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Diamond City (1949)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Diamond City (1949)
35mm, black and white, 90 mins
DirectorDavid MacDonald
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
ProducerA. Frank Bundy
ScreenplayRoland Pertwee
Screen StoryRoger Bray
PhotographyReginald Wyer
MusicClifton Parker

Cast: David Farrar (Stafford Parker); Honor Blackman (Mary Hart); Diana Dors (Dora Bracken); Niall MacGinnis (Hans Muller); Andrew Crawford (David Raymond); Mervyn Johns (Hart)

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A diamond field is discovered in South Africa, and British entrepreneur Stafford Parker attempts to exploit it while maintaining law and order in a situation of near-anarchy.

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For obvious geographical reasons, there have been very few British Westerns, and even fewer that weren't deliberate parodies (Carry On Cowboy, 1965; A Fistful of Fingers, 1995), but Diamond City is a rare exception. While its setting in the Transvaal makes it technically a 'Southern', David MacDonald's film shamelessly steals its ingredients from what was then the most popular of all American film genres. It would not require a huge leap of the imagination to relocate it from Klipdrift to the Klondike, replace its diamonds with gold and recast the various white and black tribes with Americans of immigrant and native stock.

Diamond City was one of a number of attempts to consolidate David Farrar's breakthrough roles in Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus (1947) and The Small Back Room (1948), and makes good use of his particular brand of sensual virility as Stafford Parker, sole enforcer of law and order in the ramshackle mining town. The forces of anarchy are represented by the brooding, bearded Muller (Niall MacGinnis), whose constant squabbles with Parker, ranging from the petty to the murderous, supply much of the dramatic tension. There is also a modicum of historical interest in the depiction of how the British and the Boers came to often uneasy territorial arrangements.

As the barmaid Dora Bracken, the teenage Diana Dors makes the most of one of her biggest roles to date, a part that required her to sing, dance, play the piano, brawl and banter with an otherwise almost entirely male crowd. She pulls this off with surprising conviction despite complaining later that "at seventeen, I was trying to play a hardbitten belle of about thirty. I looked like a little girl dressed up in her mother's clothes." (She was a late replacement for Jean Kent). Honor Blackman, as her rival Mary Hart, has a more thankless task as a somewhat contrived embodiment of winsome purity, though tries hard to flesh out the character.

Released in October 1949, Diamond City was one of the last films made by Gainsborough Pictures before the studio was wound up. It was the third film that MacDonald directed that year, and represented a step back from the lavish costume melodramatics of The Bad Lord Byron and Christopher Columbus. His next two films, Cairo Road (1950) and The Adventurers (1951), would share both an African setting and a general impression of efficient but anonymous craftsmanship.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Jan Bloem's land (4:39)
2. Laying down the law (4:33)
3. Dora and Mary (2:50)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Blackman, Honor (1925-)
Dors, Diana (1931-1984)
Farrar, David (1908-1995)
Johns, Mervyn (1899-1992)
British African Stories