The Stars Look Down (Carol Reed / United Kingdom, 1940):

The British mining town slowly materializes from underneath the clouds of industrial smoke, namely the glum haze of the Grierson documentary; a confrontation is briskly sketched, grime-caked miners on one side and well-fed bosses on the other, "After death the judgment" is preached as the strike shuts everything down. A.J. Cronin adapts his own novel, Carol Reed structures the narrative around opposites, built into the contrasting protagonists: Michael Redgrave dutifully studies through the night, "born capitalist" Emlyn Williams goes straight to the cash register when the starving townsfolk storm the butcher shop. Both hop trains out of town, Redgrave to become a promising Parliament candidate, Williams a smooth skunk in a striped suit; meeting Margaret Lockwood reverses their trajectories, and when they come back home Redgrave is a struggling teacher, Williams a moneyed businessman parading his convertible. Raindrops merge romantically at Redgrave's window pane as his love for Lockwood is declared, but she's after luxury he's never going to afford, and ambition makes her an impatient housewife amid her dour, coal-shoveling surroundings. Another struggle of opposites lies at the heart of Reed's handling of the material, shifting from neutral presentation (the exchange of looks between the departing hero's mother and father as he packs his bags) to stylized interpretation (the semi-circular pan that leaves Redgrave's face in the darkness of unspoken anguish while his faithless wife lounges in bed in the background). Count on contemporary reviewers to, unlike Lockwood, prefer broth to cake, with Graham Greene giving Reed his approving nod for force-feeding meat and potatoes to the couple from the alleged frivolity of The Lady Vanishes, and the director duly validating the Kameradschaft comparisons -- workers expire in their caved-in tomb, a factory whistle announces the tragedy, wives are posed against a gray sky with epic stolidity. With Nancy Price, Edward Rigby, Allan Jeayes, Liden Travers, Cecil Parker, and Desmond Tester. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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