It Always Rains on Sunday: Film Forum, through March 13, 2008
British director Robert Hamer is known here primarily for Kind Hearts and Coronets and the mirror episode of Dead of Night. He has only a few other major films to his credit, all clustered in the five years after World War II. Yet those few films are enough to mark him as a master. 1947's It Always Rains on Sunday is an unusual outing for Hamer, dense in social observation, crowded with urban debris that partly conceals his wonderful eye for stark, contained compositions. Hamer and his co-writers (Henry Cornelius and Angus MacPhail, adapting a novel by Arthur La Bern) set out to recreate the sociology of post-war London's East End, with the underworld shading imperceptibly into the put-upon working poor, women struggling with the slow-dawning prospect of economic independence, the Jewish community struggling in various ways for a foothold. Remarkably, the personal story in the foreground - a hard, pragmatic step-mother (Googie Withers) risks her family and security to shelter an escaped convict and ex-lover (John McCallum) - grows organically out of the film's sociological concerns, illuminating rather than distracting from them. Hamer is as confident in his regulation of a broad range of human activity as he is with static, lucid imagery: the solemnity and stoicism of his world view brings a quiet dignity, almost a heroism, to the humblest subject matter. It Always Rains on Sunday plays for a few more days at Film Forum.