Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Half a Sixpence ( 1967 )

"But when I'm with you, one and one make two...." 

Prior to leaving for London for his apprenticeship at a tailor shop, Arthur gives his childhood sweetheart Ann a token of his eternal love - a sixpence cut in half. "And though that half a sixpence can only mean half a romance, remember that half a romance is better than none. But when I'm with you, one and one make two, and likewise, two half sixpence joined together make one."

It is a sweet sign of a little boy's affection for his girl and, throughout their adolescence, they correspond with each other daily via letters. One day, Ann ( Julia Foster ) comes up to London to begin her new job in the big city and they arrange to meet in the park, seeing each other for the first time in years. They are two of a kind and are obviously meant for each other, but an unexpected inheritance from Arthur's grandfather leaves the lad suddenly rich and this enormous windfall changes his character making him look for happiness outside of his own backyard. He begins to put on airs and takes a fancy to the fetching socialite Miss Helen ( Penelope Horner ), disowning the company of not only his mates at work but Ann as well.
Half a Sixpence was based on the 1905 novel "Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul" by science-fiction author H.G. Wells. It was first brought to the screen in 1941 as Kipps starring Michael Redgrave and Diana Wynyard. This was a beautiful adaptation but purely dramatic, with no musical numbers. It was not until 1963 that David Heneker wrote 15 songs for the musical adaptation which premiered in London's West End theatre district. 

Tommy Steele, a British singing sensation, starred in this stage production. He was a glove-fit for the role of Arthur Kipps. When the stage show was brought to film in 1967, Steele was already establishing a screen-presence for himself through films such as Tommy the Toreador, The Dream Maker, and The Happiest Millionaire. Steele had a joie de vivre that made him a delight to watch on stage and onscreen. His toothy grin would light up any scene that he was in. In Half a Sixpence, he practically carries the entire film on his own bony shoulders. While the rest of the cast is pleasant enough to watch, they are all really supporting roles to Kipps. 

Julia Foster ( Alfie ) dyed her hair from blonde to brown to play Ann and is charming as Kipps sweetheart. Also in the cast is Pamela Brown, a favorite of director Michael Powell; Cyril Ritchard, a legendary ham; Penelope Horner, always looking lovely in soft-focus; James Villiers, and Jean Anderson. 

Half a Sixpence was aimed toward a more youthful audience and includes a few typical swingin' 60s show scenes and zany moments. Heneker's tunes are easy on the ears with "Half a Sixpence" and "If the Rains Gonna Fall" being the most memorable of all the songs. 

What stands out most in the film is the beautiful cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth. This man was responsible for the gorgeous filming of British classics such as Scott of the Antarctic, Trio, Turn the Key Softly, and A Night to Remember. Most of Half of Sixpence takes place in the autumn and Unsworth brought out the beauty of the golden hues of England during that time of year. 
Director George Sidney, an excellent director from the golden age of MGM musicals ( The Harvey Girls, Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat, Kiss Me Kate ) did great work with Half a Sixpence. The only disappointing aspect of the film is its length. Some scenes - mainly the musical numbers - are unnecessary or drawn-out excessively. But this seems to have been a fad with musicals in the late 1960s - Hello, Dolly!, Doctor Dolittle, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips are all over two hours in runtime. Overall, Half a Sixpence is not half that bad and if the rains gonna fall then its a great film to sit back and enjoy. 

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