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  Bitter Harvest Heading Down
Year: 1963
Director: Peter Graham Scott
Stars: Janet Munro, John Stride, Alan Badel, Anne Cunningham, Terence Alexander, Richard Thorp, Barbara Ferris, Colin Gordon, Francis Matthews, William Lucas, Daphne Anderson, Mary Merrall, May Hallett, Norman Bird, Vanda Godsell, Allan Cuthbertson, Thora Hird
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jennie (Janet Munro) returns home to her flat in a drunken state, obviously upset but staggers over to her drinks collection and pours herself another. Whatever has happened, it has been the final straw, and she begins to smash the place up in a fury, throwing away a significant, framed photograph, chucking the empty decanter into the fire, and breaking the mirrors; then she marches into the bedroom and tears her expensive clothes from the wardrobe and opens a window to defenestrate them. But what has brought her to this? To understand that we must go back a few months to when she was a simple lass living with her shopkeeper father in the Welsh Valleys...

The story of Janet Munro's life is such a sad one, a classic tale of a tragic star who once seemed so promising but wound up so depressed and disadvantaged that it's tempting to look to her role as Jennie and divine some portentous qualities in it. Basically, she was a promising young actress with a Disney contract who, in a manner that many a child star will find an issue, had troubles consolidating into a more grown-up set of opportunities since she was so identified with the likes of Swiss Family Robinson, which had been a huge success across the world. Did audiences want to see her as an innocent who turns party girl and eventually reaches her terrible downfall? Not really.

Although arguably that was how her life played out, as after she attempted the adult personas she turned to drink, married Ian Hendry who was also an alcohol abuser, and struggled thereafter to keep herself on an even keel, in spite of having two children to look after. When she died at age thirty-eight, after a comeback that was welcomed but not terribly successful thanks to her drawbacks, the cynics chalked her up as another casualty of the unforgiving entertainment industry, and fans had a new lost soul to celebrate and mourn. Looking back on Jennie, you cannot help but wonder if Munro had seen a lot of herself in the character, even to the point of how her own days would end - there is a line she speaks used as the tagline which is particularly unfortunate.

Bitter Harvest was drawn from Patrick Hamilton's between the wars trilogy of novels Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, updated to the nineteen-sixties and considerably abbreviated in the conversion from page to screen. The literary work had taken three people and followed their intertwining lives of, to be blunt, misery until he offered a sliver of hope, but it was Jennie's tale we were focusing on here as she travelled from rural Wales to find herself on the streets of London, only to discover she didn't like what she uncovered about herself and she was not perhaps as sweet as she would have preferred to think. She believes she can make it as a celebrity and embrace the champagne lifestyle without any consequences, and as the film progressed she grew ever more fixated on that hopeless dream, to the point of callousness.

Once in London, she realises after a night of hedonism that she cannot go home again, not to the stifling existence the locals had in store for her at any rate, and happens upon a kindly barman, Bob (John Stride), who she tells she is pregnant when she isn't, and that she's a model, which she isn't. Feeling sorry for her, he takes her back to his bedsit and there she stays; they both fall in love and he brings out the better aspects of her personality that her ambition seeks to undercut and smother, but the message was that it was all right, Bob had barmaid Ella (Anne Cunningham) to fall back on. It was ambiguous just how much sympathy the film had for Jennie, certainly she started out worthy of our pity but the way she handled that was hard for it to forgive in a judgemental manner. Indeed, the downfall was depicted with such briskness you could be forgiven for believing scenes had been cut out. Munro's performance survived this brevity, everyone was very good in fact, but for a character study that was puttering along nicely it did sell them short somewhat. Mainly it was her fans who would get the most out of it: a bit of a wallow. Music by Laurie Johnson.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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