I’ve recently begun to explore British noir films. In my limited experience to date and from reading scholarship, I’m finding them more sentimental at times and often focused on the unexceptional and lost individual or the hard-bitten struggling to succeed or survive in a callous world. No hard-boiled dicks, but some compelling femmes and hommes fatale.
Two films immediately came to mind for my contribution to A Shroud of Thoughts‘ 2nd Annual British Invaders Blogathon: Turn the Key Softly (the focus of a recent BNoirDetour live tweet — see details here) and It Always Rains on Sunday. I recommend both highly, but it’s the latter on which I’m focusing for this post.
First, a detour. A noir film set in London, Night and the City showcases a wild young Richard Widmark. The film also features a captivating performance by Googie Withers — an actress I knew by name but not by sight — as the corrupt wife of a greedy club owner. She matches sharp wits and looks with ruthlessness, and she is indefatigable, even when she loses her bets.
This appearance made me search out what else the actress might have done in noir. And this brought me to It Always Rains on Sunday. I’d call it “working-class domestic drama meets noir”, for we have a criminal on the run and a detective who seeks him, but Withers’ Rose dominates the screen. We learn she was once a blonde bombshell of a barmaid who fell for a handsome criminal named Tommy Swann (played by Withers’ husband, John McCallum).
When Tommy abandons her and ends up in jail, Rose makes the compromises she must in order to get by. She becomes a sharp-tongued brunette housewife, raising a son and two teen step-daughters with dull but stable George Sandigate (Edward Chapman).
Then Tommy escapes from prison and comes seeking Rose’s help. She is reluctant: she’s not thrilled with her life, but she has had to become a realist and appreciates the stability she’s got. Yet she can’t deny she still has feelings for Tommy. Can she hide him from both the police and her family on one rainy Sunday? Should she?
A compelling British domestic noir, It Always Rains on Sunday encourages us to ponder the struggles of a working-class woman’s life, one who gave up on reckless love then finds its dangers in her midst again. As Withers’ Rose contemplates the meaning of love and how to live a life worth living, we are invited to ponder such questions, too. Stirring theme and great acting by Withers make this a new favorite for me.