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Cheer Boys Cheer (1939)


Main image of Cheer Boys Cheer (1939)
35mm, 84 min, black & white
DirectorWalter Forde
Production CompanyAssociated Talking Pictures
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScreenplayRoger MacDougall
 Allan MacKinnon
PhotographyRonald Neame

Cast: Nova Pilbeam (Margaret Greenleaf); Edmund Gwenn (Edward Ironside); Jimmy O'dea (Matt Boyle); Peter Coke (John Ironside); C.V. France (Tom Greenleaf); Moore Marriott (Geordie); Graham Moffatt (Albert Baldwin)

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Two young lovers are caught on either side of a dispute over the territorial ambitions of the monolithic Ironside brewery against an 'olde-worlde', traditional family-run concern, Greenleaf.

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A proto-Ealing comedy, Cheer Boys Cheer is excluded from the official canon merely by virtue of its date. The similarities with the classic postwar Ealing titles are many: in its story of a large purveyor of poor beer versus a small traditional brewery, it pits the small concern against the corporate; the individual against the hierarchy; the paternalistic against the authoritarian. Its chief difference to its better-known stable-mates is that there is no transgression on the part of the protagonist/s putting them in opposition to the authorities or the State such as there is in Man with the White Suit (d. Alexander Mackendrick, 1951), Passport to Pimlico (d. Henry Cornelius, 1949) and others. Perhaps because of this, Cheer Boys Cheer feels less substantial, without the sustained tension or evenness of pace of the later films. Nevertheless, with beer a subject dear to the hearts of all true Britons, our sympathies are engaged.

Film historian Charles Barr has compared the film to Ealing itself: small scale and cosy, run by a close-knit family that speaks its own language and only shows its steely core when the chips are down. It has also been seen as an allegory for the behaviour of the Nazis in the run up to the war. References to Ironside's territorial ambitions, the language of annexation, the use of grandiose fascist art deco design - to say nothing of the shot of Ironside reading Mein Kampf - are quite explicit.

This seemingly light comedy conceals a harder message (most of the Ealing comedies have one) represented by an unnecessary (at least to the plot) character: the accountant, Saunders, played by Alexander Knox, whose searing intelligence jars with the rest of the film. Saunders has two scenes with lines, one without. In the first, he delivers a cold dose of reality by letting John Ironside know that he is undeceived by his claims that the benefits of advertising outweigh its costs. The second comes after Ironside's hired thugs have instigated riot and brawling in the Greenleaf pubs (another Nazi tactic). Faced with old man Greenleaf's evident defeatism, he exclaims, quite passionately, "We've got to fight!". Considering that this script was being worked on when Neville Chamberlain's more famous piece of paper was being held aloft, and that war was declared a couple of weeks after the film's release, it is not fanciful to read this as a rallying cry.

Bryony Dixon

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Video Clips
1. Ironside and Ironside (3:02)
2. Ironside's offer (2:56)
3. Ironside's thugs (2:45)
Production stills
Brewster's Magic (1933)
Dalrymple, Ian (1903-1989)
Forde, Walter (1898-1984)
Ealing Comedy