Monday, 22 February 2016

Lunch Hour (1961)

God, but Shirley Anne Field was gorgeous. I mean, just look at her


Anyway, I love this film, it's still so very witty and inventive that to call it a B Movie short seems somehow offensively unfair. 

Lunch Hour begins with a conventional and amusing enough premise but it's sheer joy is that it takes you somewhere completely unexpected, topping its own inherent humour as it progresses to is conclusion after just 60 minutes. Robert Stephens stars as a married executive at a wallpaper manufacturer who has become besotted by a younger woman (Shirley Anne Field) recently hired from art school to paint the designs. Because Stephens' character is married he cannot engage in an illicit affair with her in the evenings, so they must court one another during their lunch hour - but suitable locations prove increasingly hard to come by and prone to interruption. 

Eventually, Stephens hits upon the idea of booking a room at a guest house for an hour in the middle of the day to finally consummate their affair. But to obtain the room from the manageress, played by Kay Walsh, he has had to tell a series of detailed lies - lies which soon lead to the unravelling of his relationship with the young girl who slowly starts to take on the lies as her own reality.

John Mortimer's script (adapted from a previous stage and TV play) tips its hat to the notion of female discontent and hints at the feminist empowerment that would become more prevalent at the tail end of the decade. But above all, it's just really funny and its absurdity and surrealism stems from the fact that James Hill's direction does not significantly alter its approach in any way shape or form. There are no moments of warning, the film maintains its realistic air which only serves to enhance the comic frustration for the Stephens character and, to some extent, the audience watching.

The performance from the leads are both exceptional and it's hardly surprising to note this remains one of Field's favourites. All too often in the 1960s and this genre of cinema, good looking young women were cast simply to play love interests. Whilst Lunch Hour sets Field up in that respect in its initial stages, it turns it completely on its head in the second half allowing her a real chance to shine and show her acting range in a manner which sadly was all too lacking in other roles. I love her mercurial nature here; from the quiet, amused girl of the first half to the fiery centrepoint of the final reel - by way of the downtrodden and exhausted wife and mother she has come to momentarily believe she truly is - and back again to the smiling, happy innocent over the credits, she is wholly superb.

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