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  Last Holiday Hotel Call And Mourn Ya
Year: 1950
Director: Henry Cass
Stars: Alec Guinness, Beatrice Campbell, Kay Walsh, Grégoire Aslan, Jean Colin, Muriel George, Brian Worth, Esma Cannon, Bernard Lee, Sid James, Campbell Cotts, Moultrie Kelsall, Eveline Kirkwood-Hackett, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Eric Maturin, Ernest Thesiger
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: George Bird (Alex Guinness) visits his doctor's surgery to find out the results of recent tests, but to his surprise the doctor begins to ask him if he is married, if he has any family he stays with, does he have any close friends? When he answers in the negative to that, he wonders what this is about, and it is then the medical man breaks the terrible news: George has Lampington's Disease, a very rare condition that will see him dead in a few weeks, probably six at the most. He is reassured the effects are a growing numbness until a coma overtakes the body, then he will pass away, so he should not be in any pain, but he does realise he has done nothing in his life to attain any dreams or any fulfilment whatsoever.

Last Holiday was scripted by J.B. Priestley, who had been one of the best-known writers in Britain since before the wartime years, mixing his typical interest and flair for work with a social conscience and a humanist sympathy and hope that the nation, indeed the world, could change for the better. This was what audiences wanted to hear coming out of the Second World War, and though the commentators could be sniffy, his efforts were almost certainly guaranteed a warm reception in many quarters. While this little item did middling business at the box office by his standards, as those audiences were not keen on the ending, in America it was highly regarded for its star.

Guinness was by this stage a globally-respected thespian, a sure thing when it came to an intellectually and emotionally nourishing night out at the pictures, choosing his roles carefully so he could effectively disappear into them - he was famous for having no real personality to speak of, and relying on his job to represent that aspect of himself (curious for a man who published volumes of autobiography, but there you go). Here some said he was closest to his actual character, which was intriguing since the George persona was obviously some kind of Christlike figure, a man destined to die for other's sins but able to redeem all those who meet him and are affected by that meeting.

George decides to pack in his job and live it up for the dwindling remainder of his existence, but typically of the man, he doesn't head off to Monte Carlo, he settles on a posh British seaside resort where he chooses a hotel that caters to the well-off, but is rather small compared to others in the town. That modesty, the fear that you may be living beyond your means, is evidently speaking to him even as he has withdrawn all his savings to splash the cash on one final fling, therefore he does not have the imagination to truly cut loose and enjoy himself: he tries a romance, but that does not work out, he tries to give away some of the money out of altruism, yet that does not quite take either. However, some higher power appears to be looking out for George, and every so often a spot of magic arises.

Nothing overwhelming, but he does now seem to be leading a charmed life which improves those around him - representative of the British society Priestley loved to portray in metaphorical terms - by bringing out their better points, in that Christlike fashion. George manages to make it rain, for example, to call off the croquet game he is reluctantly winning despite never having played before. Same thing happens with a poker match where he wins big for no reason other than a divine intervention to ensure that money goes to good causes. But more than that, it was the finale that suggested our hero was being guided by an unseen hand, not to spoil it, but it was both heavily ironic and oddly punishing, yet included the redemption the story needed for the Biblical allusion; the very last line is so bluntly delivered by Kay Walsh that it feels like a punch in the gut. In fact, the whole thing had an uneasy power that courted miserabilism in a way that didn't pull off its spiritual element. But that confusion did make it stay in the mind uncomfortably. Music by Francis Chagrin.

[Studio Canal's Blu-ray presents a restored print and a featurette with Matthew Sweet, a vintage J.B. Priestley report and an image gallery as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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