The Forgotten WWII Films Of Basil Dearden

by Mark Steiner

Although it’s better known for the series of sublime, witty comedies that included The Ladykillers, Kind Hearts And Coronets, and The Lavender Hill Mob, London’s Ealing Studios was incredibly prolific during WWII, producing films that attempted to raise morale during the war, and examine the toll that war took on the people and the landscape of Great Britain during the postwar era. During this time, Ealing’s most prolific filmmaker was Basil Dearden. Dearden was less of an auteur than incredibly competent craftsman, adept at making comedies, romances, mysteries, and epics, as well as tackling controversial subjects like race relations, sexism, and homophobia in an era when such topics were generally taboo. In films like The Black Sheep Of Whitehall, The Bells Go Down, The Halfway House, Frieda, Cage Of Gold, and I Believe In You, Dearden examined, with compassion, humor, and sincerity, multiple facets of British life during and after World War II.

One of the goals of our Wish List project is to fill in holes in the directors sections, and our new additions to the Dearden section are:

The Black Sheep Of Whitehall, 1942: A spy comedy starring Will Hay, the UK’s answer to W.C. Fields

The Bells Go Down, 1943: A rousing tribute to the fire and rescue brigades that served during the Blitz on London, utilizing documentary footage of the actual fires raging during the German air raids.

The Halfway House, 1943: A sort of Grand Hotel, except that the hotel is a bombed-out inn in the Welsh countryside, and the inhabitants are not genteel bourgeoisie, but rather ordinary citizens trying to survive the war.

Frieda, 1947: Meeting bigotry and anti-German sentiment head-on, this postwar romance introduced English-speaking audiences to Mai Zetterling as an “enemy” war bride who encounters prejudice as she accompanies her new husband home after rescuing him from a POW camp.

Cage Of Gold, 1950: Jean Simmons & David Farrar star in this melodrama about WWII veterans and an unwanted pregnancy.

I Believe In You, 1952: In this powerful melodrama with a taste of social realism, WWII veterans take on the difficult task of becoming parole officers.

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