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Foreman Went to France, The (1942)


Main image of Foreman Went to France, The (1942)
35mm, black and white, 87 mins
DirectorCharles Frend
Production CompanyEaling Studios
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScreenplayAngus Macphail, John Dighton, Leslie Arliss
CinematographyWilkie Cooper
MusicWilliam Walton

Cast: Tommy Trinder (Tommy Hoskins); Constance Cummings (Anne Stanford); Clifford Evans (Fred Garrick); Robert Morley (the mayor); Gordon Jackson ('Jock' Alastair)

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A factory foreman embarks on a dangerous mission to occupied France to retrieve important machinery.

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An enjoyable Ealing propaganda film, The Foreman Went to France was based on a story by J.B. Priestley, itself inspired by a true event (the film is dedicated to the real foreman, Melbourne Johns). The film shows the studio already moving away from the model of the early war years, in which the heroes were typically clipped-voiced officers, to one spotlighting the small-scale heroism of ordinary men and women.

Here, the focus is on the determination of a factory foreman, Fred Garrick, to prevent vital machinery on loan to a French factory from falling into enemy hands. Fred struggles against his managers' complacency, bureaucratic delay and the efforts of collaborators (or 'fifth columnists') to undermine his mission, before successfully getting the equipment back to England, with the help of Ann, an employee of the French factory, and two soldiers, Tommy (popular comic Tommy Trinder) and Jock (a very young Gordon Jackson).

One of the main themes is the threat posed by fifth columnists, and Fred, despite his admirable single-mindedness, is dangerously naïve in his dealings with strangers. The mission is several times placed in danger because of Fred's willingness to trust authority figures - a stationmaster, a town mayor, a prefect, a 'British' army officer - all of whom turn out to be working with the enemy. It is only thanks to his more alert colleagues that Fred realises the deceptions.

In what was to become a pattern of Ealing's output as the war went on, the film goes to some lengths to be inclusive: Fred is Welsh, Ann American, Tommy a cockney, Jock a Scot. The more upper-class characters are pushed to the periphery of the story, and even portrayed as an obstacle to the war effort - Fred's Managing Director forbids his trip (Fred ignores him), and his attempts to get his papers are held up by Civil Service red-tape.

The film even takes a dig at the war leadership - as a pub landlord remarks, "the trouble is the people at the top think they're fighting the last war all over again". This was quite subversive for the time: a year later, Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), which expressed similar views, so infuriated Churchill that he tried to ban it.

The French scenes were filmed in Cornwall.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. The decision (3:05)
2. Evacuation (3:36)
3. The phoney Major (1:59)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Eating Out With Tommy Trinder (1941)
Arliss, Leslie (1901-1987)
Cooper, Wilkie (1911-2001)
Frend, Charles (1909-1977)
Hamer, Robert (1911-63)
Jackson, Gordon (1923-1990)
MacPhail, Angus (1903-1962)
Morley, Robert (1908-1992)
Slocombe, Douglas (1913-)
Trinder, Tommy (1909-1989)
Walton, Sir William (1902-1983)
Ealing at War