SO LONG AT THE FAIR, an atmospheric and rewarding mystery from England in 1950, has Hugh Mills deft screenplay based off the novel published a few years earlier by Anthony Thorne. Book and script were another turn on an urban legend that began circulating in news articles in the late 1890s, the plotline then working into short stories, books, films, radio and eventually TV. Benjamin Frankel’s score launches it with a flourish, and the compact 90 minutes are marked by several surprise turnabouts, the well-appointed production stylishly co-directed by Terence Fisher and Anthony Darnborough. Flanked by a fine supporting cast, 21-year-old Jean Simmons shines in the lead, in a year that also showcased her in The Clouded Yellow, Trio and Cage Of Gold.
Paris, May, 1889. Young ‘Vicky Barton’ (Simmons) is overjoyed to visit Paris for the first time with her older brother ‘Johnny’ (David Tomlinson), keen to attend the Exposition Universelle and see its showpiece, the Eiffel Tower. After a night out enjoying the madcap Moulin Rouge, she’s off to bed; Johnny opts for a nightcap. The next day, Johnny is missing: the hotel staff insists he was never there, and she’s delusional. Panicking, she vainly tries to find out what’s happened, at length getting an ally in resident artist ‘George Hathaway’ (Dirk Bogarde). What dark game is afoot in ‘The City of Light’?
What initially looks to be a genial period romp takes a sudden left turn into the macabre, with subsequent tense twists into peril, daring, discovery and resolution, richly embroidered by background detail in costuming, art direction and mood. Simmons is excellent conveying the range of emotions see-sawing from delight to distress, Bogarde pleasingly gallant. Gladys Cooper cuts a figure of lofty disdain as the hotel owner (yet all may not be what it seems), and there’s a brief pass thru from lovely Honor Blackman as a lady fond of Bogarde but uncertain where he’s going.
Though it did well in England in 1950 (reportedly £132,000; in 2022 that’s £5,345,706) when released in the US the following year it made a bare $400,000 (roughly $4,566,000 in 2022). Seek and savor.
With Felix Aylmer, Marcel Poncin, Andre Morell, Betty Warren, Zena Marshall (another future Bond girl, ala Dr. No: here, the unlucky balloonist).
2 thoughts on “So Long At The Fair”
This is such a gem, Mark. I wish Jean and Dirk had worked together a few more times after this. Don’t know if you remember me or not, but it’s Maddy here, I had a blog here a couple of years ago. You told me many stories about your friendship with Stewart Granger. I’ve been very poorly and had to give up blogging but I feel like I want to start up again and try and write a bit whenever I feel up to it. Hope all good with you.
I certainly remember you, Maddy and am happy to see you’re back. I knew you had been having a hard time and figured you had to lay off for a while and deal with health: so good to ‘hear’ you again. I’m okay, surviving the American madness best I can.