‘Appointment in London’ (1953) stars Dirk Bogarde as a Wing Commander at a Lincolnshire bomber base. The action takes place in the summer of 1943. As you would imagine for a British film of this period, there is a range of familiar looking faces in supporting roles. Quite often, you can’t put a name to the face, they are just part of your own film landscape. In this film, one character had an extremely familiar voice, although his face was hitherto unknown to me. The voice belonged to an Australian character, played by one Bill Kerr. Any Hancock’s Half Hour-ites out there will know Bill’s Antipodean tones – I must have heard him hundreds of times from the radio shows. I found it quite fascinating to actually see him, though I kept expecting him to call other characters “Tub”!
This is a serious film, focussing on a group of men who never knew if that day would be their last. I was half expecting a squadron of stiff upper lips and blithe heroism. I was pleasantly surprised by the very human portrayal that I saw on the screen. It gave me the overall impression that these men were obsessed with the concepts of luck and superstition. At the beginning of the film, Bogarde’s character (Mason) is returning from his 87th flying mission over enemy territory. The storyline makes clear just how lucky he is to have reached this point. In fact he is an anomaly in the statistics. Mason’s luck weighs heavily on his shoulders and colleagues worry for his health. There is no logical reason for his survival, it is pure luck and he doesn’t know how to prolong it or when it will run out. Meanwhile, other characters have their lucky charms, and talk of jinxes is common. There is even the hint of superstition around the presence of wives and girlfriends.
|Bogarde by @aitchteee|
This film demonstrates how important these concepts are to the human when they face an uncertain, pressured existence. It shows how our irrational beliefs in superstitions and charms stems from a time when life was much less safe than it is today. It also demonstrates, should we ever forget, just how short a lifespan World War Two aircrews faced.
We should treasure films such as ‘Appointment in London’ as part of our national war archive. Another thought that this film led me to is that this kind of warfare was quite unique and its existence short-lived. Aerial warfare was in its infancy in World War One, it was perfected in the Spanish Civil War and used most intensely in World War Two. But by the end of this conflict, the pilot-less aerial bombardment weapon had been developed. It was then not the nightly air-raids, but the constant sudden appearance of a V rocket that was to be feared. So, this window in the lives of bomber crews needs to be kept, as our understanding of their existence and psychology recedes into a past that we can barely comprehend anymore.
To see how this film inspired one of my short stories, see my wordpress blog post: http://sarahmillerwalters.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/keep-writing/