Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Behind The Mask (1958)

Notable for being Vanessa Redgrave's cinematic debut, Behind The Mask is a fairly accurate and engrossing, albeit somewhat slow-moving, look at the life of a newly qualified surgeon and the old boys network that exists within the NHS.

Tony Britton stars as our hero, Philip Selwood, a freshly qualified surgical registrar on the firm of the respected but ailing consultant Sir Arthur Benson Gray, played by Michael Redgrave. Selwood is also engaged to his mentor's daughter, Pamela (Vanessa Redgrave) which makes them rather tight, until an issue of malpractice within the hospital rears its head.

Carl Möhner co-stars as Dr Carl Romek, a Polish anaesthetist who is something of an outsider from 'The Pack' (the title of the novel by John Rowan Wilson that this film is based on) whom Selwood takes pity on and becomes rather friendly with. It's clear from the off that Romek is a troubled individual; he has a tragic past thanks to his time in a concentration camp and has a habit of staring off into the distance with a faraway look in his eyes as he talks about himself, so it comes as no surprise when his former girlfriend (Brenda Bruce) reveals to Selwood that Romek is a dope-fiend, hooked on barbiturates since an accident in the camp during the war. He assures Selwood he is clean, but it's a lie and the pair enter theatre to operate on a patient, leading to devastating consequences that threaten to tear Selwood and Pamela apart...

Behind The Mask may be a trifle stiff and dated looking (not helped by the green tinge to the antiquated colour film) but its exploration of medical surgery and the old boys network/'the pack' feels suitably and worryingly authentic. It's certainly more believable and interesting than any current episode of Holby City! Of particular interest is a scene which features an example of early open-heart surgery, though quite why the observation camera prefers to concentrate on the perspiring brow of Redgrave rather than what his hands are actually doing makes a mockery of the realistic edge much of the film is striving for.

It's rather lovely to see Michael and Vanessa Redgrave playing opposite each other, replicating their real life father and daughter relationship. Indeed there's a great cast on display here overall, even though some of them have very little to do (hello, Lionel Jeffries) I especially liked Ian Bannen as a whitecoat forever cadging cigarettes off his colleagues. Oh and eagle eyed viewers will spot a certain William Roache aka Ken Barlow pacing around, pulling on cigarettes in a couple of early scenes as a young doctor. I may be wrong but I think this might be his only other credit aside from Coronation Street which he has been in since the very first episode in 1960. 

Kudos too for realistically conveying the ethnic diversity inherent within the British medical world and how the NHS welcomed immigrants from the commonwealth and the like because of their talents and dedication; something which has stupidly come under threat thanks to the Brexit vote.

1 comment:

  1. Yes its a rather nice slice of Fifties British cinema, mainly notable now for the Vanessa's first cinema role, with her father. She wasn't quite so proper in her next one, Reisz's MORGAN in 1966 followed by BLOW-UP etc.
    Another Fifties hospital saga is on today, LIFE IN EMERGENCY WARD 10 which of course led to the long-running TV series, before my time but a fascinating hospital drama of its time.