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  Card, The Social Climber
Year: 1952
Director: Ronald Neame
Stars: Alec Guinness, Glynis Johns, Valerie Hobson, Petula Clark, Edward Chapman, Veronica Turleigh, George Devine, Joan Hickson, Frank Pettingell, Gibb McLaughlin, Michael Hordern, Wilfrid Hyde-White
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Denry Machin (Alec Guinness) was a denizen of the Five Towns in England, where folks were plain-speaking and unpretentious, but everyone knew their place. Not so Denry, who had higher ambitions than that, and contrived to better himself by whatever means he had at his disposal, be they fair means or, well, not exactly foul, let's call him resourceful. It started when he was at school and tampered with his grades to make them better, which got him into a better school where he found out the hard way that because he came from a humble background, there are many who will not allow you to forget it. Therefore it was his wits that this young man came to rely on, and how...

The Card started life as a novel by Arnold Bennett, the novelist who branched out into many forms of writing, including screenplays, before he died in the early nineteen-thirties. His efforts continued to be popular for some time after that, and if he is rather forgotten over a century later, his work does have a habit of popping up, as with this film adaptation from Eric Ambler, an author of thrillers and war stories who also had more than a couple of strings to his bow. Thus a comedy, or what was supposed to be a comedy, which did pretty well in its day thanks to its sheen of sophistication, though you do wonder how many audiences were falling about laughing in the aisles while watching.

It is not that this was not entertaining, the cast were too good and savvy to the needs of the production for it not to hold the attention for the ninety minutes it took to breeze by, but there's a reason Guinness isn't known as much for his humour than he was for his dramatic talent. The Man in the White Suit was a comedy, but it gets very serious very quickly, and he offered it the depth that it needed to sell the reason in the message, and The Card was not a classic like that one. Besides, that was an Ealing comedy and this one was from rivals Rank, which would last longer with a more meat and potatoes approach to filmmaking and distribution than anything especially inspired.

The stories about homegrown audiences asking, "Is it a British picture?" and groaning when the Rank logo's gong was struck at the beginning may or may not be true, but there is that suspicion many Brits preferred Hollywood movies, from that day to this. However, Hollywood would never tackle the question of class as brazenly as The Card did here, for that was the subject in hand, rendering it far more interesting as a slice of social commentary than it was a kneeslapper of a comedy. Denry gets ahead because he knows the whole strata of Britain is reliant on the class system, and he can exploit that for all it's worth, whether inviting himself to the town dance - which is strictly by invitation only, and not your own - or devising moneymaking schemes to increase his chances of getting by.

Denry recognises that Brits respect money, nothing novel there, plenty of places around the globe do, but it depends on how "old" that money is as to whether you're going to succeed. As he is a lowly son of a single mother when he starts, he does not have heritage to take advantage of, but he is smart, so he can take advantage of other's heritage instead - at the dance he meets and cheekily asks the local dignitary the Countess of Chell (Valerie Hobson) for a quick waltz. It should have scandalised him, but he gets away with it because she is charmed at his go-getting attitude, therefore the unsentimental side of capitalism begins to work its magic over Denry's life. Indeed, it all goes so smoothly for him that it's nearly too convenient, though you can see why it would have worked out, with only a dalliance with local dance instructor Glynis Johns close to sabotaging his schemes, for she is on the make as well, even if she barely realises it. So the wisdom in the film's observations won out over the lack of real laughs: it did invite comment. Music by William Alwyn.

[Network release this restored as a Blu-ray with the trailer and an image gallery as features.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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