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  So Long at the Fair The Vanishing
Year: 1950
Director: Anthony Darnborough, Terence Fisher
Stars: Jean Simmons, Dirk Bogarde, David Tomlinson, Marcel Poncin, Cathleen Nesbitt, Honor Blackman, Betty Warren, Zena Marshall, Eugene Deckers, Felix Aylmer, André Morell, Austin Trevor, Natasha Sokolova, Nelly Arno
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Victoria Barton (Jean Simmons) and her older brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) have been travelling around Europe, planning to end their peregrinations at the 1889 Paris Exhibition which should be opening when they arrive in France, after which they will return home to England. Johnny has booked ahead, wisely as it turns out as the hotels are packed with tourists seeking accomodation, and the staff in the place they are staying in are most helpful. That night, although Johnny is feeling tired after their long journey, they go out to see the sights, but the next morning...

Ah, the next morning we've been plunged into urban legend territory, one of the earliest of such things to make the rounds during the twentieth century, when they really took off as something to tell your friends that would either shock them or make them laugh. The tale So Long at the Fair was drawn from was one of the former, and had been reprinted in many books down the years often as fact, although there is no proof it ever happened. Neverthless, the filmmakers stuck closely to the twists of the source here, and for many this is the definitive version of a tale which had been retold with variations quite a few times.

It's basically the old "they won't believe me" plot, with Simmons alternately plucky and distraught at the reaction she gets when she tries to assure those she meets that of course she has a brother, didn't they see him with her? There's her problem though, as when she wakes up after her night out she finds that the hotel staff not only tell her that the room she thought her brother was in doesn't exist - it's the bathroom on that floor - but her brother doesn't exist either. Now, we have seen the opening twenty minutes of the movie, so we know Vicky is telling the truth when she says that he has gone missing, so why can nobody else recall him ever appearing with her?

The room may have gone without a trace, and Johnny may have vanished into thin air, but that's the cue for some well handled scenes of helpless paranoia, after all, what do you do when you know full well that there's something not right but cannot find anyone else to explain to you precisely what is going on? And not only that, but they deny there was ever an issue in the first place? Simmons is a fine heroine in this middle part of the film, refusing to back down in spite of how scared she is, and how increasingly crazy she appears, with every avenue being closed off to her at every turn - including the death of the one person who could have corroborated her story in a balloon accident.

Or was it an accident? Well, we never actually find that out, as the narrative moves into its final act and Vicky eventually discovers someone who will assist. Johnny had lent a fellow Englishman, painter George Hathaway (Dirk Bogarde), a sum of money to pay for a cab fare the night he disappeared, and just as Vicky is about to pack her bags in defeat, George drops the money off with a letter to her room. Proof at last! In truth, once she has an ally, and a possible romantic relationship into the bargain, the tension eases up somewhat, as the sense of the leading lady all at sea in a land which doesn't want to acknowledge her troubles was by far the strongest element. As it is, So Long at the Fair remains a classy little puzzle which ends as the urban myth did, although perhaps happier than in some versions, but manages to sustain its mystery to its conclusion. Music by Benjamin Frankel.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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