söndag 30 juni 2013

Let's talk about Googie

Googie Withers and John McCallum in "It always rains on Sunday"
Who was she? Googie Withers: English movie star of the 1940:s, born 1917 in Karachi and died in Australia just a couple of years ago, in 2011. I had never heard of her before I started to do some research before our trip to London this summer. I was stunned to find out that I had completely missed this wonderful actress who disappeared to Australia with hr husband John McCallum, had a wonderful career over there as well as three kids, and when she wanted to come back to films, actually lost two leading film roles to Vivien Leigh in the 1960:s.

So who was she and how can I discover her today? It was easy enough to find information about her on the internet: I learned that Googie had a father who was a captain in the British army and a mother who was part Dutch, part French. Her real name was Georgette, Googie was actually a diminutive given to her by her amah during childhood in British India. Googie became a dancer in musicals during her teens and started appearing in films as a blonde during the 1930:s. She had a small part in Hitchcock's "The lady vanishes"(1938) - as one of Margaret Lockwood's two girlfriends at the beginning of the picture. But it was at Ealing Studios that she became a star in her own right and made her most memorable film: "It always rains on Sunday" from 1947.

In this wonderfully bleak melodrama, Googie plays a housewife in London's East End who suddenly, one ordinary, rainy Sunday, gets a visit from an old lover, who ended up in prison and now is an escaped convict. She helps him, hides him in her matrimonial bedroom, and gives him food, before he kisses her, knocks her out and leaves, with the police on his tail. There is a strikingly beautiful chase along the rail tracks of London's lost Canary Wharf before the man gets caught, while the poor housewife tries to commit suicide by gas, while her ten year old son sleeps in his bedroom a couple of doors away. The film ends with a touching scene when the husband, a nice man called George, sits by his wife's bedside and urges her to come home soon.

"It always rains on Sunday" is in many respects akin to other British more well known classics such as David Lean's "Brief Encounter", made the year before, and to Carol Reeds' two films about hunted men: "Odd Man Out" (1945) and "The Third Man". These films all share the same feeling for everyday life, love for ordinary people and detail, and have that certain quality that make them memorable through what at first seems banal and even simple. They all depict a feeling of sadness after the horrors of war, of great things lost, great expectations, true love or just the plain and simple love of thy neighbor - the very things that Harry Lime has learned to exploit.

"It always rains on Sunday" was directed by Robert Hamer, who after this film made one of the best comedies of the era: "Kind hearts and coronets". The script was signed Angus MacPhail who delivered many scripts for Ealing and together with a stellar cast they produced this beautiful film, a slice of life and a solid piece of melodrama filled with atmosphere from post-war London. Even if the story of the housewife and her lost love is at the centre of the film, carrying its emotional weight, there is a sense of balance, and also of faint hope for the future, in the portraits and relations between the other characters around the housewife Rose and her unlucky love Tommy Swan. What really made the Ealing films so special is the way they portray communities and people who share a life together, for better and for worse.

But let's talk about Googie: She wasn't tall, according to imd.com, but she looks tall. Maybe the fashionable shoulder pads and tall hair of the 1940:s helped, but she also has that graceful and queenlike stature that make her stand out. She isn't beautiful in the Hollywood sense with that tall forehead, those high, broad cheekbones, the big eyes and the big mouth. Everything looks big on Googie. Even her bare, snow white arms arms and legs look big - which she showed off a lot more in other movies, like "Dead of Night". She seems to have more in common, anyway, with the grand French actress Arletty than with the other beautiful brunettes of her day: Ava Gardner, Dorothy Lamour, Ingrid Bergman or even Vivien Leigh, with whom she shared and Indian past. She also has a mesmerizing voice, warm and articulate, velvety. What a pity Hitchcock never gave her a leading role.

In "It always rains on Sunday" Googie has several memorable moments, like the ones where she snaps at her family while she tries to decide what to do with the man hiding in the bomb shelter out in the back yard. She is mostly seen in the kitchen, where her husband has his bath in the middle of the room and her son and two step daughters (his daughters, from a previous marriage) go in and out. When Tommy the escaped convict is hiding in the bed room, she is running up and down the staircase and in one scene starts a violent fight with one of her step daughters, who insists on going into the bed room to get a hair brush. She even tears the daughters dress, like some evil step mother of Cinderella. There are also a flash back, done without any fuss, where we see Googie as the younger Rose, blonde and smiling as the bar maid of the local pub, where she meets Tommy. He asks her if she's doing anything on her free day, a Thursday, and she says "nothing" and he proposes that they do nothing together. Then we see the two of them lying on the grass with a beautiful view of the sea in the distance, and he gives her a ring - a ring that he later on won't even recognize.

Googie could have played queen Victoria, Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale or Emmeline Pankhurst - why not? Now she didn't, at least not in films, and her most memorable movie roles are wives, tormented wives, and she does a very good job with that. In real life, she married John McCallum and left England for Australia in 1948. They continued working together, mainly in theatre, and remained married until he died in 2010. A year later, Googie died.

Robert Hamer had worked with Googie in her previous film, "The lives of Joanna Godden", where she actually met and fell in love with  John McCallum. I haven't found that film on dvd yet, unfortunately.  Hamer also directed Googie in the episode called "The Haunted Mirror" in "Dead of Night", the ghost story that Ealing Studios made in 1945. I saw that film the other day and although it didn't scare me as much as it had once when I saw it on TV a long time ago, the episode about the husband who goes temporarily mad from looking into a mirror that his wife has given him, was truly scary.