If you haven't seen the British film, Their Finest, the novel from which it was adapted is entitled Their Finest Hour--and a Half. This should emphasize that the story, while seriously set during the World War II London blitz, has its comic moments. It's about making a propaganda film to boost British morale--and then gets ensnarled in starting with a real heroic story but making it more heroic by movie standards as well as adding characters--such as an American to appeal to the U.S. population, then still steadfastly trying to stay out of what was seen as a European war.
The leads are British players whom I hadn't seen before--Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin. Richard E. Grant, whom I had seen before in various British pics, plays an old-style bureaucrat. And Jeremy Irons appears for a cameo as the Minister of War. Ms. Arterton is well cast and does a fine job playing a secretary who wants to be a screenwriter and gets her chance, amid the even-more chauvinistic official world of World War II government in London.
She is superb, but the picture is almost stolen by the invariably magnetic Bill Nighy, playing an aging actor who still insists on the deference he believes is his due. It is, in a word, a charming picture, with a surprise twist near the end that will likely pull your chair out from under you.
Last night we attended a benefit to support our local non-profit community supported theater, the Avalon, with a performance of the classic High Noon, followed by a discussion featuring Glenn Frankel, the author of a recent book about the picture. It was delightful to see the great Western on the big screen. Seeing it confirmed my feeling that the lead was perfectly suited to Gary Cooper, the taciturn, rock-ribbed marshal who won't run.
The rest of the cast remains magnificent, from Grace Kelly, Katy Jurado, Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney, Jr., and yes, Lee Van Cleef in his first screen appearance, with no lines, but he does play the fabulous theme song, Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, on his harmonica. I learned from the book that Howland Chamberlin, who plays the snarky hotel clerk who admits his disdain for the marshal to Grace Kelly's playing the marshal's new wife, was cast by Carl Foreman, who wrote the superb script.
Foreman was rousted off the picture by blacklisting but tried to take care of a few friends whom he knew would not be getting many pay checks for the same reason he wouldn't and Chamberlin was one of them.