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Genevieve (1953)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Genevieve (1953)
35mm, 86 min, colour
DirectorHenry Cornelius
Production CompanySirius Productions
ProducerHenry Cornelius
Story and ScreenplayWilliam Rose
CinematographyChristopher Challis
MusicLarry Adler

Cast: John Gregson (Alan McKim); Dinah Sheridan (Wendy McKim); Kenneth More (Ambrose Claveshouse); Kay Kendall (Rosalie Peters); Joyce Grenfell (hotel proprietress)

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Two friends driving in the London to Brighton vintage car rally bet on which of them will be the first to arrive back home.

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Many remember Genevieve (d. Henry Cornelius, 1953) as the best Ealing comedy that never was. Given its storyline and pedigree it is very easy to understand why.

Its director Henry Cornelius had in fact joined the studio in 1944 as a producer and in 1949 directed their classic comedy Passport to Pimlico before leaving to become an independent. In addition the screenplay is by William Rose, who would later pen such classic Ealing comedies as The Ladykillers (d. Alexander Mackendrick, 1955). Cornelius even offered the project to Ealing Studios, but production chief Michael Balcon declined, claiming that he already had a full roster. The film was eventually produced by Rank, but with a budget so meagre that most of the shooting was accomplished in and around their Pinewood studios in Buckinghamshire, with just a few days of location shooting in London and Brighton.

Although one is tempted to lump the film together which such eccentric but genteel Ealing comedies as The Titfield Thunderbolt (d. Charles Crichton, 1953), which also starred John Gregson, Genevieve is in its own way a much more realistic project, distinguishing it from the more backward-looking Ealing films of the time. Cornelius was originally from South Africa and worked extensively on the Continent before moving to the UK, while Rose was an American expatriate. In Genevieve the couples' shifting relationships, going from bonhomie, to jealousy and antagonism and back again, are subtly rendered and infused with a down to earth urbanity and naturalism unusual for British films of the time. Equally, its structure marks it out as a prototype for that essentially American genre, the 'road' movie.

Remarkably for its day, Genevieve was filmed mostly on location, generally avoiding studio sets (except for interiors) and totally dispensing with back projection for the driving scenes. Instead the actors sat in car replicas that were placed on low loaders and then driven around for the filming, irrespective of the variable weather conditions. In this regard Christopher Challis' colour cinematography is particularly notable, especially when one considers how incredibly bulky and ungainly three-strip Technicolor cameras were at the time.

Larry Adler's score for harmonica and small orchestra also contributed to the film's distinctive quality, although his name was removed from American prints of the film as at that time he was a victim of the McCarthy blacklist; the credit went instead to Muir Mathieson, the film's music director.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Rather noisy (3:18)
2. How to play the Trumpet (3:27)
3. Wonderful old man (2:26)
Original poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Topical Budget 868-2: London to Brighton (1928)
Adler, Larry (1914-2001)
Challis, Christopher (1919-)
Cornelius, Henry (1913-1958)
Donner, Clive (1926-2010)
Grenfell, Joyce (1910-1979)
Kendall, Kay (1927-1959)
More, Kenneth (1914-1982)
Rose, William (1918-1987)
Sheridan, Dinah (1920-)