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The "Ealing comedies," a series of satirical films produced by England's Ealing Studios during the period 1947-56, were famous for turning a whimsical eye upon aspects of British character and culture. In A Run for Your Money, a story of two provincial coal miners from Wales on the loose in London, the stereotypical Welshman is given a good-natured ribbing. The movie's Welsh characters are portrayed as cheerful, sentimental souls who never pass up a drink or a chance to sing, and burst into tears at the sound of a harp. The town from which the two adventurers hail has the unpronounceable name of Hafoduwchbenceubwllymarchogcoch.
1949 was a banner year for Ealing, and the reception of A Run for Your Money may have suffered because it followed such classic comedies as Passport to Pimlico, Whiskey Galore! and Kind Hearts and Coronets. Even so, Run was nominated for a British Academy Award as Best Picture. The screenplay was co-written by Welsh novelist Richard Hughes, and the film was a rare comedy for English director Charles Frend, better known for such documentary-like dramas as Scott of the Antarctic (1948) and The Cruel Sea (1953). The movie's acting ensemble is peppered with names that would soon become more famous, including Alec Guinness, Hugh Griffith, Moira Lister and Joyce Grenfell.
The story's miners, David "Dai Number 9" Jones (Donald Houston) and Thomas "Twm" Jones (Meredith Edwards), are brothers who win a contest sponsored by the Echo newspaper (evidently inspired by the South Wales Echo). The prize is 100 pounds each and choice seats at a rugby match between the Welsh and the English teams at Twickenham in Middlesex. It's the first trip to England for these nave country boys, and they are to be met and escorted around London by the paper's garden columnist, the effete Whimple (Guinness). But the boys become separated, and Dai is picked up by a pretty blonde con artist Jo (Lister) who has her eyes on the prize money. Although he has a girl back in Wales, Dai begins to fall for the duplicitous Jo.
Meanwhile, Twm has run into a fellow Welshman and old friend, drunken and down-on-his-luck harpist Huw Price (Griffith). They set out on a pub-crawling search for Dai - complicated by the fact that Huw has his enormous harp, freshly recovered from a pawn shop, in tow. Everyone eventually meets up at the rugby match (Wales wins), and a mad chase ensues with Dai and Jo struggling over the prize money and their burgeoning feelings for each other.
Much of the movie was shot on various locations in London, including Paddington Station, Fleet Street and the Tower of London. Joking references are made to the tough times the city is going through in these postwar years; for modern audiences, the film is a fascinating historical document. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe captures some striking images, especially in the opening scenes when the boys are still at work in the shadowy mines. The background score is developed from traditional Welsh folk songs, and some of these are sung, including "All Through the Night" and "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie."
Both Houston and Edwards were Welsh-born and had long and prolific careers ahead of them. Houston had just come off his film debut in The Blue Lagoon (1949) opposite Jean Simmons, while A Run for Your Money was Edwards' first movie. Guinness, thanks to his multi-character tour de force in Kind Hearts and Coronets, was just about to hit his stride as that unusual combination of character actor and star.
Although A Run for Your Money was a hit in England, it reportedly was poorly received in Wales because of resentment over the stereotypes. Even so, the film delivers an image of Welshmen that is good-hearted and sympathetic, portraying them as innocents with a sense of community and cooperation lacking in the more cynical Londoners. A key scene on a train has the boys asking for the best route to Twickenham, and the harsh disagreements that erupt among the various classes of Englishmen and women offer an unpleasant contrast to the loving and nurturing Welsh community they have just left behind. Again, there's an interesting historical context in the fact that, at the time, Wales was still economically dependent on the coal-mining industry.
by Roger Fristoe