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Dance Hall (1950)


Main image of Dance Hall (1950)
35mm, black and white, 80 mins
DirectorCharles Crichton
Production CompanyEaling Studios
ProducerMichael Balcon
ScreenplayE.V.H. Emmett
 Diana Morgan
 Alexander Mackendrick
PhotographyDouglas Slocombe
Music DirectorErnest Irving

Cast: Natasha Parry (Eve); Jane Hylton (Mary); Diana Dors (Carole); Petula Clark (Georgie Wilson); Donald Houston (Phil); Bonar Colleano (Alec)

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Four young women find relief from the monotony of factory work and domestic drudgery by spending their evenings dancing at London's Chiswick Palais, where they find romance, heartache, glamour and excitement.

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Considered a minor Ealing work, Dance Hall was released on the Gaumont circuit with a re-issued Overlanders (d. Harry Watt, 1946) in support. It was not a great success, perhaps because the world depicted (factory work, tenement flats, the suburban Palais dance hall) was too familiar to much of the urban audience. It would have been considered quite 'realistic' in 1950, although Petula Clark later observed how well-spoken these factory girls were.

Dance Hall offers a variation on the 'portmanteau' style of linked stories, but it is more interesting for its unusual (for Ealing) focus on four young women and their romantic encounters from a female perspective, presumably the input of screenwriter Diana Morgan. The Eve/Phil/Alec love triangle emerges as the main story, with Natasha Parry (Eve) having the star role. The most liberated, Eve has problematic male relationships. She even listens to be-bop jazz: in 1950, clearly a warning of danger ahead. Welshman Phil is melancholic, expects his wife to remain at home, and when drunk, becomes aggressive. His love-rival, American Alec, drives a flash sports car, can obtain 'off-ration' kippers and plays Benny Goodman records - all indicators that he is 'bad news'. Yet what 1950 girl would not prefer a fling with Alec to marriage with dull Phil? Whether Eve did the deed with Alec is left to a nicely ambiguous shot of a net curtain wafting in the breeze.

We can now view Dance Hall as an historical piece full of incidental detail: visual reminders of London bomb sites and trollybuses, and references to 'Mac Fisheries', 'Music While You Work', football results and rationing. The lost world of the Palais is vividly depicted, with its oleaginous manager (Sydney Tafler), army of daytime cleaners, popular songs and social interaction. Like several UK films of its era, Dance Hall depicts popular leisure pursuits which seem to play a much larger part in building communities than they do today.

Editing and photography are first rate, from the opening sound edit (soft dance music to deafening machine noise), with a tracking shot set up in a real factory introducing the girls. The car park scenes are dramatically lit and edited, and when Eve climbs to the roof and a train speeds by below, we fear tragedy is looming. And locating personal tragedy in a carnival setting clearly references the French classic of poetic realism, Les Enfants du Paradis (1945).

Roger Philip Mellor

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Video Clips
1. Chiswick bus ride (1:44)
2. Strictly Come Dancing (4:51)
3. The fight (2:46)
Production stills
Charles Crichton: BECTU Interview Part 2 (1987)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Banes, Lionel (1904-1996)
Colleano, Bonar (1923-1958)
Crichton, Charles (1910-1999)
Dors, Diana (1931-1984)
Kendall, Kay (1927-1959)
Mackendrick, Alexander (1912-1993)
Morgan, Diana (1908-1996)
Nichols, Dandy (1907-1986)
Slocombe, Douglas (1913-)
Tafler, Sydney (1916-79)