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Caravan (1946)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Caravan (1946)
35mm, black and white, 122 mins
DirectorArthur Crabtree
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
ProducerHarold Huth
ScreenplayRoland Pertwee
Director of PhotographyStephen Dade

Cast: Stewart Granger (Richard Darrell); Jean Kent (Rosal); Robert Helpmann (Wycroft); Anne Crawford (Oriana Camperdene); Dennis Price (Sir Francis Castleton)

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Penniless would-be writer Richard and Oriana are in love, but he is beaten and left for dead in Spain by his rival for her affections. Nursed back to health by the gypsy Rosal, Richard makes contact with Oriana, with devastating results for all three.

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The last of the cycle of costume melodramas supervised by Maurice Ostrer for Gainsborough (Jassy, d. Bernard Knowles, 1947, was made by Gainsborough without Ostrer; Idol of Paris, d. Leslie Arliss, 1948, was made by Ostrer independently), Caravan is comfortably the most conventional.

It departs significantly from its predecessors in that it's far more masculine - the men get noticeably more screen time than the women, and there's more stress on fisticuffs, shootouts and chases. This reflects the changing audience - whereas earlier Gainsborough melodramas were aimed at the women who formed much of the wartime cinemagoing population, by 1946 their menfolk had returned, and the formula shifted accordingly.

So the dramatic focus is on Stewart Granger's Richard Darrell (clearly inspired by John Buchan's adventurer Richard Hannay, as seen in The 39 Steps, d. Alfred Hitchcock, 1935), and he does a very agreeable job, even though he's rather more convincing as a man of action than as an intellectual.

The other leading men are even better - Dennis Price's malevolent Francis ("The law of the land allows me to give you a thrashing and, by Jupiter, that's what I'm going to do") makes a suitably nasty substitute for James Mason, while Robert Helpmann as the sinister Wycroft reveals his Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (d. Ken Hughes, 1968) in embryonic form.

By contrast, the women, are under-used. Anne Crawford's Oriana only really comes to life in the bizarre scene with the prostitutes that's the one element of Caravan that harks back to earlier Gainsborough glories (especially Fanny by Gaslight, d. Anthony Asquith, 1944). An editor seeking to trim the overlong running time might well have ditched this scene - it adds little to the story - but it adds a welcome injection of class, sexual and marital tension that the film otherwise lacks.

Jean Kent is more striking as the gypsy Rosal, especially her slinky dance numbers, but her dialogue is strewn with clich├ęs ("What do you cold Englishwomen know of love?"), and her death is somewhat perfunctory, occurring more out of plot convenience than any particular sense of tragedy.

But if watched in the right frame of mind (some wildly unlikely coincidences make suspension of disbelief essential), Caravan is a lot of fun, especially the rip-roaring final reel that throws in a high-speed chase, a gun-versus-whip duel and death by quicksand into just a few minutes.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Richard and Rosal (6:25)
2. The dinner party (4:04)
3. Oriana and Francis (1:27)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Fanny By Gaslight (1944)
Jassy (1947)
Madonna of the Seven Moons (1944)
Magic Bow, The (1946)
Man in Grey, The (1943)
Bryan, John (1911-1969)
Crabtree, Arthur (1900-75)
Helpmann, Robert (1909-1986)
Price, Dennis (1915-1973)
Gainsborough Melodrama