Stars Look Down, The (1940)

“These men and women are the backbone of nations, the stuff of human destiny — simple, working people, such as there are the world over, in all countries, and in all times.”

Synopsis:
An idealistic young man (Michael Redgrave) from a Welsh mining town hopes to return with a university degree and improve conditions for the miners. His plans are disrupted, however, when he marries a socially ambitious woman (Margaret Lockwood) in love with his money-grubbing friend (Emlyn Williams).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “fine, interesting, depressing” adaptation of A.J. Cronin’s novel is “generally regarded as the first British film with social relevance.” Director Carol Reed does an excellent job showing “the contempt rich owners have for their underpaid employees and the distrust labor has for its union leaders”; unfortunately, however, this powerful narrative thread is done in by Redgrave’s romance with the insufferable Lockwood, who has zero redeeming qualities. It’s literally painful to watch the likable yet horribly naive Redgrave cuckolded by his wife — especially since his distraction from his noble goals has grave consequences for the entire mining town. Although I admire The Stars Look Down, it’s not a film I’m eager to revisit.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A gritty, realistic look at life in a Welsh mining town
    Mining Town
  • One of the first British films to deal seriously with a socially meaningful issue
    Miners

Must See?
Yes, simply for its historical importance.

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One Response to “Stars Look Down, The (1940)”

  1. Yes, a must – for, as noted, “its historical importance”. Director Reed made a relatively small number of memorable films, and ‘Stars…’ is one of them. Though most ffs will probably make it a once-and-done; the craft is there but the urge for repeat viewings may not be.

    Comparison to ‘How Green Was My Valley’ (released the following year, and a better film) is inevitable – indeed, the last section of ‘Stars…’ is rather similar.

    As for the ‘romantic’ angle, I don’t feel the film is “done in” by it. It is troublesome watching Redgrave – what, ignoring? that he’s in the clutches of a manipulative, shrewish, two (at least)-faced bitch, but the viewer can easily turn off listening to her the way one would when faced with someone not saying anything worth listening to.

    What I found somewhat more troublesome is the naive coda; the sentimental hogwash about “…a world purged of its ancient greeds…a world of infinite promise, which the inconquerable spirit of man will someday forge into fulfillment.” What world might that be?, one wonders.

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