Friday, December 03, 2010

Saloon Bar (Walter Forde, 1940)

Saloon Bar is an obscure Ealing comedy-thriller set at Christmastime about a group of pub regulars trying to save a friend from hanging for a murder he didn't commit. But the film delights more in its vertical pleasures than the forward momentum towards clearing the man's name. Forde spends much of the running time familiarizing the audience with the characters and their routines, peppering the story with perpetual diversions and interruptions, many of them sonic/musical.

At the film's beginning, a light score plays as the employees ready the bar for opening.

As Ivy and Fred talk, though, the music's volume rises to almost absurd levels, so much so that you think you're in for a sonic experience akin to the obnoxious wall-to-wall score of Ulmer's Bluebeard.

But lo - the landlord reveals it as diegetic music playing on the radio (stereo?) as he complains about the loud music disturbing his wife upstairs who is about to have their seventh child. That's Fred on the right turning the music off.

Then we have some grating music interruptions. First, a tuneless trumpet pokes in.

And a bunch of bratty kids caroling off key (including a young Roddy McDowall)

Here's an odd shot-reverse-shot sequence (cut on the word "irony")

And you can see the boom mic in the upper right on the wall menu

There's a funny bit where the men show off their legs.

And a visceral track in to the murder victim in a flashback (apparently an omniscient one)

There's some business being annoyed with/making fun of the upper class, first in a garage when one of the regular is trying to find some clues to his friend's innocence, and then later as a party of toffs leave the bar in a snooty huff upon discovering there's no tomato juice.

And if you're a newbie, don't get in the Saloon Bar folk's way when they're looking for clues else you'll find yourself shamed out of the place with their cold, silent stares.

With the real killer finally in their midst, the regulars are about to trap him when the sound of preaching comes from outside. A creepy tracking shot moves towards the door and a shaggy evangelist enters rambling about evil and lies.

It all becomes too much and the killer indulges in some kino fisting before running off.

Eventually all is well and everyone revels in their amateur sleuthing.

And the landlord's wife gives birth to a boy. He closes up shop as a policeman reminds him that it's after hours. But the landlord invites him in for a private party with the regulars. As Tim Pulleine writes in "A Song and Dance at the Local: Thoughts on Ealing," "We are left with the sense of a small, cosy clan that may know its place but is not going to stand for being messed about."*

* in The British Cinema Book, ed. Robert Murphy (London: BFI, 2008,), 259-266.


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