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Went the Day Well? (1942)


Main image of Went the Day Well? (1942)
35mm, black and white, 92 mins
Directed byAlberto Cavalcanti
Production CompanyEaling Studios
Produced byMichael Balcon
Story and ScreenplayJohn Dighton, Diana Morgan, Angus MacPhail
From a story byGraham Greene
CameramanWilkie Cooper
MusicWilliam Walton

Cast: Leslie Banks (Oliver Wilsford); Marie Lohr (Mrs Fraser); Basil Sydney (Major Ortler); Elizabeth Allan (Peggy Fry); Frank Lawton (Tom Sturry); Mervyn Johns (Charlie Sims)

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A quiet English village is visited unexpectedly by a platoon of 'Royal Engineers'. When the soldiers are revealed as German troops, the villagers stage a fightback.

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Conceived, like Ealing's earlier The Next of Kin (d. Thorold Dickinson, 1942), to highlight the dangers of a Nazi invasion, Went the Day Well? (d. Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942) is one of the most effective wartime films, although it suffered from the fact that, by the time of its release, the real threat of invasion had passed.

Went the Day Well? has its origins in a Graham Greene short story, The Lieutenant Died Last, published in an American magazine in June 1940. Greene's story concerns a poacher, Bill Purves, a Boer War veteran, who single-handedly overcomes a Nazi attempt to invade a rural English village. But aside from the central premise of invasion and the retention of the poacher as a minor character (renamed Bill Purvis), little of Greene's story remains in the script by seasoned Ealing writers John Dighton, Diana Morgan and Angus MacPhail.

Turville in Oxfordshire stands in for Bramley End, the sort of village invariably described as 'sleepy'. True to form, the villagers take some time to wake up to the presence of the enemy among them. But when they are roused, they respond with determination, resourcefulness and, when necessary, a surprising ruthlessness.

The film is almost cruel in the way it repeatedly frustrates its audience's hopes. After the Germans' merciless extermination of the village's small platoon of home guards, the villagers make a number of attempts to summon help.

The first occurs when land girl Ivy (Thora Hird) and her friend Peggy (Elizabeth Allan) smuggle a message written on an egg to the visiting delivery boy. Almost immediately, the eggs are broken when the boy is knocked off his bike by Mrs Fraser's (Marie Lohr) visiting cousin Maud (Hilda Bayley). When Mrs Fraser slips a written message into Maud's pocket, she absent-mindedly uses the note to steady a rattling car window; it is dislodged and eaten by her dog.

Most extraordinary is a scene in which the postmistress (Muriel George) throws pepper in the eyes of her unwelcome lodger, then finishes him off with an axe. Shortly after, when her telephone call for help is ignored by a gossiping switchboard operator, she meets her own end, on the blade of a bayonet.

There is, perhaps, a touch of left-wing mischief-making in the casting of Leslie Banks, best known for the British Empire epic Sanders of the River (d. Zoltan Korda, 1935), as an enemy spy.

Mark Duguid

*This film is the subject of a BFI Film Classics book by Penelope Houston.

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Video Clips
1. Continental figures (2:18)
2. The Postmistress (2:37)
3. Betrayed (2:33)
4. Treachery repaid (1:59)
Original Poster
Production stills
Sid Cole: BECTU Interview Part 1 (1987)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Silent Village, The (1943)
Banks, Leslie (1890-1952)
Cavalcanti, Alberto (1897-1982)
Cole, Sidney (1908-1998)
Cooper, Wilkie (1911-2001)
Farrar, David (1908-1995)
Fowler, Harry (1926-2012)
Hird, Thora (1911-2003)
Johns, Mervyn (1899-1992)
Lawton, Frank (1904-1969)
MacPhail, Angus (1903-1962)
Morgan, Diana (1908-1996)
Slocombe, Douglas (1913-)
Walton, Sir William (1902-1983)
Ealing at War