Genevieve (1953)

2011 #3
Henry Cornelius | 83 mins | TV | U

GenevieveThe further behind one gets on reviews, the easier it becomes to forget a film. Or not so much forget the film itself, but when one watched it. Or, to put it another way, I was a little surprised when I looked back over the 20 films I had left to review and saw Genevieve still there. At least I had a hundred or so words of notes for this one.

But I digress.

The titular Genevieve is a classic car — bearing in mind this was made in the early ’50s, we’re talking properly classic — that takes part in a two-day drive from London to Brighton and back again. It’s not a race, though competing friends turn it into one. That’s about the gist of it.

The plot rolls along nicely, driven by the narrative-generating setup of a there-and-back-again weekend road trip. The rivalry inherent in the first half’s genial journey-there is Genevieve herselfheightened by an evening of irritations and revelations, tipping the second half’s journey-back into an out-and-out race. It’s the second half that contains the more overt comedy as the rivals compete to scupper each other’s chances. That’s not to do down the more gentle style of the opening half, which has its moments. That said, depending on one’s perspective, the realistic sparring of the married couple during the opening scenes might be seen to give the film a bit of an edge of reality, making it not just the staged, (relatively) high-concept comedy it could have been.

According to IMDb, “the film ran into censorship problems in the US… because of the moment when Wendy asks for a coin so she can ‘spend a penny’. References to toilets were specially taboo in the US at that time.” Bless. The controversy of any such reference has obviously completely evaporated today, but even for the time it’s sweetly obscured — she doesn’t actually ask, she mimes. That said, the also-controversial references to weekends of illicit sex are also obscured while still leaving it abundantly clear what’s meant — more so than other works from this era, I think — which can feel rather surprising from a ’50s British comedy.

A splash more trivia: “Despite being one of Britain’s most well-loved films [is it?], this was apparently hell to make. Genevieve's castDirector Henry Cornelius was vetoed on most of his first [casting] choices… and he was forced to make it at studios he didn’t want to work at. Cornelius’ displeasure was acutely felt by cast and crew as he didn’t hide how unhappy he was. He was also seemingly highly lecherous. Consequently both Dinah Sheridan and Kay Kendall carried whistles on them at all times… Olive Dodds, Rank’s head of contract artists, later testified that every leading cast member came to her at one point and said they wanted off the film.”

Whether the cast and crew enjoyed themselves or not, and in spite of an occasionally plodding first half, Genevieve is an endearing enough comedy with a bit of an edge… if you pretend you’re still in the ’50s, anyway.

4 out of 5

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