Monday, March 2, 2015

The Mudlark

FXM Retro showed The Mudlark this morning. It's going to be on again early tomorrow morning at 3:00 AM in case you missed any of the previous showings.

The movie starts off by telling us that there's a legend of an event that supposedly had an effect on Britain in the 39th year of Queen Victoria's reign, so that places us at 1875. Cut to a shot of the London waterfront, where there are a lot of docks as well as muddy shorelines. It's those muddy shorelines that give rise to the term "mudlark", referring to orphans who would scroung through the muck, looking for whatever they could trade for food, I suppose. Wheeler (Andrew Ray) is one such mudlark, and he finds a medallion with a nice picture on it. So nice, in fact, that he's willing to dive back into the Thames to find it, that's how interested he is in this thing. Anyhow, one of the older men along the waterfront tells Wheeler that the woman depicted on the medallion is none other than Queen Victoria, and that she is figuratively the mother of the country. So Wheeler wants to see this mothre, since he doesn't have a mother of his own. He's told that Victoria lives in Windsor Castle, which is 20 miles or so upstream from where they all are. Wheeler sets out for Windsor Castle, and almost in the next shot he's outside the gates, looking at one of the palace guards standing at attention in front of the gates.

Wheeler of course doesn't have a way to get in, but Benjamin Disraeli (Alec Guinness) certainly does. Disraeli is, after all, the Prime Minister, and has to see the queen on a regular basis. But it's more than just the regular laws that need royal assent that have brought Disraeli to see Her Majesty on this particular occasion. Victoria (Irene Dunne) has been mourning the death of her husband, Prince Albert. People mourn when they become widows or widowers, but Victoria has been in mourning for something like 15 years, which is thoroughly abnormal. She's decided that because Albert loved Windsor Castle, she's going to honor him by spending the rest of her life there. Her subjects haven't seen her in public, and they're beginning to get restless. You can see why Disraeli would like Victoria to make a public appearance.

But back to the title character. Somehow the gate didn't get properly locked after Disraeli was admitted, and Wheeler just pushes the gate open and walks into the palace grounds! He walks through the grounds on a foggy night, until he falls into a hole that must be the open door of the coal chute, for the next thing we see, Wheeler is in the basement dirty from coal. He makes his way upstairs, amazingly escaping detection for the longest time. Eventually, though, he gets caught under the table in the queen's dining room by an Irish maid and then her boyfriend, who makes jokes about how easy it would be to burn down the castle. The more senior servants show up, so they have to hide the kid quickly, which they do behind a curtain. He falls asleep, and his snoring catches Victoria's attention at dinner, leading to Wheeler's being found. Wheeler mentions an adult man who said something about burning down the castle, and that leads everybody to think that there's n Irish plot about.

The Queen has problems, Wheeler has problems, and Disraeli has problems. And yet there are even more characters with problems. The script tacks on a story about Emily, one of Victoria's ladies-in-waiting (Beatrice Campbell), and her military boyfriend (Anthony Steel) who isn't appropriate for a daughter of the nobility. Rounding out the cast is Finlay Currie as John Brown, Prince Albert's old manservant who is still in service of the Queen. (He's the Mr. Brown who is referred to in the title of the Judi Dench movie Mrs. Brown, about Victoria's relatoinship with Brown.)

There's a lot going on in The Mudlark, and none of it really gets resolved satisfyingly. Emily and her boyfriend presumably elope as she tries to do that on multiple occasions, and then Victoria drops a hint about Emily's mother sometimes being a handful herself. Currie's John Brown is a lovable Scottish drunk, as opposed to the stereotypical lovable Irish drunk that somebody like Barry Fitzgerald might have played in movies set in America. Victoria is a frigid jerk for most of the movie, and then suddenly has a change of heart when she meets Wheeler? Disreali makes a speech in the House of Commons, but we don't really care much about the other events that are going on in Britain. As for Wheeler himself, it's ludictous to believe that he could have gotten as far as he did. Everybody tries, and the movie is mildly entertaining, but it's nowhere near greatness.

I'm not certain whether The Mudlark has ever received a DVD release, so you'll have to catch the FXM Retro showings.

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