East End Memories



Although the Essoldo, Bethnal Green will always hold a special place in my memory, my dealings with the cinema were not always pleasant. At first our relationship was decidedly rocky. The first film that I saw here was Easter Parade. I can’t remember why my parents chose this cinema to see this film, as we generally saw MGM and Warner Brothers’ musicals at the Empire, Mile End Road. Be-that-as-it-may, whatever the reason why we saw this film at this cinema, we did, and I remember being decidedly unimpressed with the décor of the place. The interior of the Essoldo had certainly seen better days by this time, but then my visit occurred after the end of World War II when building materials were scarce and not readily available for cinema renovation. I remember that the seats had lost their plushness and some were broken. The original wall decoration had long since lost its lustre and looked decidedly unattractive. This was especially sad since, judging by photographs of the auditorium in its early days, it had been quite special.

Sometime later, I went to the cinema a second time. This time I saw The Weak and the Wicked. This was a British film made was in black and white, two qualities that I failed to appreciate as a child, I am sorry to say. Time and experience has taught me the value of both old British films and those made without colour. Sadly, I have learned that often my initial response to things is without merit and at times naïve. I have often dismissed numerous plays, musicals and films as being bad or worthless only to find at a later viewing that it was my initial review that was worthless and without merit. Although I doubt if The Weak and the Wicked could ever be classified as a sterling production, since I am able to recall the storyline in some detail, I think that it was perhaps of more value than I initially thought. The film was directed by J. Lee Thompson, later of The Guns of Navarone fame and starred Glynis Johns and Diana Dors. The story dealt with their journey through the prison system and after their release. Although I disliked the film as a child, I regret that it is not available for home viewing, as I would like to see it again, if only to confirm my initial impression. Even though I cannot say that I enjoyed the film, I was impressed by Ms Johns’ voice and Ms Dors’ curves.

I have always found Ms Johns to be an enchanting and ethereal actress. Like Joan Greenwood, it was her voice that first appealed to me. Even as a child, and without realising it, I found it to be sensual. I always felt that she sounded as if she was about to cry. This is a quality that I find most attractive and it caused me to fall in love with Ingrid Bergman and probably with Ms Johns too at an early age. I was lucky enough to see her on the London stage with Keith Mitchell, sometime in the late 1960s, in The King’s Mare, where she played Anne of Cleves, one of the wives of Henry VIII. Although the play was not memorable, Ms Johns was and I enjoyed hearing her deliver her lines. In 1973, I saw Ms Johns once more. She was starring on the Broadway stage in the Stephen Sondheim musical play, A Little Night Music. I had gone to see this production firstly because of a wish to see Ms Johns once more and secondly since the play was based on the Ingmar Bergman film, Smiles on a Summer Night. Being a devotee of the Bergman brand of gloom and despair and an intellectual snob at the time, I could hardly miss this opportunity. Besides, in those days theatre patrons were able to buy a balcony ticket for two dollars!

By this time Ms Johns had received success in Hollywood. She had been totally captivating in The Sundowners, adequate in Mary Poppins and completely wasted in her television show. As with The Weak and the Wicked, I disliked A Little Night Music intensely. However I did find Ms Johns to be charming and again enjoyed hearing her deliver her lines, which was certainly something more than I was able to say about the other performers. I remember being pleased that I had not spent more on the price of my ticket.

One final point of note about Ms Johns and A Little Night Music: whenever I think of this production, I cannot but laugh uncontrollably for a few minutes since I remember an ex-friend of mine saying that the problem with this musical play was that it lacked good toe-tapping tunes! Although I did not admit it, I heartily agreed with this remark at the time. Sadly, I found the tunes to be miserable! Although I still laugh at this dismissal, time and experience have taught me the folly of my ways and I have learned to appreciate the depth and pathos of many of the tunes including Send in the Clowns, which I had misunderstood and believed that she was asking for someone to Send in the Clouds!"

Continue to Part Three - Desperate Times, Desperate Measures & 3-D

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