Movie Diary 5/8/2018

Once a Jolly Swagman (Jack Lee, 1949). Dirk Bogarde as a rootless young blue-collar man who takes up “speedway” racing (motorcycles) in pre-WWII Britain while his more committed brother goes off to fight the fascists in Spain. (Director Lee’s brother was Laurie Lee, who fought in the Spanish Civil War and wrote a series of much-loved autobiographical novels.) For a while, his success gives him a swelled head, and a natty little mustache. Happily, the war knocks some sense into him. The formula is strong here, but the details are often flavorful. It’s early in Bogarde’s career, but he makes it look effortless. Renee Asheron plays the nice girl who waits for Bogarde to come ’round, and Moira Lister is fun as the ritzy lady who takes up with him at the height of his fame. Bonar Colleano and Bill Owen are fellow drivers, both given opportunities to shine, and Sid James is the no-nonsense team owner. The title is a somewhat curious connection to “Waltzing Matilda,” which is used on the soundtrack (and was apparently played at speedways, because of the sport’s history in Australia?). Of course, the film was retitled for the U.S.: Maniacs on Wheels.

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