||What the Critics Say About It Always Rains on Sunday|
|BERTRAND TAVERNIER March-April 2008|
During his regrettably short—eight-year— period of true creativity, Robert Hamer wanted above all to film “people who do beastly things in the dark.” This predilection was out of place in the universe of Ealing Studios, and it made Hamer one of the company’s three misfits (the other two being Alberto Cavalcanti and Alexander Mackendrick). He maintained that he was only interested in characters out of step with the established moral order. His antiheroes are either not very bright people trying to escape from traps of their own making (Pink String and Sealing Wax, It Always Rains on Sunday) or very intelligent ones who take revenge on society by trying to trick it (Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Spider and the Fly).
Made in 1947, It Always Rains on Sunday is one of Hamer’s masterpieces. It starts out with a typical film noir situation: a woman helps an escaped convict who was once her lover. But Hamer demolishes this plot, transforming it into a brilliantly written choral work in which the destinies of a multitude of characters crisscross, most notably a trio of particularly incompetent crooks who attempt to resell a vanload of roller skates they’ve stolen by mistake. At the heart of Hamer’s oeuvre is a series of female characters, each with her own dreams and frustrations and a blind, at times naïve determination to escape from a world that suffocates her. In It Always Rains on Sunday, Hamer cast the estimable Googie Withers, with whom he got along wonderfully. Her character, Rose, is seemingly consumed by insatiable sexual desires, which are ignored (sometimes benevolently) or repressed, resulting in her hostility and aggression toward her husband and daughters. It’s an established fact that Hamer’s emphasis on sexuality alarmed puritanical Ealing studio head Michael Balcon, who approached such matters with the timidity of a 13-year-old schoolboy and usually resorted to censorship. This led to great battles between the two men and likely lent a personal tinge to certain scenes: the moment when Rose tries to meet with her lover and is stopped by a neighbor (who has come to chat, as in an Ealing comedy, about what’s for Sunday dinner) is representative of the frustration that seeped into the film. And that anger also endows the film’s social and familial relationships with an amazing mix of bitterness, comicality, and compassion, often coexisting within the same scene.
Right from the opening sequence—a police raid on a hotel frequented by prostitutes—the dramatic structure, the tone of the dialogue (co-written by Hamer and Angus MacPhail, who coined the term “MacGuffin”), and the caustic, ironic, yet warmhearted attitude toward this microcosm all prefigure Robert Altman. The film deals with marginal lives, betrayal, sexuality, oppression, frustration—and violence bred by stupidity and ignorance, culminating in a sequence depicting a murder that is as sudden as it is idiotic. Such subjects and sentiments were rarely broached in British cinema before the Sixties, except in the work of Powell and Cavalcanti. Hamer’s film recalls the films of Jean Grémillon, Marcel Carné, Jean Vigo, and Renoir, and its visuals are greatly influenced by and pay homage to the great French production designer Alexandre Trauner, whom Hamer venerated. It Always Rains on Sunday is the work of a cinephile and a disturbing, ferociously angry, and suicidal filmmaker. He dreamed of dying, British film scholar Charles Drazin tells us, and in Halliwell’s Who’s Who in the Movies, he’s quoted as saying: “No one can be satisfied with one death. I’d like to die like Charles XII, drowned in a butt of brandy, but I’d also like to die like Stefan George, poisoned by a rose-thorn. Bits of me have already died in these ways.”