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Gideon of Scotland Yard
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Gideon of Scotland Yard

If you were in England in 1958, you might have seen a movie by American director John Ford called Gideon's Day, produced by Columbia (British) Productions at the Elstree Studios and filmed in Technicolor. If you were in the United States the following year, you might have seen the same picture-but the title would have been Gideon of Scotland Yard, the running time would have been much shorter, the print would have been black-and-white, and the theater would have been an art house devoted to safe European entertainments.

Although the movie holds many pleasures, Columbia didn't think it could compete with the splashier fare encouraged by Hollywood as competition with TV continued to escalate. So it was released to US theaters in the cheaper black-and-white format and elbowed off the mainstream exhibition circuit.

The studio's lack of confidence proved infectious, and the picture's reputation still hasn't recovered among American viewers. It's hard to imagine a good John Ford film being half forgotten today-especially one from the same decade that gave us The Searchers (1956) and The Quiet Man (1952), to mention just a couple of his 1950s classics-but Gideon of Scotland Yard has suffered that fate. Even now its continuity is choppy in spots, a lingering effect of cuts made for the US market.

English actor Jack Hawkins, once called by Ford the "finest dramatic actor with whom I have worked," plays George Gideon, a dedicated Scotland Yard inspector. The movie follows him through a long, action-packed day that he and his family take totally in stride, seeing every complication and inconvenience as part of a police officer's regular lot in life.

On one level the picture is a police procedural, observing Gideon as he tracks down clues to a murder, a rape, a bank robbery, and a case of police corruption, among other crimes. On another level it's a domestic comedy showing how the Gideon family copes with everything from an uppity traffic cop to Gideon's chronic habit of getting stuck at work late into the evening. It's common for police dramas to shuttle between personal and professional scenes, but it takes a Ford to interweave the two sides of the equation with such perfect balance. He even pulls off the picture's silliest running gag, about our hero's efforts to bring home a fish in time for supper.

English screenwriter T.E.B. Clarke, whose credits include the 1951 caper hit The Lavender Hill Mob, penned the script, basing it on John Creasey's novel Gideon's Day - the first of twenty-one books Creasey wrote, using the pseudonym J.J. Marric, about the inspector's exploits. In addition to Ford's movie, Creasey's novels inspired a British television series called Gideon's Way in the UK and Gideon CID in the US; it ran for twenty-six episodes in 1964-65.

Ford was so famous for westerns that New York Times critic Bosley Crowther started his review of Gideon of Scotland Yard by marveling at the absence of John Wayne and horses. He went on to applaud the movie for its wry "spoofing" and the "good British-comedy style" of its supporting cast.

Finding it less funny, Ford authority Tag Gallagher calls it the director's only tragicomedy, using cheerful scenes to make its deeper interests-"the claustrophobia, craziness, and complacent despair of modern life"-stand out in sharper relief. Not for nothing does Ford display a newspaper headline about the hydrogen bomb and choose a theme song that echoes, "London Bridge is falling down...."

As often with Ford's work, Gideon of Scotland Yard fits too many categories for critics to pigeonhole it easily. It has indisputable comic ingredients from the fish-for-dinner motif to the junior cop who's cheeky enough to give Gideon a traffic ticket and then start wooing his starry-eyed daughter. Yet the somber undertones can't be ignored, especially when Gideon confronts the cold, hard facts of a brutal, senseless crime. Ford certainly took the story seriously, orchestrating its elements carefully and departing from the shooting script whenever he saw fit. As a story organically unfolds before the camera, he said in a 1958 interview, "one must develop each character in the actor [along with] the mood and the tempo," so that drama and humor reach an ideal mix. This is exactly what he accomplishes here.

Although the genre, the dry British humor, and the London setting aren't typical for this director, auteurists will be pleased to find that Gideon of Scotland Yard is recognizably a John Ford film. This is evident throughout the picture in its visual style, marked by richly expressive images shot with superb economy. Ford's personal stamp is especially vivid in the final scenes, when Gideon finishes his day (at last!) by returning to his loyal wife and daughter, who are guarding the hearth and awaiting his arrival with the patience of a homesteading family on the Western frontier. London Bridge may be metaphorically falling down, but our hero has earned a warm welcome back into the fold-even if he does have to rush right out again when the Yard summons him after hours.

In addition to Hawkins's finely tuned performance, Gideon of Scotland Yard benefits from excellent acting by Cyril Cusack as a Cockney snitch, Maureen Potter as his gin-addicted spouse, Andrew Ray as the impertinent young constable, Michael Trubshawe as a sergeant whose oversized mustache should get a screen credit of its own, Anna Lee as Gideon's long-suffering wife, and Anna Massey making her screen debut as their daughter. With talents this strong to draw on, one suspects Ford would have liked to visit England a lot more often than he did.

Producer: Michael Killanin
Director: John Ford
Screenplay: T.E.B. Clarke, based on the novel by John Creasey as J. J. Merric
Cinematography: Frederick A. Young
Film Editing: Raymond Poulton
Art Direction: Ken Adam
Music: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Jack Hawkins (George Gideon), Dianne Foster (Joanna Delafield), Cyril Cusack (Herbert "Birdie" Sparrow), Andrew Ray (Simon Farnaby-Green), James Hayter (Robert Mason), Ronald Howard (Paul Delafield), Howard Marion-Crawford (chief), Laurence Naismith (Arthur Sayer), Derek Bond (Eric Kirby), Grizelda Hervey (Mrs. Kirby), Frank Lawton (Frank Liggott), Anna Lee (Kate Gideon), John Loder (Ponsford), Doreen Madden (Miss Courtney), Miles Malleson (judge), Marjorie Rhodes (Rosie Saparelli), Michael Shepley (Sir Rupert Bellamy), Michael Trubshawe (Sgt. Golly), Jack Watling (the Rev. Julian Small), Anna Massey (Sally Gideon).
BW-82m.

by Mikita Brottman and David Sterritt

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