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Now You're Talking (1940)


Main image of Now You're Talking (1940)
35mm, 11 min, black & white
DirectorJohn Paddy Carstairs
Production CompanyEaling Studios
SponsorMinistry of Information
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScriptJeffrey Dell
 Roger MacDougall
 Basil Dearden

Cast: Sebastian Shaw (Charles Hampton); Dorothy Hyson (Mrs Hampton); Edward Chapman (Alf Small); Judy Campbell (Doris); George Merritt (Fred Perkins); Lloyd Pearson (Jake); Alec Clunes (Harry); George Relph (spy); Johnnie Schofield (man)

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When a fallen Nazi aeroplane is recovered, British scientists have high hopes of learning valuable secrets. But a disgruntled factory worker inadvertently alerts enemy agents to the discovery, with disastrous consequences.

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Now You're Talking was one of a trio of fast-paced shorts released in 1940 and intended to illustrate the potentially catastrophic consequences of unguarded chatter in public places during wartime.

As part of a wider publicity campaign, which saw posters bearing such iconic slogans as ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ festooned in cafes and bars, the Ministry of Information commissioned three short films from Ealing Studios, with a hefty combined budget of £6,000. The films follow a similar narrative but vary in their characterisation and choice of locations in order to target audiences of different classes - a deliberate distribution strategy on the part of the MOI, which wanted the message to be disseminated as widely as possible.

Now You’re Talking was made with working-class audiences in mind, and distributed to cinemas in industrial areas. The main action is divided between a factory laboratory, where two scientists (one of them played by Alec Clunes, father of Martin) are about to take delivery of a recovered enemy aircraft, from which they hope to learn vital secrets; the factory gates, where worker Alf learns he has to work late to unload the lorry carrying the miraculously undamaged plane; and a local pub, where the loose-tongued Alf, in exchange for a pint of mild and bitter, reveals too much to an inquisitive stranger.

Interestingly, a later survey of wartime propaganda films by Mass Observation reported that the three films were better received by middle-class audiences than working-class ones. In some working-class quarters, it reported, there were objections to the casting of the spies as workers and the upper-class characters as heroes. The other films in the trilogy, Dangerous Comment, with its spy bartender and heroic officers, and All Hands, in which the Nazi agents include a café proprietress, were designed for the upper and middle classes respectively.

Katy McGahan

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Video Clips
Complete film (11:29)
All Hands (1940)
Dangerous Comment (1940)
Next of Kin, The (1942)
Carstairs, John Paddy (1910-1970)
Ealing Studios (1938-59)
Ealing Propaganda Shorts