a-fairing the next day. However, when Jean comes to collect her brother, not only can’t she find him, she can’t even find his room – in fact the spot where it was is now a blank wall!

So I expect you can at least partly see where this is headed – struggles to find anyone who can even confirm she had a brother to lose (the hotel staff all deny seeing such a person), visits to the police, the British consulate, etc… Some perhaps inadvertent social commentary as well, as being the girl means she doesn’t have access to money and suffers a more condescending version of assistance than her brother would likely get if the situation would be reversed.

Dirk Bogarde is the handsome young Brit artist who believes her and embarks on helping her out. If you’re catching a whiff of The Lady Vanishes in this, well sure. While that one was as much comedy as thriller, this one plays it quite straight.

This sort of story seems like a double-edged sword. It’s the kind of mystery that makes audience engagement rather easy, but payoff is risky – you risk offering up something that makes the whole thing seem like a shaggy dog story. In this film, we see enough of Tomlinson up front, interacting with enough people that the possibility that Simmons’ character is a nutter chasing a ghost is not too feasible. This pleases me, because the “ah it was all in her head the whole time” sort of resolution gets my blood up. Tangible resolution is indeed offered, but whether it’s worth all the fuss is entirely up to you. I thought it passed, but only just. The journey is more the pleasure with So Long at the Fair, and its an interesting collection of people to journey with – Jean Simmons, closing in on Hollywood, Dirk Bogarde just beginning to break out into stardom, between this and The Blue Lamp. Terence Fisher getting his directing wings, some years from chaining himself to the Hammer Horror desk. Honor Blackman has a featured role as well, an awfully long ways away from The Avengers or Pussy Galore.

Bogarde is probably the most startling, as appealing as I’ve ever seen him. Usually he strikes me as a bit constipated, a bit too laconic. Here he’s not just the charmer as required but engaged and energetic as well. For you Brits/geeks out there, he reminds me of David Tennant, which is meant as a compliment.

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