There are some films that are popular, some that are classics and some that occupy a particularly warm place in the heart. They're the sort that you catch on television or come across on Youtube and the result is a smile and an intense desire to put on the kettle, slip off the shoes and settle down for a happy hour and a half of cozy pleasure. Such is Genevieve, which is surprising because the director was apparently a monster and the entire cast hated working with him. That from such acid soil such a sweet film should emerge is surprising.
Genevieve revolves around one of those marvellous eccentricities of English life; the London to Brighton vintage car rally where motor cars dating from the turn of the 20th century re-enact the first Emancipation Run in 1896 to celebrate the passage of the Locomotives on Highways Act 1896, which meant that motor cars no longer had to have a man preceding them on foot waving a red flag. In this case, we follow the adventures of the McKim family: Husband Alan, wife Wendy, and the third member, Genevieve; a 1904 Darraq motor car. They're joined on the drive down to Brighton by advertising salesman Ambrose Claverhouse, who is sharing his 1904 Spyker with his new girlfriend Rosalind Peters and a very large St Bernard named Suzie.
Since this is a comedy, things, predictably don't go well for the McKims as Genevieve insists on breaking down regularly in a way that serves as a metaphor for the state of the newlyweds' relationship, which is forever fracturing and mending itself as such things do. The comic misadventures come to a head when Alan and Ambrose have a falling out the next day in Brighton and decide to settle matters by wagering £100 over who can be the first to drive back to Westminster Bridge in London. The result is as insanely competitive a race as one can manage in two cars that could muster a dozen horsepower between them.
I can't say when I'd first seen Genevieve. It's one of those features that always cropped up on rainy Sunday afternoons, but even as a boy I found its light comedy appealing. But I never knew just how fond people were of the film until I watched a televised tribute back in the '80s to Pinewood Studios where it was produced. There was a dinner for the various people involved with the studio who gave speeches and what not, and when the topic of a certain film was raised, the entire hall shouted out as one "Genevieve!"
It's a wonderful gem of a film with a cast that fit their roles like gloves and have perfect chemistry–especially between Alan and Wendy, who really do at times seem like a young married couple. Kenneth More as Ambrose should have patented his brash character and no one can forget Kay Kendall as the tipsy Rosalind staggering up to the band stand, declaring that she'll "show them how to play the plumpet", only to belt out an eye-raising solo of "Genevieve".
And then, of course, there is Genevieve, who has so much personality as a motor car that really is first and last an inanimate object that she makes Herbie the Love Bug look like a pile of scrap for all his magical antics.
Backing up all of this is Larry Adler's inspired harmonica score and director Henry Cornelius's location photography that captures southern England in the 1950s for future generations.
If you haven't seen Genevieve, I envy you because you still have that first experience to look forward to.
And you can find it here.