Green Grow The Rushes (1951)


Green Grow The Rushes (1951) represents an odd little subgenre of post-war British filmmaking that does not really have an American equivalent of which I am aware. I’m not certain what to call it (although perhaps someone has already coined a term), but it was a specialty of studios such as Ealing. It usually involves the coming together of a British country community – either a village, a town, or a county – in a bid to maintain their independence and resist the oncoming tide of modernization and government control. In films like The Titfield Thunderbolt and Passport to Pimlico, these communities are faced with incorporation and by extension an assault on their solidarity and their uniqueness. It’s an interesting subgenre because it combines that British spirit of community with some not very subtle Socialist undertones, all wrapped up in the charm and quirkiness of the English countryside.

Green Grow The Rushes is just such a film. The coastal community of Anderida Marsh is “invaded” by three government inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture, out to discover why the area’s open farmland is not being cultivated (and where, exactly, the inhabitants are making their money). Anderida claims that it is independent from the rest of England due to an ancient charter granted them by Henry III. Their resistance to government interference is further complicated by the fact that the community largely makes its money from smuggling liquor in and hiding it in the marshes, something which they don’t want the officials to discover.

roger-livesey-green-rushesAt the head of the smugglers is the odd and wholly amusing Captain Biddle (Roger Livesey), and his compatriot Robert (a very young Richard Burton). When an attractive newspaperwoman Meg Cuffley (Honor Blackman) discovers what the smugglers are up to, she wants a piece of the story and the action (not to mention a piece of Robert). Meanwhile, the smugglers and those in the town aware of their shenanigans must continue to cover up their activities from the government inspectors. It’s a somewhat complicated set-up, and it gets even more complicated when Biddle’s boat runs ashore during a storm, stranding the crew (and the liquor) in a duck pond belonging to Bainbridge (Russell Waters), a farmer with strong resistance to anyone trespassing on his land. Faced with threats from the inspectors, the coast guard, and the local officials, the smugglers have to find a way to get the liquor off the boat before they’re boarded and their contraband discovered.

While Green Grow The Rushes will receive no awards, it is one of the more enjoyable little films from a time period that produced its share of enjoyable films. This is in no small measure the responsibility of the cast, a veritable who’s who of British leads and character actors. Livesey is the delightful and acerbic lead, dispensing homespun wisdom to his friend Robert about women (“lily whites”) and how to keep out of trouble with them. Not that Biddle took his own advice, entangling himself with a charming lass who ran off on him and married another (without actually divorcing him).honor-blackman-green-rushes

Richard Burton, meanwhile, does not get a great deal to do with his leading man part, but he fulfills the role admirably and with great charm. The same must go for Honor Blackman, in full English Rose mode, who nonetheless shows signs of the total disregard for social and gender roles that will make her so very effective in her later career. Both lift what could otherwise be a dull romantic subplot to a charming, if airy, love story. It’s always a pleasure to see good actors working together, even more so when they are so very young.

But it is really the English country community that makes this film so endearing. The film is full of little touches: the petty bureaucratic wars between various government officials, the coy flirtation of Robert and Meg, Captain Biddle’s plot to dislodge his ship. As Anderida Marsh joins together to celebrate their charter day – complete with a reenactment of Henry III signing the charter to grant them basic independence – a screwball comedy of bureaucracy and drunkenness ensues. All in all, Green Grow The Rushes is wholly enjoyable, from start to finish.

You can watch Green Grow The Rushes on Hulu+ or for free on YouTube.

Bluebeard (1972)


Once upon a time, there was a movie. That movie was called Bluebeard and it starred Richard Burton. And I just had to watch it.

What did I get myself into?

Bluebeard was made in 1972; those who know 1970s Richard Burton should know that this is not a good sign. It was directed by Edward Dmytryk, who made a number of excellent films in his career: The Caine Mutiny, Murder, My Sweet, The End of the Affair, and The Young Lions. OK then.

Bluebeard features Burton as Kurt Von Sepper, a Baron, World War I vet and ridiculously rich man (with a blue beard that is never quite adequately explained) who cycles through wives. It’s not touched upon why no one questions the fact that Sepper’s wives and mistresses keep dying violent deaths, but whatever. He’s a Baron and stuff. He’s also a Nazi, this being set in pre-War Germany, and at one point orders (or commands?) the burning of a Jewish ghetto. That will come back to haunt him in the form of a young violinist who otherwise serves no purpose in the narrative.


What is important is Sepper’s latest wife, the lovely American Anne (Joey Heatherton), who falls for him because he’s a much better actor than she is. Their scenes together are roughly equivalent to watching Richard Burton try to act with a stick of plywood, which is interesting in itself.  Anne comes to live at Sepper’s awesome castle, where she’s given the run of the show…except she cannot go into that room with that one large golden key that he gives her. What does Anne do? What the hell do you think she does? She uses the key and finds all his dead wives in a freezer.

This naturally provokes a little tiff between Sepper and his new bride. Rather than arming herself with a poker and braining the guy as he comes in through the door, Anne decides to have dinner with him. He informs her that he has to kill her, even though he’d really rather not, because she saw his wife-cicles. In a display of cunning that until now I never would have given her credit for, Anne convinces him to tell her the whole story before he murders her, so that he can unburden his soul and maybe discover why he constantly needs to off beautiful women. So Sepper obliges.

Up until this point, Bluebeard has played at least semi-seriously – and that was its major problem. It’s like a Hammer film without the humor, or the camp, despite having Richard Burton with a prosthetic beard and a terrible German accent. Now, however, the film really gets going, and those who stuck with it this far are about to rewarded with a number of WTF moments.

bluebeard-1There’s the wife who won’t stop singing, so Sepper cuts off her head. There’s Raquel Welch as a promiscuous nun, obsessed with recounting every single one of her sexual escapades, then wanting to have sex in a coffin. There’s a crazed suffragette who’s into S&M. There’s a girl who goes to a prostitute to learn how to please a man and winds up in a lesbian encounter. There are also a LOT of breasts. I think that Raquel Welch is the only one who does not show her breasts at least once, and that’s probably because she’s the biggest name in the film besides Burton. The entire time, Burton looks slightly befuddled, as though he’s not quite certain what’s happening or how he got here.

Basically, Bluebeard is a disaster, but it’s an epic one. Scenes are quite obviously cut, with sudden costume changes; plot holes could fit a coach and four. Burton is remarkably game for the whole thing, trying to put some soul into his part as a supremely unsympathetic antagonist, but Heatherton has as much acting ability as most of the ornate furniture. It’s a bright, gaudy, violent and sexually charged disaster of spectacular proportions.

I honestly wish I could recommend Bluebeard on the grounds that it’s hilarious, but I really can’t. It’s far too terrible to be good, despite some truly fascinating moments of madness. If you must watch it, catch select scenes on Youtube.

Never mind Liz Taylor, this was the film that made Richard Burton an alcoholic. It nearly made me one.