Ealing goes dark with this Robert Hamer stab at noirish social drama, now on Blu-ray for the first time
Before Ealing became a veritable brand of a certain style of English comedy, the studio made a darker, almost humorless social drama directed by Robert Hamer. The picture was It Always Rains on Sunday and it starred Googie Withers and her real-life husband John McCallum as, respectively, a bored housewife and a former paramour who’s escaped prison and now seeks her help. The two, along with Jack Warner as a police detective, were prime members of an ensemble cast who helped to smooth out a rather sprawling narrative. It’s generally Withers and McCallum who merit the majority of the attention when It Always Rains on Sunday is discussed. They seem to easily make the boldest impressions.
What makes Hamer’s film especially fascinating for modern eyes is its commitment to a certain social class and milieu rarely given attention at the time. This was postwar Britain in all of its struggles. Here we see very unrosy lives dominated by everyday concerns which probably would have been all too familiar to the moviegoing public. While the nation’s housewives likely wouldn’t have been harboring a fugitive, their frustrations surely would have extended past what was otherwise on display at the cinema. In many respects, It Always Rains on Sunday paints a depressingly bleak picture of common living in London’s East End. We can certainly draw parallels here to what would come a couple of decades later in the British New Wave. The idea of apparently constant financial discomfort and difficulty was well in place here far before the kitchen sink dramas. It’s perhaps this prescience which has gradually elevated It Always Rains on Sunday into the upper echelon of British dramas of its time.
The film’s director, Robert Hamer, would go on to helm the classic Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets and then later re-team with Alec Guinness on a somewhat underrated but worthwhile picture called The Scapegoat. Both of those deserve your attention but the entry in Hamer’s too-short filmography which perhaps most closely resembles this one is probably Pink String and Sealing Wax, an even earlier Ealing film also with Googie Withers. Pink String offers the same sort of unpleasant worldview as It Always Rains on Sunday, and it also features a varied cast, but is set in the Victorian era. Between the two, I’d probably choose Hamer’s latter work but Pink String easily merits a look. It becomes easy to appreciate how deftly the blending of crime, romance and social drama was accomplished throughout Hamer’s career.
Speaking of crime, It Always Rains on Sunday is generally cited as a prime example of British film noir. We’re certainly in the right era, and the presence of an escaped convict only bolsters such ideas. There’s even a phenomenal chase scene, perfectly lit by cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, that comes near the film’s end. But what ultimately nags is this classification of a film like It Always Rains on Sunday as any type of noir. It creates unmet expectations for something more shadowy and crime-oriented than what we end up with in this instance. Hamer plays to a different kind of darkness. It’s downbeat, all right, but more in a depressing sort of way than one filled with pent-up angst and regret. The tone of classical film noir is never quite achieved here.
Maybe this is simply a distinction caused by the picture being a Brit noir rather than something born in Hollywood. If we’re creating fine lines and country-specific definitions then there might be little problem with placing It Always Rains on Sunday and its caustic dialogue in the category of British noir. It’s just worth keeping in mind that the noir label as it’s traditionally recognized wouldn’t quite support this in the same way it would, say, The Third Man. The interests and goals are so entirely different as to give pause to anyone trying to shove Hamer’s film into the accepted classifications of film noir. Would I consider it a noir? No, but I certainly recognize the similarities in theme and tone to some of the textbook noir ideas.
Noir or not, the end result taken away from It Always Rains on Sunday is remarkably blunt and effective. You leave the picture feeling unsettled. This was a major notch for Hamer and probably one of his defining works. The sense of him enjoying a great deal of freedom is present throughout the watch. I’m certainly glad to be able to see the film (which still currently doesn’t have a U.S. release even on DVD) again, despite any hesitations as to its noir credentials. It ranks, even as an atypical entry, among Ealing’s very best.
Released by Studio Canal on Blu-ray, this edition of It Always Rains on Sunday is encoded for Region B.
Digitally remastered by the BFI National Archive from two nitrate fine grain positives, the image looks impressive and faithful to the source material. It has been presented in its original Academy aspect ratio. Some instances of noticeable vertical scratches are on display at times but damage has otherwise been minimized. Likewise, grain is still present to a natural and pleasing degree but not to such a heavy extent as, for example, what I saw in Rialto’s touring print here just a few years ago. The improvements, by comparison, are significant and there would be little reason to hesitate in picking up this release based on the technical quality.
The LPCM 2.0 mono audio track retains a bit of the inherent damage we sometimes get from a film of this age. Dialogue is rendered well enough so as to avoid any struggle to understand what’s being said but there still does remain a static-filled hiss in the track. This is unsurprisingly more prominent during quieter moments in the film, though it never rises to the level of distraction in my opinion. English subtitles are optional, and white in color.
The main extra on the disc is a featurette entitled “Coming in from the Rain: Revisiting It Always Rains on Sunday” (16:36). The impressed interviewees include Terence Davies and Ian Christie, as they discuss the film and its reputation. Another nice bonus is the “Locations” featurette (6:23) with Richard Dacre, who’s identified as a British film historian. In it, the casually dressed Dacre visits several of the film’s London locations and shows how they look today. We see the exterior of the Sandigate home, Mr. Neesley’s place of work and residence, and so on.
Also here are a Stills Gallery (1:23) which plays as a slideshow accompanied by music from the film and a trailer (2:33) with poor audio that seems to be from the original cinema release.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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