Monday, August 27, 2012

#605: This Happy Breed

(David Lean, 1944)

This Happy Breed is a class act (puns!), and that's probably going to mean you'll either love it or find it a colossal bore. I kind of see both sides. I did become engaged with the story by the end, but there isn't much here you haven't seen a thousand times in other stories of an average family over a period of many years.

What really saves the movie is Lean's direction, which at times shows flashes of brilliance that compare to his later classics. The best example of this is when the father is being told that Reg has died. Rather than follow Vi into the garden where she will tell him, the camera stays in the kitchen and slowly pans across the room, keeping the open door in the same position on the screen as it moves. It's a subtle but perfectly executed shot, a classic example of the power of the camera in isolation.

Still, This Happy Breed is melodramatic boiler-plate chicken soup for the masses. There isn't anything here you can't find in a thousand other movies - it just happens to be executed exceptionally (though not spectacularly) well. It might give in to all the stereotypes about British people, but they happen to be pretty good at this sort of thing, and it's hard to think of two more-British artists from the last century than Noel Coward and David Lean. So Anglophiles, have at it, while everyone else would have their time better spent with Brief Encounter.

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