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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Saturday classic movie: In Which We Serve

Last night for some reason I woke up in the middle of the night and they were playing Noel Coward's excellent film, In Which We Serve, the story of men in the Royal Navy during World War II.

It is a remarkable movie, in many ways, not just because both David Lean and Noel Coward made their directorial film debuts (with David Lean doing most of the work), or because (at least according to Wikipedia)
The Royal Navy deemed Coward's film so authentic, that for the remainder of World War II, future recruits were made to watch the movie as an introduction to Navy life.
What makes In Which We Serve so extraordinary is that it illustrates what the spirit that won World War II was about.

The movie came out in the middle of the War, and there was no guessing who would win. But the commitment of the British was total. That In Which We Serve is Britain. The movie fully illustrates this with the story of the men and women living through the war.

This morning I was also talking to Cassandra, one of the ladies of the Cotillion, and we discussed how different things are now. The notion of a film supporting the war; a film that shows with dignity a hymn, a prayer and a Christmas Carol; a film where people get married because the man is going away to war and may not come back (now they'd just hook up and get it over with); and especially, where the Prime Minister's words are shown with respect and support, is nearly inconceivable.

It's certainly inconceivable to the Hollywood crowd.

The present-day Hollywood crowd, while understanding that there is a war going on, and words are as powerful as weapons, prefers to believe, with the support of the media, of course, that "it's hard to make a feel-good war movie when a country's reputation falls as its body count rises." To them it doesn't matter what the numbers or the news might be.

And imagine, if you will, a modern-day film concluding with these final words,
Here ends the story of a ship, but there will always be other ships; we are an island race, through all our centuries the sea has ruled our destiny. There will always be other ships and men to sail in them. It is these men, in peace or war, to whom we owe so much. Above all victories, beyond all loss, in spite of changing values and a changing world they give to us, their countrymen, eternal and indominitable pride.
The PC crowd would have it banned (think Piglet), much more so if they would have listened to the star/writer/director singing,

We must be kind
And with an open mind
We must endeavour to find
A way-
To let the Germans know that when the war is over
They are not the ones who'll have to pay.
We must be sweet-
And tactful and discreet
And when they've suffered defeat
We mustn't let
Them feel upset
Or ever get
The feeling that we're cross with them or hate them,
Our future policy must be to reinstate them.

Refrain 1

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans
When our victory is ultimately won,
It was just those nasty Nazis who persuaded them to fight
And their Beethoven and Bach are really far worse than their bite
Let's be meek to them-
And turn the other cheek to them
And try to bring out their latent sense of fun.
Let's give them full air parity-
And treat the rats with charity,
But don't let's be beastly to the Hun.

Verse 2

We must be just-
And win their love and trust
And in additon we must
Be wise
And ask the conquered lands to join our hands to aid them.
That would be a wonderful surprise.
For many years-
They've been in floods of tears
Because the poor little dears
Have been so wronged and only longed
To cheat the world,
Deplete the world
And beat
The world to blazes.
This is the moment when we ought to sing their praises.

Refrain 2

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans
When we've definately got them on the run-
Let us treat them very kindly as we would a valued friend
We might send them out some Bishops as a form of lease and lend,
Let's be sweet to them-
And day by day repeat to them
That 'sterilization' simply isn't done.
Let's help the dirty swine again-
To occupy the Rhine again,
But don't let's be beastly to the Hun.

Refrain 3

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans
When the age of peace and plenty has begun.
We must send them steel and oil and coal and everything they need
For their peaceable intentions can be always guaranteed.
Let's employ with them a sort of 'strength through joy' with them,
They're better than us at honest manly fun.
Let's let them feel they're swell again and bomb us all to hell again,
But don't let's be beastly to the Hun.

Refrain 4

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans
For you can't deprive a ganster of his gun
Though they've been a little naughty to the Czechs and Poles and Dutch
But I don't suppose those countries really minded very much
Let's be free with them and share the B.B.C. with them.
We mustn't prevent them basking in the sun.
Let's soften their defeat again-and build their bloody fleet again,
But don't let's be beastly to the Hun.
Coward, as you can hear in the clip, wrote the song "as a satire directed against a small minority of excessive humanitarians, who, in my opinion, were taking a rather too tolerant view of our enemies".

By the way, the Beeb banned the song.


Celia Johnson, who played Noel Coward's wife in In Which We Serve, is my candidate for best film actress ever. She repeatedly played the wife, and was excellent in the very funny Captain's Paradise with Alec Guiness.

Celia Johnson starred in my most favorite film of all time, Brief Encounter, another movie where duty is the main theme.

Here's the final scene:

Here's a nice biography of Celia Johnson:

In Which We Serve was her first feature movie:
In 1941 Celia made a film for the Ministry of Information called A Letter Home. This was followed in 1942 by In Which We Serve, in which she plays Noel Coward's wife. She was cast in this role after approaching Noel (who was an acquaintance) and boldly saying she wanted the part. Such forwardness was very out of character, but was a fortuitous move as it brought her together with the young up and coming film director David Lean, who was later to direct Brief Encounter.
And in real life Celia wore glasses.
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At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Sissy Willis said...

Where are the Noel Cowards of our day? In the blogosphere, no doubt. Thanks for a wonderful post, and thanks for the lovely link. :-)

At 5:52 PM, Anonymous GM Roper said...

Awesome post dear friend, as I noted to you earlier, reminds me also of that great film "Mrs. Miniver."




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