MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

The luck of Crawley Films, or how to make a good Canadian movie

WENDY MICHENER November 2 1964
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

The luck of Crawley Films, or how to make a good Canadian movie

WENDY MICHENER November 2 1964

The luck of Crawley Films, or how to make a good Canadian movie

THE MOVIES

WENDY MICHENER

WHEN The Luck Of Ginger Coffey had its world premiere in New York on September 21, a reporter for the New York Times noted that it was “made in, of all places, Canada.” His surprise is not surprising. Ginger Coffey is the first made-inCanada movie to play New York since 1960 when The Mask opened there in all its horror. What’s more, it’s a good movie — the first good one from this country ever to be distributed in the United States.

The Times at least had the grace to be surprised. Most of the reviewers didn’t mention Canada, of all places, in their approving notices and spoke of the Montreal locations as if they were so many shots of the Eiffel Tower in a runaway Hollywood production. Hollis Alpert, the distinguished critic of the Saturday Review, headed his enthusiastic write-up “The Stuff of Dreams.” Ginger Coffey certainly is the stuff of dreams as far as the Canadians who passionately desire to make films in Canada are concerned, but Alpert was referring to the dreams of frustrated Hollywood film-makers. He describes Ginger Coffey as “a motion picture of distinction, one of the best to come along from anywhere this year,” and as the kind of movie “that keeps alive that dream of better pictures in many a Hollywood breast.” This places it squarely in the off-Hollywood tradition of the good “little" picture like Marty or David and Lisa, two pictures that broke all the commercial rules and got away with it.

Still, without ever mentioning Canada, the reviews somehow make the picture sound very Canadian, at least to me. They call it a “good plain picture” made with “restraint" and “sincerity.” It is “careful and intelligent,” “rather depressing” and “well-turned-out.’ These are the familiar qualities of any number of National Film Board shorts—and w'hat could be more Canadian than that?

Ginger Coffey is one of those international ventures that tries to be all things to a number of countries. It stars Britain’s Robert Shaw and his wife Mary Ure, and so qualifies for the British quota. It was filmed entirely in Canada (partly in Montreal and partly in Crawley’s studios in Ottawa and Hull). And it’s small winder the Americans think of it as theirs. It was an American, Irvin Kershner. who first conceived the idea of a film from Brian Moore’s only Canadian novel. He approached Crawley Films for half the backing. and together they lined up Walter Reade-Sterling as distributor. persuaded Moore to write the screenplay and hired Director Kershner’s partner, Leon Roth, as producer.

I saw the film in New' York at the Baronet, one of several luxurious new art houses on Third Avenue which charge tw'o dollars a seat and serve free coffee in the downstairs lounge. I soon realized from the reactions around me that while the whole flavor of the film was familiar to me, it was exotic to the rest of the audience. As Ginger (Robert Shaw), the classic feckless Irishman, went job-hunting through Montreal’s snow in jaunty alpine hat and elephantine galoshes, I was full of sympathy, remembering just how difficult it is to get around in winter. But the people around me seemed enthralled with the snowscape, intrigued by the twhirling outdoor staircases, and startled by the touches of dialogue en français. As Robert Shaw remarked when asked why the picture appealed to him: “No one

has seen Montreal."

But if the Montreal setting w'as intriguing. Ginger himself was more so. He nearly loses his wife (Mary Ure), daughter (Libby McClintock) and self-esteem as he struggles to make good in a strange new society. But, as in the novel. Ginger's coming of age at thirtyeight has its funny moments. An eternal misfit. Ginger drives a diaper truck with the air of a dispossessed country squire, reads proofs with the condescension of a star reporter kicked downstairs for seducing the publisher’s daughter, and turns down his only good job offer because “it’s not the sort of thing l had in mind.” You can practically hear him deflate as life pulls the plug out of his illusions, one after another.

The film doesn't, as they say, pack a terrific punch. It just sort of sneaks up on you. What grabs you is the fascination of Ginger's character, at once so charming and so exasperating — so completely human in its contradictions. Robert Shaw' is Ginger to the marrow. His performance is full of nuances, and is the film’s single greatest asset. The wife’s role is skimpier, but Mary Ure fills it out to suggest fifteen years of living with Ginger’s “promises, promises." As she jotted on the margin of her copy of the script: “Most women need a man: that is what destroys them.”

Brian Moore had more to do with the movie than writers usually do in North America. A selfstyled movie buff, he worked ten months on five versions of the screenplay, and then, Europeanstyle. came up to Montreal three times last spring for more rewrites during shooting. Later he sat in on the editing. “I realized afterwards I’d had a happy experience,” he told me in New York, “and that it was completely atypical.” Moore says he’s happy with the film, ready to work with Kershner again (Kershner is planning further ventures in Canada), and thinking about writing an original screenplay. The success of Ginger Coffey could clearly do C anadian movie-making a lot of good.