If it weren't raining, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart would trade his car in for a vintage two-seater.
"You think that old crock's packed it in for good?"
I'd never heard of Genevieve before. However, reading on the DVD box about the awards—a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and an Oscar nomination—that the 1953 British comedy received, it came with high expectations. The box touts it as a "madcap motoring movie" and a "simply delightful romp" beloved in England. It's part of VCI's tribute to the J. Arthur Rank Organization.
Facts of the Case
Alan McKim (John Gregson, The Lavender Hill Mob) is married to Wendy (Dinah Sheridan, Calling Paul Temple), but pays a lot more attention to Genevieve. Wendy's rival isn't another woman but a 1904 two-seater with a hand crank that Alan drives every year in the London-to-Brighton road rally, with Wendy reluctantly along for the ride. During what appears to be their worst trip ever—thanks to breakdowns, marital misunderstandings, and a regrettable change of hotels—Alan makes a bet with his friend Ambrose (Kenneth More, Father Brown) over who will get back to London first.
In the making-of documentary, Dinah Sheridan notes that John Gregson just didn't have that much of a spark as a romantic lead. In Genevieve, that proves to be an asset. He's playing a genial but distracted husband entranced by his beloved car, and Gregson is every bit the dedicated tinkerer. He's pleasant enough to make you root for Alan—and Genevieve. Sheridan holds up her end as long-suffering wife Wendy—often angry at Alan but still very much in love with him. Even as she's ready to beg off the rally, she's perhaps more prepared to ride out the breakdowns and hassles of the road than Alan is.
The plot, ostensibly, is about the rivalry between Alan and Ambrose, with their various misfortunes and dirty tricks providing gags. However, the rivalry doesn't seem all that heated; Alan and Ambrose come across as friends despite the trickery and insults. Genevieve's real turning point is when Wendy realizes she has as much affection for Genevieve as Alan does; this might also be the turning point in their marriage.
Kenneth More's Ambrose is the cocky hare in the tortoise-versus-hare road race, often taunting his rival and even stopping for R-and-R with his girlfriend and traveling companion Rosalind (Kay Kendall, Les Girls) in his overconfidence. He's also the hare in the romantic story, since he once dated—and lost—Wendy.
The color picture still shows off the British motorways and landscape well. The making-of explains how director Henry Cornelius went to great lengths to avoid process shots and other studio work, even using mockup cars mounted on the backs of trucks. A few of those mockup car shots are obvious, but the movie otherwise looks good. The harmonica compositions by Larry Adler come across well, playing up the slapstick and setting a nostalgic tone.
The making-of, A Profile of Genevieve, plays up the movie as a phenomenon in British culture while providing plenty of detail on its production. It also lets viewers know that Genevieve is still running and can be seen in a museum in Holland. There's also a photo gallery, set to music, featuring posters and publicity stills.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some of the gags in Genevieve, particularly in the opening scenes, fall flat. Watching Dinah Sheridan fumble groceries as she tries to find her keys or John Gregson somehow break a window while brushing his teeth just doesn't inspire that much laughter. After the first few misfires, though, just about everything at least made me smile.
The making-of notes that J. Arthur Rank initially was disappointed with Genevieve when he saw it, but audiences in the cinemas did laugh out loud; it's quite possible that some of the milder gags play much better when you've got a crowd around. There's nothing objectionable, so it could be a good choice for a family movie night.
I'd have to call Genevieve a tortoise of a movie, in the best possible sense. It chugs along with determination, like Genevieve and her driver, gradually building up gags and goodwill until the final scene that'll send the audience away happy.
Not guilty. Genevieve's not ready to pack it in.
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Studio: VCI Home Video
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