Genevieve

GENEVIEVE reveals its droll design after the opening credits with the disclaimer “For their patient co-operation the makers of this film express their thanks to the officers and members of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain. Any resemblance between the deportment of our characters and any club members is emphatically denied—by the Club.” 

England, the early 1950’s. Friends, barrister ‘Alan McKim’ (John Gregson) and salesman ‘Ambrose Claverhouse’ (Kenneth More), are jolly well up for their annual participation in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. They rib each other about their beloved vehicles, Alan’s “Genevieve’, a 1904 Darracq (French vintage) and the 1905 Spyker (Dutch made) fielded by Ambrose. Alan’s wife ‘Wendy’ (Dinah Sheridan) reluctantly goes along, while Ambrose has invited his latest hopeful, fashion model ‘Rosalind Peters’ (Kay Kendall) who insists on bringing along her pet St. Bernard. The competition between the two blokes becomes fierce, to the alternating bemusement and irritation of their variously helpful or hapless partners, and it’s touch & go which relic and crew will win a bet the men feel compelled to make.

Directed by Henry Cornelius (Passport to Pimlico), who produced it for a scratch £135,000, the little charmer defied the “dump it” expectations of the studio and became the #2 hit in Britain in 1953. Then the following year in the States it returned rentals of $560,000 (rentals roughly 45% of the gross). Not only that, the amiable car lark scooped Oscar nominations for Story & Screenplay and Music Score. The script, though the setting and humor was decidedly British, was written by American ex-pat William Rose, who later would expand the auto race idea for the 1963 epic It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The nomination for Larry Adler’s jaunty harmonica-based score was given to the films musical director, Muir Matheson, because harmonica virtuoso Adler was blacklisted (unlike Rose, his ex-pat status was political) and Universal removed his name from the US print credits.

HOTEL PROPRIETRESS: “Nobody’s ever complained before.”  GUEST: “Are they Americans?”

Bright and endearing, with some laugh-out-loud moments punctuating the whimsy, this makes a swell showcase for the four leads. The engaging Sheridan was the top female box office draw in England at the time, and low-key Gregson was quite popular throughout the decade. The movie was a major boost to the irrepressibly affable Kenneth More, who emerged as a big star,  and for beautiful, ill-fated Kay Kendall, who shows a real gift for screwball comedy.

Also in the mix are Geoffrey Keen, the delightful Joyce Grenfell, Reginald Beckwith and Michael Medwin. 86 minutes that end with a big smile.

 

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