Miss Tulip Stays the Night / The Great Game Review
The pairing of Miss Tulip Says the Night and The Great Game marks the sixth release in the BFI’s ongoing Adelphi Collection. It also marks a return to the double-bill format following August’s standalone DVDs of Tommy Trinder vehicle You Lucky People! and Fun at St. Fanny’s, which re-introduced audiences to the curious talent that was Cardew ‘The Cad’ Robinson. This time around Diana Dors is the focus though not necessarily the lead: in 1953’s The Great Game she’s one of an impressive supporting cast that also includes John Laurie and Thora Hind; in 1955’s Miss Tulip Stays the Night, her final film for Adelphi, she enjoys joint top-billing with Patrick Holt. A poster for the latter, reproduced in this set’s booklet, saw things slightly differently and dubbed her “Dynamic Diana Dors” - her name appearing in capital letters, no less, and above that of her co-star. It’s hard to disagree as her presence is surely one of the main reasons as to why we’re watching fifty-plus years later. These unassuming little features may not be the best films she made during her career - for those I would point you in the direction of Carol Reed’s A Kid for Two Farthings, made immediately after Miss Tulip Stays the Night, or another BFI release of 2011, Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End. But they do make for interesting viewing, not only for the sight of a Dors on her way towards stardom, but also for those other performers around her, a mixture of familiar names and/or faces from Holt, Laurie and Hird to Cicely Courtneidge, Sheila Shand Gibbs and Joss Ambler.
Focussing on the actors is perhaps a polite way of saying the plotting is somewhat thin and unimportant. The Great Game concerns the fictional football team Burnville United (aka “Kick and Rush United”), threatened by relegation and with a chairman willing to break the rules in the pursuit of striker Glyn Houston from a rival team. It’s pure backstage melodrama with the footballing element being largely insignificant despite shooting the film at Brentwood FC’s Griffin Park and making use of both their players and their fans. It’s also largely insignificant and admittedly musters up little interest, but then it is offset with a gentle humour and plenty of broad comedy characterisation from its supporting cast; nobody could ogle Dors’ sexpot secretary quite like John Laurie does in the opening scene. Miss Tulip Stays the Night is just as broad, but here the comedy mixes with murder mystery. Dors and her husband Holt, an author of crime fiction, move into their new cottage in the country only to find unexpected visitor, the titular Miss Tulip (played by Courtneidge, later to play Mrs. Butler in On the Buses), dead in an armchair the following morning. The police arrive and, naturally, bumble along in their investigation whilst Holt indulges in a spot of amateur detective work whilst simultaneously avoiding suspicion.
Miss Tulip’s murder resulted in having been shot in the face. Obviously a chirpy low-budget British comedy of 1955 isn’t going to go into the gory details, but you would expect such a gruesome death to sit uneasily alongside the “halfwits” who make up the local constabulary and moments of slightly forced slapstick. Yet Miss Tulip Stays the Night seems to have little time to consider such potential missteps. Indeed, it’s too busy racing along at quite the pace to stop and think about anything. Vic Pratt’s booklet essay discusses the process in which the film the was gradually trimmed to a final edit that barely scrapes past the hour-long mark, and it shows. Scenes appear to have cut at either end in order to achieve a greater snappiness, the opening moments in particular rattling through the necessary exposition in just a few minutes so that Dors and Holt can reach the cottage and Courtneidge can end up playing a corpse. Even the resolution seems to arrive way before you expect it: a quick explanation and a tying up of any loose-ends and that’s that. In-between times we get the expected nods to murder mystery fiction (anonymous poison pen letters recalling Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger, for example) plus a good helping of the genre’s clichés. With that also comes a knowing sense of humour that mingles well with the occasional saucy line or bit of laboured slapstick (the cottage has a dodgy tap in the kitchen sink resulting in Jack Hulbert’s PC earning himself a protracted soaking). There’s even a spot for a tiny pooch to up the cuteness. Essentially it’s a collection of mild distractions which add up to one big 65-minute mild distraction.
