Today: February 28, 2024

Dance Hall

Ealing throws the kitchen sink at an early attempt at youth drama, with mixed results.

Ealing throws the kitchen sink at
an early attempt at youth drama, with mixed results.

Dance Hall finds the renowned Ealing Studios eschewing the secure
ground of its usual high-concept comedy for some kitchen-sink style
drama.

This, perhaps, is why the film is only now getting a
full DVD release and remains a footnote in the annals of the grand old studio
that enjoyed such a run of success around this time.

Set in and released in 1950, Dance Hall represents one
of the earliest potrayals of the coming youth movement. Here, five years before
Rebel Without A Cause and “what
have you got,” are the first knockings of the new generation provoking
collective frowns from their parents.

Despite this the sounds the kids love are still
provided by the Big Bands, and the dances are waltzes and ‘excuse-mes’, where a
gentleman can butt in to move around the floor with the lady of his choosing.
An early outbreak of jiving is warned off by an officious fella who tells the
dancers to ‘get out of the jungle.’

Don’t think this is ‘Strictly Come Ealing,’ though.
There’s a little grit below the sheen.

The central characters are all factory girls, the sort
of working class lasses who wear scarves instead of hats, albeit they are all
suspiciously well spoken.

The heroine, Eve (Natasha Parry), is torn
between the various charms of solid, dependable and dull Welshman Phil (Donald
Houston
, who’s got a touch of Gordon Ramsey about him) and edgy, flash and
brash American Alec (a monobrowed Bonar Colleano).

Follows a ‘will-she won’t-she,’ supported by a
‘will-they won’t-they’ win the dance competition story with mousy hoofer
Georgie (Petula Clark) and her underwritten partner Peter (Douglas
Barr
).

The competition — the municipally-tinged Greater
London Amateur Ballroom Championship — is set at the Chiswick Palais, the
local mecca for what looks like all of West London’s teenagers.

The melodrama and realistic post-war aesthetic is in
no way what Ealing excelled at. Having said that, the famed studio threw some
big guns at Dance Hall.

Director Charles Chrichton also helmed The
Titfield Thunderbolt
and The Lavender Hill Mob; co-writer Alexander
Mackendrick
directed The Man In The White Suit, The Ladykillers
and Sweet Smell Of Success; while fellow co-writer Diana Morgan,
the only woman Ealing employed in any great position, also helped pen Went
The Day Well
, with Graham Greene.

That Dance Hall wasn’t a success, comparatively, for
Ealing is probably less to do with it not being funny — there are moments of
gentle humour mostly involving Diana Dors, just 19 here, showing as the
blowsy Carole why she was deemed Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe
but because it is set in such bleak places.

The tenement flats and factory floors would have been
too familiar to the cinemagoers of the time, who longed for escapism.

So Dance Hall, more so than Ealing’s better-regarded
productions, is something of a time-capsule, and an early stab at the socio-realism
that would come ten years later with Saturday Night And Sunday Morning.

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Author Paul Lieberman

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