Sunday, March 31, 2024

Alive and Kicking (1958)

Every once in a while, you might come across a wonderful film and wonder why it is not more well-known than it is. At least, I do that....and, unfortunately, it is quite rare to find hidden gems; but Alive and Kicking is one such movie. I saw it for the first time a few weeks ago and loved it instantly. Granted, its plot would not appeal to a large audience so I can understand why it is as obscure as it is. 

Sybil Thorndike, Estelle Winwood and Kathleen Harrison star as three elderly women who escape from a nursing home when they learn that they will be relocated to other nursing homes and separated. They take what little belongings they have and hike out on foot. After an escapade at sea, they arrive on a small island off the coast of Ireland and discover an abandoned stone cottage. However, the cottage isn't empty for long. Shortly after they claim it, a gentleman (Stanley Holloway) arrives and tells them that he just purchased the cottage and plans to move in. Darn the luck! 

They hope to discuss renting one of the rooms of the cottage from him, but lo! he disappears from the cliffside where they left him. All they can find is his hat floating on the ocean waves below. Since no one in the village met the man yet, the three crafty dames decide to pretend that he is living in the house and that they are his nieces (!). Much of the film after this point deals with how these women settle into the village and make a new life for themselves in Ireland. 

Alive and Kicking was probably banned from being shown in nursing homes because of its uplifting message of independence for the elderly. These three women have only a few pounds in their purse but somehow manage to procure a house, furniture, and plenty of food (thanks to one of them being a good shot). Most impressive however, is the positive effect they have on the villagers, even going so far as to start a new industry for the sheep farmers and their wives. 

Among these villagers are some familiar faces including Marjorie Rhodes (who was excellent as the mother in The Family Way), a young Richard Harris, Paul Farrell, Liam Redmond and Colin Gordon as a bird watcher who decides to perch on their property.

The comedy has a definite "Irish air" to it...but shush, don't tell the Irish...the movie was actually filmed on Easdale, one of the Slate Islands of Scotland. Life on a small island in the 1950s centered around agriculture and the village people and, with a village of that size, the arrival of three strange women would not go unnoticed for long so our heroines must be given credit for coming up with so many delicate lies to fool the villagers as long as they did. 

Sybil Thorndike is the ringleader of the group and she boasts the most brains as well. It is her idea to start a sweater-making industry to earn money for themselves and for the village. Estelle Winwood is clever too, while Kathleen Harrison plays her usual kindly cockney character. All of the principal players went on to live long lives after this film with both Winwood and Harrison "alive and kicking" past the age of 100. 

Director Cyril Frankel does a wonderful job of keeping the movie entertaining from start to finish and composer Philip Green penned a delightful score with an especially lovely folksy tune "One I Truly Love" performed by Olive McFarland. 

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