Our man in the cinema (spoiler warning)

One of the pleasures of reading period newspapers and magazines, as I am doing now, is chancing upon reviews of old films I know and (usually) love. Here's what Graham Greene (yes, that Graham Greene) had to say about The Wizard of Oz:

The book has been popular in the States for forty years, and has been compared there to Alice in Wonderland, but to us in our old tribal continent the morality seems a little crude and the fancy material: the whole apparatus of Fairy Queen and witches and dwarfs called Munchkins, the Emerald City, the Scarecrow Man without a brain, and the Tin Man without a heart, and the Lion man without courage, rattles like dry goods.

After rubbishing the tastes of the former colonials in this fashion, Greene goes on to tell us that

the Wizard of Oz who sends the dreaming child with her three grotesque friends to capture the witch's broomstick turns out to be a Kansas conjurer operating a radio-electric contrivance.

After reading this, I was retrospectively enraged on behalf of the filmgoers of 1940! How rude. As he died in 1991, Greene never got the chance to review The Crying Game or The Sixth Sense, which is probably just as well ...

It wasn't all bad: he thought the songs 'charming' and the witch suitably repellent; in particular, he noted that

Miss Judy Garland, with her delectable long-legged stride, would have won one's heart for a whole winter season twenty years ago

And I must agree with Greene when he protests at the adults only certification given the film by the British Board of Film Censors:

Surely it is time that this absurd committee of elderly men and spinsters who feared, too, that Snow-white was unsuitable for those under sixteen, was laughed out of existence? As it is, in many places, parents will be forbidden by the by-laws to take their own children to The Wizard of Oz.

What can the censors have possibly objected to? Domicular homicides? Airborne primates? Saccharine overdoses? Weird.

The review is from the Spectator, 9 February 1940, p. 179.

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2 thoughts on “Our man in the cinema (spoiler warning)

  1. He wasn't a very good film reviewer. For a writer of popular culture, he was very hoity-toity about it, perhaps because he saw himself as using a trash form for serious purposes, and had to maintain his own internal critical mechanism.

    In that he was exactly right. I can easily forgive him some fumbles around Ealing comedies in return for Our Man in Havana..

    He was formally credited for the script of The Third Man as well as the story. IMDB claims Alexander Korda, Orson Welles and Carol Reed as uncredited writers as well. So his brush with the movies doesn't prove that he understood them as hermetically satisfying in themselves.

  2. Post author

    I guess it is a fair trade, and anyway it's not like curmudgeonly reviews actually detract from the movies themselves. But it seems strange to choose a film reviewer who just doesn't like movies, doesn't it?

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