The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, the longest-running such motoring event in the world, was never more fun than in this 1953 British comedy, "Genevieve."
Directed by Henry Cornelius ("Passport to Pimlico," "The Galloping Major," "I Am a Camera," "Next to No Time") and produced by the Rank Organization, "Genevieve" became an instant hit worldwide and has provided laughs ever since. In high definition, it now not only struts its comedic stuff as always, it displays its visual virtues as never before in the home. In other words, it's fun to watch in every way.
The story involves two best friends, a young solicitor, Alan McKim (John Gregson), and young advertising exec, Ambrose Claverhouse (Kenneth More), whose real passion is for antique automobiles. Each year they enter their cars, a 1904 French Darracq, nicknamed "Genevieve," and a 1904 Dutch Spyker, in the London to Brighton Run, only this year it becomes a serious grudge match.
You see, here's the thing: The London to Brighton Run is not a race; it's just what the name implies, a leisurely drive, in this case along a sixty-mile course, with hundreds of entrants driving vintage, pre-1905 cars. Unless you're Alan and Ambrose and things get out of hand. Then, everything that can go wrong...does.
The film's preface tells us that the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain cooperated in the making of the film, but "any resemblance between the deportment of our characters and any club members is emphatically denied...by the club."
Along for the ride are Alan's wife, Wendy (Dinah Sheridan), and Ambrose's latest girlfriend, Rosalind (Kay Kendall). Alan and Wendy have been married three years, with Ambrose having introduced them. Which leads to the story's primary conflict: Jealousy. Alan, a fairly earnest type, thinks his wife and best friend may have been more than friends before he came along; and Wendy and Ambrose, both fun-loving types, are more than eager to kid and egg him on, even though there was never anything between them.
At first, the run is a lark for all of them. But as the run goes on, it becomes more competitive for the two men. By the time we reach the midway point in the plot, the two fellows have made a one-hundred-pound bet, quite a sum in those days, on the outcome of their race, and "anything goes." The men love their cars; the women think they're nuts.
Although "Genevieve" is a happy farce, it never reaches slapstick extremes; yet it still provokes a good number of laughs along the way. Gregson and Sheridan provide a picture of not always marital bliss, the couple quarreling almost constantly. They also provide a grounding point of comparison with the other couple, Ambrose an outgoing, bigger-than-life ladies' man and Rosalind a sophisticated fashion model Ambrose is frankly trying to bed. Along the way the two couples run into a variety of colorful characters, among them a wonderfully eccentric hotel proprietress (Joyce Grenfell) and a charming older gentleman (Arthur Wontner).
Yes, "Genevieve" is a delightfully humorous frolic. While it perhaps never rises to the ranks of greatness, its engaging characters and amusing situations produce a movie filled with notable moments. And it's all tied together by a sprightly harmonica score by American composer Larry Adler that is as much a part of the movie as any of the actors. Fun stuff, this.
The film was such a triumph, it no doubt inspired several later, similarly themed but more extravagant comedies like "The Great Race," "Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies," and "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines." Not bad for such a modest little film.
VCI transferred the movie to Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio, 1.37:1, using a VC-1 encode and a single-layer BD25. At first, the Technicolor looks a little light, a little washed out, but as the film progresses, it brightens up nicely. The screen is beautifully clean in VCI's restoration and remastering, if a touch soft at times. Colors, as I say, look quite good, with flesh tones almost perfect most of the time, a tad dark on other occasions. The definition is fine, the whole picture slightly glossy but definitely radiant.
The sound comes to us via PCM 2.0 or 5.1 enhanced, with my listening in the latter mode. It's not at all bad for a film so old, a bit edgy perhaps but not much. The front-channel stereo spread is limited, of course, as is the surround, yet there is a splendid ambient bloom now and again that makes the listening experience most pleasant.
The important extra on the disc is a twenty-four-minute behind-the-scenes documentary on the shaping of the film, "A Profile of Genevieve," made in 1999. In it, co-star Dinah Sheridan, film editor Clive Donner, director of photography Christopher Challis, and composer Larry Adler reminisce about the movie and offer a host of backstage stories. For instance, the Rank Organization shot the whole thing in a radius not more than five miles from Pinewood Studios, with a couple of shots in London and Brighton. However, the director insisted that he shoot most of it on location, outdoors, something that few filmmakers were doing in those days. A minor problem: co-star John Gregson couldn't drive; he didn't even have a driver's license, so the studio had to give him a quick course in driving a car. Moreover, when they finished the film, J. Arthur Rank himself didn't think it was very funny and didn't want to release it. Through a quirk of fate, he did release it, and, of course, it became an immediate success all over the world. Genevieve the car, you'll be happy to know, survives in the National Automobile Museum in Holland, fully restored, just as the film is. Likewise, the Spyker sits in a Dutch museum nearby, although the curator says it doesn't just sit; they take it often on runs.
The extras wrap up with twelve scene selections, a seven-minute photo and poster gallery, trailers for several other British films from VCI, English as the only spoken language, and English subtitles.
"Genevieve" is the kind of comedy that picks up steam as it goes along, rather like the car rallye described in the story. It's quintessential British humor, to be sure, meaning there is a good deal of subtle verbal humor, although there are some pretty funny sight gags along the way, too. In high definition, the film's Technicolor location shots afford an appealing visual splendor.
"Genevieve" earned a BAFTA award for Best British Film of 1953, a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and Oscar nominations for its script and music.