If Miss Tulip manages to combine comedy and murder with efficient ease, then The Great Game unfortunately struggles to successful tie in its sporting dramas with the laughs. In Miss Tulip everyone is a source for laughs, even the eponymous victim before she meets her fate. In The Great Game there’s a definite delineation between those who are there to prompt a chuckle or two and those who handle the drama. Dors, for example, is pretty much insignificant in narrative terms, rather she’s there to make a joke of her man-eating character. Likewise Laurie, who is typically wonderful despite seemingly doing little more than rolling his eyes and emphasising his Scottish burr. The problem with this is that they’re far more interesting - and entertaining - than the likes of Glyn Houston and Geoffrey Toone, ie those responsible for delivering the plot. Admittedly there is also the comic figure James Hayter occupying the central role of corrupt chairman Joe Lawson, but this very obvious divide between the comic and the serious fails to work in the film’s favour. You know Laurie and Dors (and Thora Hird for that matter) will raise a smile. However, you also know that scenes in the backrooms and boardrooms will have an increasing tendency to bore. Even at only 77 minutes, The Great Game could occasionally do with an injection of Miss Tulip’s pace.
The screenplay was adapted from a Basil Thomas play, Shooting Star, by Wolfgang Wilhelm. His previous credits include a number of impressive features, including the underrated wartime thriller Thunder Rock, Paul Rotha’s full-length docu-drama Land of Promise and Launder & Gilliat’s excellent I See a Dark Stranger. He rarely did comedy (the rare occasions were on pictures with a number of writers credited) and it shows. The comic performers are basically making up for the thinness of their roles by simply enjoying themselves; oftentimes The Great Game is funny despite its script. Arguably such a situation is indicative of both films on this set insofar as it’s exactly these little bits of business which prompt us to watch today. Miss Tulip Stays the Night isn’t going to entice on the strength of its creaky plotting or even some of its creaky humour. But the presence of Dors, Courtneidge, A.E. Matthews and Joss Ambler is. The fact that it makes for diverting entertainment for reasons other than their performances is an agreeable bonus. Similarly, The Great Game: though it’s the lesser of the two, we have Dors, Laurie, Hird, Hayter and others to see us through and, perhaps, from a retrospective angle that’s enough. Neither film could be classed as poor entertainment simply because of the talent in front of the camera. But then neither is ever going to justify claims of being forgotten gems or hidden classics. They’re good fun - nothing more, nothing less.
Miss Tulip Stays the Night and The Great Game share the same dual-layered disc, encoded for all regions and containing no additional features. Given their respective brief lengths the two films fit perfectly snugly onto a single DVD and look and sound as good as we should likely expect from the format. Filmed on a low budget, in black and white and in the Academy ratio neither is going to possess the greatest of production values, though that’s not to say we aren’t dealing professionals behind the camera. (Miss Tulip’s director of photography Kenneth Talbot went on to lens Born Free and a number of Hammer productions.) The Great Game, in particular, comes across very well with strong contrast levels and excellent detail; the latter is such that it’s easy to discern when and where post-synching was used for the dialogue! Miss Tulip fares worse simply because the original materials aren’t in the best of conditions. It’s tempting to lay the blame on its protracted route to reaching a final cut as the film bares the occasional scars of rough edits and a chopped up soundtrack. There are also two passages where the quality reduces drastically, though this no doubt comes down to what elements survive. Importantly there are no additional problems owing to the transfer: when the films look and sound very good (most of the time for The Great Game, some of the time for Miss Tulip), the disc ably reflects that.
Although there are no extras on-disc, the two films are accompanied by a fully illustrated 36-page booklet which may very well be my favourite of all the BFI releases this year. Vic Pratt, co-producer of the Adelphi releases, provides lengthy essays on each of the films and they’re a wealth of information and background detail. The Miss Tulip piece is particularly long, extending to eight pages as it relates the production history and the difficulties of the final edit. In both the level of research undertaken is immediately obvious and it proves especially welcome given how obscure these two films are. Indeed, it is unlikely that any such in-depth account of Miss Tulip or The Great Game has been previously published. And this isn’t all: we also find two pieces devoted to Dors , bios for directors Leslie Arliss (Miss Tulip) and Maurice Elvey (The Great Game), full credits for each and the usual notes of the transfer and acknowledgements; Kate Lees’ piece on Adelphi, present in all previous releases in the collection, also makes another appearance. The Dors pieces are excellent, one devoted to her career prior to a move to Hollywood after the success of 1956’s Yield to the Night, the other looking at her style in the four Adelphi films she made. The latter in particular follows the Vic Pratt essays in covering an area rarely, if ever, written about before. For that (but not only that), as with the rest of the booklet, it makes for a more than worthwhile inclusion.