November’s Classic film, Train of Events (1949) has three directors; Sidney Cole, Charles Crichton and Basil Dearden. It stars Peter Finch, Valery Hobson, Joan Dowling, John Clements and Jack Warner. You may also recognise John Gregson, Michael Hordern and Leslie Philips in this slice of British history. There is even a glimpse of an uncredited Anthony Quayle playing the violin.
Made by Ealing Studios, Train of Events is what we might call a ‘portmanteau’ film – a popular device at this time – which skilfully (or not) weaves together different stories. In this case, three directors worked on four flashbacks to present the lives of passengers involved in a rail accident.
This compendium device also allowed for the presentation of different levels of British society to be portrayed: in one story-line Peter Finch plays a stage actor driven to distraction by his wife and his little tale ends with a dark secret to be kept.
In the second story, Joan Dowling plays a woman whose poverty is largely a result of being married to a former German prisoner of war – a life that demands that she endure misery and subterfuge. Yet she knows there is money enough to survive – but for only one of them to make a new life at the end of their journey.
In another perhaps lighter story, composer, Ray Hillary (John Clements), though married, is something of a philanderer and in this upper class world finds himself travelling with his attractive pianist (Irina Baranova).
Finally, there the story of an engine driver (Jack Warner) who, under pressure from his wife to take a management job with office hours, has complied with an innocent deception that threatens to cost him the promotion.
Though it was not much of a critical or commercial success in its time, the film now looks like a little slice of the social values of Britain: there is plenty to enjoy here in this filmic ‘museum’ of the London of 1949. It is particularly interesting in terms of its tone for there seems to be an ‘Ealing sensitivity’ to comedy hovering in the background and in the dialogue. Though far from a comedy, there is a parade of amusing characters in the tapestry of this film’s record showing types who have all but entirely vanished from British life.
Directors Sidney Cole and Charles Crichton, did one segment each, and Basil Dearden directed two, namely the two with the most powerful performances (from Finch and Dowling).
Valerie Hobson, who plays the forgiving wife of philandering composer, Ray Hillary (John Clements), was in real life married to John Profumo.
Who says life don’t imitate Art?