Saturday, 13 December 2014

Thames-side story… Four in the Morning (1965)

This sparse film wears its influences lightly on its sleeve and, whilst it could easily be the back of Monica Vitti’s head the camera focuses on as she looks out Thames-ward, it’s Ann Lynn’s as she struggles to find her depth of feeling towards her lover. French new wave and Antonioni may well have been formative but this film has a very British feel all of its own.

The film’s Thames locations have a muddy glamour accentuated by the somewhat under-lit camerawork of Larry Pizer: it had to be this way in order to cope with the contrast between bright morning sky and dark docksides. It’s a fascinating essay on London’s riverside showing a world just recently disappeared replaced from Wapping to Battersea by re-development, posh flats and office blocks… they only took down the old cranes in front of the power station a few weeks ago.

The characters are also particularly British (and Irish) with their quiet desperation: just about hanging on to hope through the distractions of sex, drink and see-through humour – which one of them will crack?

Ann Lynn
The emotion on show is also subtly under-scored by a debut film score from John Barry, none of his Bond pyrotechnics here or the swing of Beat Girl, just mournful jazz perfectly reflecting the dark waters and muddied motivations.

The film is focused on two relationships in crisis – four in the morning? – but there’s also another participant. The film starts abruptly with the discovery of a woman’s body: found  drowned in the Thames in bloated stillness on the shore out East. Throughout we slip to and from the two other story strands to follow the gruesome processing of this corpse, all the while trying to work out which one of the two women it might be… if either of course. We assume the narrative to be a flash back and the work of the river police, coroners and undertakers to be in the present.

The story moves downstream from the initial discovery to a nightclub near Chelsea in which a cabaret performer (Ann Lynn) is winding up for the night. She receives a phone call from a man (Brian Phelan) but doesn’t seem keen on meeting up with him.

Ann Lynn and Brian Phelan
He insists though and comes to greet her in the early morning light as she leaves the venue. The two look out over the river and smile: not strangers but not lovers either, not yet. They walk the riverside pathways and find a café for an early breakfast. There’s an uncertainty to them and they only abandon reserve when they decide to borrow a motor boat for a trip. There’s some superb footage as they sweep through Putney and round up towards the east end docks.

There’s love but she wants to be sure whilst he thinks sex to be the only way to demonstrate his feelings: to mean it he has to say it and the woman is chilled by his inability to explain himself.

Judie Dench
Elsewhere a young woman (Judi Dench) is near despair as her teething baby refuses to sleep. Her husband (Norman Rodway) is out on the tiles  with his best mate (Joe Melia), a joker who wants his friend to be the life and soul he used to be. The man takes them both back to their flat where they rudely interrupt his sleep-deprived wife.

Lads night out: Joe Melia and Norman Rodway
Here again the couple struggle to communicate as the lines between married life and a good time have not been properly drawn. He still wants to have fun but she feels the responsibility of parenthood and career more strongly. Is this just a phase of adjustment or have they drifted too far apart.

Talk but no understanding
Two women under so much pressure… will it be too much in the end?

The girl leaves and the man travel back West by tube and enjoy carefree moments chasing oranges across a bridge but it’s just a fleeting distraction and they will part at Aldgate Station (which has barely changed) leaving her to travel on alone.

The wife runs off but returns to find husband asleep… they talk about their lives and face towards their rivers front living room windows in neutral…as uncertain as ever.

The body is weighed, stripped and finger printed before being shut away in the mortuary… who was she? Do we know her?

Dusty verdict: Four in the Morning may tell a slight story but it tells it with style. Written and directed by Anthony Simmons it is a thought provoking film that lingers in the mind… The cast are superb and none more so than young Judi Dench. This was her first film, five decades before M, and her theatrical training is in evidence as her controlled expressiveness pulls the viewer in... we hope it's not her who succumbs but she's the one most believably at wit's end.

The film is available on DVD and is worth your investment: it's here from Amazon and here on Movie Mail.

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