Friday, 14 December 2012

They Made Me A Fugitive

‘They Made Me A Fugitive’ is quite a confusing film. On one hand, it’s rather wooden and old fashioned, even for 1947; on the other it’s violent and cynical and dark. It creaks quite a lot, and then has little moments that redeem it. As I say, quite confusing.
One of those rare things, a British Film Noir, it is mainly of interest because of the grim portrait it paints of post war Britain, a dingy, mean, dark, damp back alley of a place where crime is rife and black market nylons and deceit are the main currencies. This miserable place is populated by spivs, thugs, snitches and drunken ex-servicemen who will break the law just to stave off the insufferable boredom of peace time. The women who aren't heartless tramps simply suffer, passed from scumbag to scumbag and occasionally getting beaten up for their trouble.
Mad Morgan.

Trevor Howard (Clem Morgan, ex-RAF man with a knack for getting into trouble) is a slightly uncertain lead, as he can’t seem to make his mind up if he’s a rotten bastard with a heroic side or a hero with rotten bastard luck. What Howard does have, however, is edge – he genuinely looks like he might do anything at any time, and this culminates in the climactic fight scene when, crazed with the desire for revenge, he literally sticks his head through a window to get at his enemy, like a Tweed-clad Terminator (interestingly, Howard had been discharged from the army for ‘mental instability’ and you can see glimpses of that in his eyes throughout this film).

Nasty Narcy

Morgan’s bête noir is Narcy (Narcissus), a loathsome dandy and suede shoed psycho who frames Morgan for a murder he didn’t commit. Narcy (played by Griffith Jones, a sort of proto Gary Oldman) is just the most unbelievable arsehole - vain, vindictive and vicious, he won’t even recant as he lies dying in a drain. The only satisfaction Morgan gets out of Narcy is the horrible scream he lets out as he meets his downfall, and the knowledge that, for once, he was on the receiving end of the pain.

The film was directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, a Brazilian who had worked in France but had been in the UK since the thirties, working with John Grierson at the GPO Film Unit before moving into feature films during the forties, most notably ‘Went The Day Well?’ and two of the segments of seminal horror portmanteau ‘Dead Of Night’.  

Mr. Cavalcanti.
Mr. Cavalcanti has some interesting camera angles and a way with montages but is slightly less assured with dialogue scenes, which he tends to let meander. Sadly, there’s a huge amount of yammer in ‘They Made Me A Fugitive’, and most of it is in that fast, clipped, arch idiom that sounds so ridiculous to modern ears, so the film occasionally grinds to a bit of an awkward halt between barrages of smart chat. The dialogue itself is all very hard-bitten and flip and gritty and noir-ish, but is delivered in plummy Received Pronunciation, as if RADA had stopped training actors and started turning out villains instead. Some of the individual lines are extraordinary:
‘Shut your trap, there’s a draft’
‘Don’t be so reactionary, this is the century of the common man’
‘He's not even a respectable crook - he’s just cheap, rotten after the war trash’
‘I’ll believe you, thousands wouldn’t’ (a recurring bon mot)
‘Who dealt this muck?’
‘He’s never looked back since he joined the Oxford Group’
‘This is the last time that Morgan runs his fingers through my permanent wave’

and, perhaps my favourite exchange of all --

Narcy: ‘What do you call that belt of yours, Jim?’ - Jim: 'The Coaxer'.

'The Coaxer'

A character called Curly

The roof of a funeral parlour - an apt setting for the final showdown

Murderus Interruptus

Grime, rain, death.
A mix of dirty realism and high fantasy, 'They Made Me A Fugitive' reminds us that immediate post-war Britain wasn't all downtrodden but quietly satisfied and victorious people muddling through and getting by, there was, as ever, a thriving underworld based on exploitation - food, clothing, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs (called 'sherbert' here) anything with a black market value, in fact, in the ration book or not. Not quite the 'we're in it together' of contemporary propaganda films, is it? And, don't forget, this was after a war we'd won

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