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Crowded Day, The (1954)

Courtesy of Adelphi Films

Main image of Crowded Day, The (1954)
35mm, black and white, 82 mins
Directed byJohn Guillermin
Production CompanyAdvance Films
 Adelphi Films
Produced byDavid Dent
Screenplay byTalbot Rothwell
StoryJohn Paddy Carstairs
 Moie Charles
PhotographyGordon Dines
Music byEdwin Astley

Cast: John Gregson (Leslie Randall); Joan Rice (Peggy French); Freda Jackson (Mrs Morgan); Patricia Marmont (Eve Carter); Rachel Roberts (Maggie); Vera Day (Suzy); Thora Hird (Eunice's mother); Dora Bryan (Marge); Sidney James (Joe, the watchman); Prunella Scales (Eunice)

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The loves, laughs and tears of a group of salesgirls and their boyfriends in a big department store, Bunting and Hobbs, on one day during Christmas week.

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This bitter-sweet drama interweaving the shop-floor lives of post-war working women was perhaps Adelphi's most ambitious production. Arthur Dent, the driving force behind the family-run company, was determined to persuade cinema giants Odeon (owned by Rank) and ABC (owned by ABPC), to book the film not as a supporting feature - often the fate of Adelphi's output - or at selected provincial locations, but nationwide, as an 'A' picture.

The film itself was lavished with equal attention - and investment. An impressive cast included then-fashionable stars John Gregson and Joan Rice, expensively subcontracted from Rank. John Guillermin, who had shown promise on Adelphi's Torment (1949), was hired to direct at Nettlefold Studios, Walton-on-Thames. Producer David Dent shrewdly secured one day's shooting at Bourne and Hollingsworth, a large Oxford Street department store, free of charge. Rechristened Bunting and Hobbs for the film, the real name is clearly visible in the location-shot title sequence.

Intelligently scripted by Talbot Rothwell, and advertised as "A story of shopgirls and their men!" the film was aimed at the women's market, with one narrative strand focusing on an unmarried mother, who, seemingly deserted by the prospective father, contemplates suicide. This was a risqué theme for the time: Adelphi posters sternly declared the film 'Not Suitable For Children'. Some reviewers, though, smirked at the film's handling of this 'adult' subject. "The drama of an old battle-axe denouncing the bearer of her son's child reminds one of the old Lyceum days," chortled The McCarthy Review.

Overall, though, critics were impressed, praising Guillermin's assured direction. An ambitious disciple of Sergei Eisenstein, Guillermin was unafraid to gamble on some unusual shots, and kept the camera moving unobtrusively but effectively wherever possible. Despite often abrupt changes of scene, he convincingly combined disparate storylines, alternating smoky, noir-ish drama with cosy comedy.

The film had definite 'A' picture appeal. But Arthur Dent, always a staunch advocate of the 'little man', sometimes caused friction with the powerful exhibitors that controlled British cinemas. Both Odeon and ABC refused to book it as a first feature. A partial release was finally secured at a smattering of Odeons, in the bleak winter of November 1954. Few braved the frosty winds to see it. The Dents had set out to make a quality first feature, and The Crowded Day was definitely no bargain-basement 'B' picture. Sadly, without a full circuit release, it proved unable to recoup its costs.

Vic Pratt

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Video Clips
1. Morning routine (3:47)
2. Shop floor intrigue (2:56)
3. The staff party (1:06)
Astley, Edwin (1922-1998)
Bryan, Dora (1924-)
Carstairs, John Paddy (1910-1970)
Hird, Thora (1911-2003)
James, Sidney (1913-1976)
Nichols, Dandy (1907-1986)
Roberts, Rachel (1927-1980)
Rothwell, Talbot (1916-1981)
Scales, Prunella (1933-)
Adelphi Films