15 January 2010 | bkoganbing
No Love For Johnnie, I'm guessing did not have much of a release in the USA back when it was first made. Only political science students might grasped the significance of many of the happenings in this film. Of course that was before the BBC sent over its programs on our Public Network and we got a more humorous look at the UK's political system in Yes, Minister.
Peter Finch got one of his best screen roles in No Love For Johnnie as Johnnie Byrne recently re-elected Labour member of Parliament. He's got ambitions and he'll do whatever it takes to succeed, to get to the front benches where the Labour ministers sit when they're in power.
It's a tribute to Finch's talent as a player that he keeps so thoroughly dislikeable a person as Johnnie Byrne interested. He's got a wife, he's estranged from and a mistress he's cheating on also with yet another woman. The women in Finch's life respectively are Rosalie Crutchley, Billie Whitelaw and Mary Peach.
There's nothing he won't do, my favorite part of the film is when fellow back bench Labour ministers attempt a little palace coup against their Prime Minister, such people as Mervyn Johns and Donald Pleasance are involved. They have a script ready to follow and it's with Finch taking the lead. When the play is ready to commence, Finch is nowhere to be found, he's with Mary Peach delivering some constituent service. In fact their scenes, tame as they are today, would never have been in an American film of that era.
Actually Pleasance is also a really ruthless character himself, but apparently really dumb as well. I can't believe that what he was trying to do so totally depended on Finch in Parliament. I mean he couldn't have started the back bench revolt against Prime Minister Geoffrey Keen by improvising someone else to ask the pertinent questions. He gets back at Finch by raising some row with Finch's district constituents, that they almost give him a no confidence vote at a Labour Party district meeting. Imagine if we could do that here.
Stanley Holloway is another Labour minister, an older one who remembers Finch's parents who were right at the beginning of the founding of the Labour Party. He serves as the voice of integrity in the film. He alludes to some things that an American audience might not be aware of like the split during World War I which nearly wrecked the Labour Party during it's adolescence. An element of the party that Holloway apparently belonged to opposed British entry into World War I on pacifist grounds and some in fact did go to jail as conscientious objectors. One of those people who was a conscientious objector was James Ramsay MacDonald, Labour's first prime minister. Others in the Labour Party like Arthur Henderson joined the Coalition government to support the war.
Whether you believed what a MacDonald or apparently Finch's parents did was right isn't really the point. What Holloway says is that back in the day people had real beliefs and acted on them. Finch's lack of commitment to anything other than his ambition is the worst thing about his character. Sounds like a lot of people I know today.
Finch got a BAFTA award which is the UK's equivalent of the Oscar for Best Actor. The film in its searing cynicism is years ahead of its time. I suggest it could be remade today and find a much wider audience than it did in 1961.