Changing Rooms – Rediscovering ‘So Long at the Fair’ (UK 1950 – 86 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - April 16, 2015
Changing Rooms – Rediscovering ‘So Long at the Fair’ (UK 1950 – 86 mins)

An excellent thriller with a central plot that grabs and holds you throughout, ‘So Long at the Fair’ is to me the perfect mystery, and one that more than holds its own against greater known ‘missing-person’ pictures, such as ‘The Lady Vanishes’ (’38) and ‘Bunny Lake is Missing’ (’65).

Young Vicky Barton (Jean Simmons) and her brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) travel to Paris to see the 1889 World’s Fair. After checking into a hotel and visiting the Moulin Rouge, Vicky goes back to her room leaving Johnny to enjoy a late-night drink. The following morning Vicky goes to Johnny’s room but instead finds a bare wall where the room was situated. Confused, she confronts the hotel owner Madame Hervé (Cathleen Nesbitt) who is adamant that Vicky arrived alone. Stating which room Johnny was in Madame Hervé tells her that the room is a bathroom so could not have been her brother’s. After various employees back up the story, a desperate Vicky turns to English painter George Hathaway (Dirk Bogarde), who remembers bumping into Johnny the night before. Together the sleuthing pair are determined to find out what has happened to her brother and why there is a blanket cover-up.

Based on Anthony Thorne’s 1947 novel, this superb little sleeper is briskly paced and has a likable lead duo. Pretty Jean Simmons is very good and plays the worried and confused Vicky to perfection. Suave Dirk Bogarde has one of his early leading-man roles and is also on form. Cathleen Nesbitt is great as the sinister hotel proprietor, and David Tomlinson is well suited as the unfortunate Johnny. Noted British actors Felix Aylmer and André Morell appear as a Consul and Doctor, respectively. Also, future Bond Girls Honor Blackman and Zena Marshall have supporting roles, Blackman as Bogarde’s girlfriend and Marshall in an important bit as a tragic hotel maid. I like that the French characters speak in their native language which also helps the viewer sympathize with Simmons’ confused Vicky.

Co-Director and former editor Terence Fisher would go on to helm a number of Hammer movies including ‘Dracula’ (’58), ‘The Mummy’ and the excellent ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ (both ’59). The costumes and art direction are fitting to the era, and Benjamin Frankel did a nice job with the soundtrack, and would later score the other under-rated Jean Simmons mystery ‘Footsteps in the Fog’ (’55).

I won’t give away the ending, but the reveal is very interesting and it’s understandable why certain parties have acted the way they did. There are no silly plot twists or devices here, but a wrap-up that is believable and satisfying. There is an exciting hot air balloon sequence which moves the story into a slightly darker territory, although it steers well clear of anything too morbid.

A film that Hitchcock greatly admired (a version was filmed for his ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ TV series) ‘So Long at the Fair’ is a delight from start to finish, and mystery lovers will be in their element watching it.

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