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

The smoke covering the British colliery is the fog of Grierson documentary, Carol Reed pays tribute with an industrial preamble and digs right into A.J. Cronin's "stuff of human destiny." Soot and sweat on workers and mine owners in fancy cars and restaurants, a pregnant cut moves from machinery stilled by the strike to the aspiring spokesman (Michael Redgrave) at his desk by flickering candlelight. He studies diligently with Parliament hopes, his opposite number is the ruthless "born capitalist" (Emlyn Williams) who goes straight for the cash register when the starving townsfolk storm the butcher shop. Both hop trains out of town, between them is the callous, restless usherette (Margaret Lockwood). Unwise romance stunts reformist ambition: The university-bound protagonist returns home a poor teacher, the ninny he's married negotiates her dour surroundings with bonbons and magazines and flings with the pinstriped weasel (cp. La Chienne). So it goes with rotten relationships, sometimes one feels like the "million tons of floodwater" looming over the proletariat in the pits. ("Not water, friends," declares the street preacher, "blood.") The case for nationalization, the weight of coal and the call of education. Maternal hardness (Nancy Price) and paternal fumbling (Edward Rigby), Hardy themes in gray skies, a footballer's life cut short for the little brother (Desmond Tester). Within these sober rises and descents, Reed flexes his camera—a semi-circular pan in the bedroom leaves Redgrave's face in the darkness of unspoken anguish while Lockwood lounges mindlessly in the background. Pabst's Kameradschaft informs the infernal cave-in, the tycoon responsible for the disaster is felled by a stroke and the mine plans sink in the sludge (a dissolving insert swiftly predicts his "heroic" newspaper obituary). "Two sides to every question, eh?" Ford soon sculpts the spirituality of the matter (How Green Was My Valley), in due time Ritt examines its morality (The Molly Maguires). With Allan Jeayes, Linden Travers, Cecil Parker, Milton Rosmer, and Ivor Barnard. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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