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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by Nicky Smith

Sentimental Soldiers
By "Our Film Critic"

The Guardian
14 October 1961
pg. 5.

Mr Michael Powell is an adventurer whose adventures never go quite right. His films are not like those of other people; he thinks big, as they say, and he douses his big pictures in flamboyant colour. Any film of his is, in part if not as a whole, mighty handsome. But to think big does not necessarily mean to think right; and time and again Mr Powell goes wrong in judging how the people who inhabit his large bold settings ought to behave. The incidentals, in fact, are often fine and memorable; the essentials of story and dialogue are always faulty and very often they are abject - their contrast with the splendour of their surroundings being particularly unfortunate. Let Mr Powell, just for once, go back to making the sort of little films with which his career began; let his energy and imagination, for once, be concentrated on turning out a good film-story in simple black-and-white. Then surely, he might do a thoroughly convincing job, instead of the vast but botched contrivances which are his habit.

In the meantime he has produced and directed The Queen's Guards (at the Carlton), in which he has used the trooping of the colour - the genuine article, filmed most beautifully - as a background to a panegyric of the Brigade of Guards. There is nothing wrong with the basic idea; and the tired old device of the "flash-back" is quite acceptable in this instance, when the camera returns to so fine a spectacle as that of "the trooping". Acceptable, too, in its schoolboyish fashion, is the long flash-back to a more-or-less "documentary" description of a military operation in the Middle East (Kuwait, perhaps, or Jordan), in which all the paraphernalia of helicopters, armoured cars, and parachute-drops is impressively paraded.

What is not acceptable at all is the characterisation of the men and women who move through the story - and particularly that of the old, crippled ex-officer (Raymond Massey) whose die-hard sentimentalities really set the tone for all the rest. The blurb tells us that "throughout the film, which is full of emotion as well as the drama of bitter action, the Guards are shown to be the world's greatest single fighting force."

Well, Mr Powell may, indeed, have intended to point the contrast between the trooping the colour and the desert warfare, between the pageantry and the tough soldiering which are the lot of the Guardsman; he may have wished, in pointing this contrast, to show tha harmony which underlay it.But all that he has done, in fact, is to produce a document of banal and sentimental flattery - unpleasing, we must hope, to the Brigade itself, and unconvincing to the rest of us.

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