18 September 2011 | bkoganbing
The Case for Nationalization
For those whose taste in movies runs to films of social significance, you cannot go wrong with The Stars Look Down, a film from the United Kingdom about the coal mining industry in the days before the post World War II Labour Government nationalized the industry. Such a step would never have been contemplated in the mainstream political circles in the USA. The film makes a compelling case for it.
This film was a breakout success for Carol Reed who up to that time had been limited to what we call B picture features and what over the other side of the pond call quota quickies. It was produced by an independent studio called Grafton films and released here by the short lived Grand National Studios. Reed was contracted to Gainsborough Pictures and he was able to get fellow contractees Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, and Emlyn Williams for this production.
I don't think that Michael Redgrave was ever more idealistic on the screen than he was in The Stars Look Down. He plays a working class stiff who earns a scholarship to the university and he intends to use that education for the benefit of the miner class from where he comes. But this idealist is very human and he makes the wrong choice in a life partner in the form of pretty, but shallow Margaret Lockwood who sees him as a meal ticket to get ahead herself.
The guy who Lockwood was going with is Emlyn Williams who would be called a cad and a bounder over there. He's also a miner's kid, but his method of escape isn't exactly condoned in polite society, he becomes a bookmaker. Eventually he joins with management. One great thing about The Stars Look Down is we see where all these three characters came from and the values imparted to them.
Redgrave has two marvelous scenes that really stand out. The first is when he's in class and making an eloquent case in class for the government ownership of the coal mines. The second is before the Board of Trade arguing that the mine his father and others in his district is not safe because where they want to mine is holding back the sea itself. His own personal problems prevent the Board from listening to him. In both Redgrave personifies youthful idealism and impatience. In the end it's shown he has good reason to be impatient.
The film was shot on location at an actual colliery in Cumberland and the scenes depicting the mine disaster which is the climax of the film are frighteningly real and hold up well today. The film stands comparison to How Green Was My Valley which was a film on the same subject, but done in the poetical style of John Ford and done over here.
The Stars Look Down will still move the viewers and the problems of industrial safety are just as real today as they were when The Stars Look Down came out.