I put on a couple of George Formby films while carrying out a few chores the other week. I like to have these playing in the background, rather than actually sitting still and watching them. I tend to get a bit frustrated with him in some parts and get a strong urge to chew my cardigan sleeve and yell out "OHFORGOD'SSAKEGEORGE!! JUST TELL THEM!!" But to make up for this I always have a laugh at the way he wins everybody round with his double-entendre riddled songs; and that despite having a face that only a mother could love and being extremely gauche as well, he always gets a very pretty and intelligent girl. And there is always the potential for interesting location scenes.
'Bell-Bottom George' and 'I Didn't Do It' (both 1945 - busy boy!) were the films that I selected this time. Both involve cases of mistaken identity - and are ideal examples of why I feel the need to shout at him. In 'I Didn't Do It' George stands accused of murder, even though he patently couldn't murder a pint of beer. Luckily the policeman in charge recognises this. And George sings the very funny 'She's Got Two of Everything.' So it's all alright. But I always think that there are some sinister undertones to a film like this, when you realise that, back then, a convicted murderer might well hang. And without scientific advances that we have made such as DNA sampling, it makes me shudder to think that people were hung on what we might consider to be flimsy evidence. But of course Formby films don't go that deep and the fate of a convicted murderer isn't really covered. As I mentioned in a previous post, George's main objective is to poke fun at society in general. This time, it's Agatha Christie and her ilk that are being sent up.
'Bell-Bottom George' meanwhile is a piece of wartime propaganda, aimed at raising the morale of serving sailors and portraying the services as the salt of the earth, if you'll pardon the pun. George accidentally joins the Navy when he exchanges clothing with a sailor, who then gets caught up in an air raid. Whenever he attempts to escape to change back into civilian clothing he's picked up by the police and taken to the docks. Again, this shows something a little more darker than you might expect. It's a nod to the loss in civil liberties that took place in World War Two. As a whole, Britain is looked upon as a noble, free nation that was battling against those who would have us all obeying a rigid set of rules - or facing the consequences. This is true in a way, though our rigid class system meant that this freedom is not the sort that we would recognise as such now. But the onset of total war necessitated a curtailing of that freedom. People were given identity cards and ration books. They were conscripted into the services and movement was restricted. Many were unable to divulge what they were doing to their own families. George is closely watched in this film and is unable to get back to normality - just a small reminder to the lack of freedom for the duration. Each time he's arrested, you can get the feeling that it's a big metaphorical wink to the audience a "You can't do anything these days can yer lads?" But it is through the temporary curtailment of civil liberties that we eventually achieved more freedom than George's contemporaries would have dreamed of. The film is telling people to hang in in there, sing a slightly mucky song and one day it'll all be over.
More on 'Bell-Bottom George' next time.