17 November 2012 | Spikeopath
Oh Dear! What Can the Matter Be?
So Long at the Fair is directed by Terence Fisher and Antony Darnborough and written by Hugh Mills and Anthony Thorne. It stars Dirk Bogarde, Jean Simmons, David Tomlinson, Marcel Poncin, Felix Aylmer and Cathleen Nesbitt. Music is by Benjamin Frankel and cinematography by Reginald Wyer.
Adapted from Thorne's novel of the same name, story is set in Paris 1889 (not 1896 as some other sources strangely suggest it is) and sees Simmons as Vicky Barton, who awakes in her hotel to find that her brother, and his hotel room, are missing. With the hotel staff adamant that she checked in alone and that her brother never accompanied her, Vicky is confused and very alone. However, hope comes in the form of handsome artist George Hathaway (Bogarde), who had an exchange with Vicky's brother and therefore can vouch for his existence. But with the odds stacked against them and proof hard to find, can the pair of them uncover the truth and solve the mystery?
It seems now to be a familiar plot, but it wasn't back then and the story's origin is derived from an urban legend. What unfolds over the film's running time is a sharply told mystery that is infused with good quality drama. Simmons and Bogarde make for a very engaging couple and it's very easy to root for them as they set about their sleuthing. However, the film is split into two as regards tonal worth.
The first half is the most atmospheric as Simmons' Vicky is a stranger in a strange land, her fraught helplessness over her missing brother is enhanced by the language problems. This aspect impacts on us the viewers by there not being any sub-titles for the French speaking parts of the script. A good move is that.
Once Vicky teams up with George the thriller suspense gives way to detective mystery, which is fine, and for sure the "reveal" that comes in the finale is credible, but it's hard not to lament a touch that the pic hasn't stayed in "darker" mode, even if the score is consistently too jaunty for such a story. While the black and white photography is, however, tonally pleasing, and the Victorian costuming is authentic looking.
There's a couple of off kilter shots but noir like visuals are in short supply, and characterisations and basis of plotting do not scream out as being noir influenced, so you have to wonder why the film has found its way into a DVD collection of British Noir? It's a classy little mystery, boosted by some prime British acting talent, but first time viewers expecting a Brit film noir should heed my warning, it's not! 7/10