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The Clouded Yellow (1951)
Director: Ralph Thomas

review by J.C. Hartley

Director Ralph Thomas was best known for the 'Doctor' films based on the Richard Gordon books, but his career covered quite a broad spectrum including espionage movies like the Kenneth More-starring first colour version of The 39 Steps (1959), the slight spy comedy Hot Enough For June (1964), and the 'Bulldog' Drummond pictures Deadlier Than The Male (1966), and Some Girls Do (1969).

At the tail-end of his cinematic career, Thomas directed the SF tale Quest For Love (1971) based on a John Wyndham short story, and the sex comedies Percy (1971), and Percy's Progress (1974). Those of us of a certain age will remember the Percy films as being notorious, but inevitably they were examples of the British tendency in the 1970s to reduce sex to a peculiarly sad form of smut, rather than present it as a celebration of liberation. Thomas worked with something of a repertory company; the same performers keep cropping up, Bogarde, Robertson-Justice, and, as here, Kenneth More.

David Somers (Trevor Howard, Sir Henry At Rawlinson End) is unceremoniously ejected from the secret service by his boss (Andre Morell, TV's Quatermass) after a foreign job has gone wrong. Returning to civilian life, Somers gets a job cataloguing butterflies, like the Clouded Yellow, for a gentle academic Fenton (Barry Jones) in the country. Jones and his wife, the calculating Jess (Sonia Dresdel), have a niece Sophie (Jean Simmons before Hollywood beckoned), disturbed after witnessing her father murder her mother and commit suicide when she was still a child.

It soon becomes apparent that Jess is 'Gaslighting' Sophie, deliberately confounding her reasoning to increase her sense of 'muddle'. Jess has been having an affair with local gamekeeper Hick (Maxwell Reed) who tiring of her has turned his attentions to Sophie. When Hick is murdered suspicion falls on Sophie, and Somers, in love and suspecting a vile trap, goes on the run with her.

Somers uses his professional guile and his old espionage contacts, �migr�s he has liberated from Europe, to keep ahead of the police and a former colleague, Willy played by Kenneth More, brought in to avoid embarrassment to the secret service. The narrative is well paced but what raises the story of The Clouded Yellow to a rather superior if simple thriller is the excellent use of locations.

The chase takes in the Port of London, Newcastle upon Tyne, the Cumbrian Lake District and finally Liverpool. Location work doesn't seem to play such a big role in British films outside costume dramas in rural settings. Or does it? Postwar films made great use of urban bomb-sites, movies like Get Carter (1971), Gumshoe (1971), and Stormy Monday (1988) made use of northern British urban settings. I suppose 28 Days Later (2002) is a recent example of striking location work. Maybe location-work is just too expensive. Maybe I'm watching the wrong films, or have only just started thinking about this. In any event, all credit to Ralph Thomas and his producers for the work that went into this.

Trevor Howard is his usual dependable understated self, and Jean Simmons shows her beautiful star-quality. She still got work late in her career, although this became less regular, notably she was in TV's Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in particular voicing Grandma Sophie in Howl's Moving Castle (2004). She died in January 2010.

The Clouded Yellow



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