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WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND


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Any thoughts on this one, anyone? I like the kids, especially the little brother. There's an unsentimental quality to the film which counteracts what could have been a kind of cutesy quality. The no-nonsense character of these people is part of that, and certainly provides a significant amount of the film's humour, which never seems forced or played for laughs.

The movie is somewhat, I don't know, muted? Particularly toward the ending, which plays out rather undramatically, I thought - was that mis-handled, or was it about right? I'm thinking about how there's a nice tension between belief (which is naive, but somehow "right") and pragmatic fact-facing (which also gets its due).

Thoughts?

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I just started watching this one a couple of weeks ago, but got interrupted halfway through. I'll make a point of watching the whole thing through again, and get back to you.

One of the attractions of the film for me is that it was all filmed on location in Lancashire, the next county to mine.

Drop by The Grace Pages, a rest-stop for fellow pilgrims.

-- Dave aka Alvy

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I just started watching this one a couple of weeks ago, but got interrupted halfway through. I'll make a point of watching the whole thing through again, and get back to you.

Thanks!

One of the attractions of the film for me is that it was all filmed on location in Lancashire, the next county to mine.

They certainly didn't go out of their way to make it look all appealing and touristy, did they? The rock quarry, etc - pretty bleak.

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I only saw the on stage production of Whistle Down the Wind. It was interesting to hear little British kids try to do a southern accents! (hope I didn't offend any of you!)

I haven't seen the movie but I remember being very disappointed with the plotline of the on stage production in general. . .rather dull.

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I only saw the on stage production of Whistle Down the Wind. It was interesting to hear little British kids try to do a southern accents! (hope I didn't offend any of you!)

Stage version! Cool. What theatre did you see it at? When? (Oh, I see it was made into an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical that ran in the West End. Show how much I'm up on the world of theatre!)

Sounds like they moved it to the American South? Interesting - the film is set in England. From a novel by Hayley Mills' mum - wonder what the novel's setting was.

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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  • 3 weeks later...

Finally got around to watching the film.

As they say here, "It's grim up north." I loved the way Arthur Ibbetson filmed the Lancashire locations, and I may yet be inspired to trek a few miles north to check out the locations for myself. (The north of England has a rich history on film, especially in the '50s and '60s when directors went in big time for social realism.)

Malcolm Arnold's music is also as charming as ever. I just know I am not going to be able to stop singing "Daaa-da-daaa-da-daaa-da-daaa-da" all week now.

Originally posted by Ron:

I like the kids, especially the little brother. There's an unsentimental quality to the film which counteracts what could have been a kind of cutesy quality. The no-nonsense character of these people is part of that, and certainly provides a significant amount of the film's humour, which never seems forced or played for laughs.

The children were all locals, with the exception of Hayley Mills, so the accents and the amusing vernacular were all quite genuine.

I'm thinking about how there's a nice tension between belief (which is naive, but somehow "right") and pragmatic fact-facing (which also gets its due).

I found the whole film very ambiguous in this regard. On the one hand, here are these children living out the words of Christ--"As much as you do for one of my brothers, you do for me"--and they do this in the face of the religious hypocrisy of the grownup world around them. On the other hand, the guy's a murderer and he's got a gun, and here they are under the illusion that he is Jesus, utterly confident that he will not let them down. I couldn't really decide whether the film was cynical about faith or not.

Btw, Ron, did you find the Christ-symbolism a bit heavy or about right? It can hardly be called subtle, yet the stark-staring obliqueness of it all the time may have been entirely deliberate. What do you think?

Drop by The Grace Pages, a rest-stop for fellow pilgrims.

-- Dave aka Alvy

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...As they say here, "It's grim up north." ... (The north of England has a rich history on film, especially in the '50s and '60s when directors went in big time for social realism.)

Lots of people who write about this movie characterize it as sort of sweet and sentimental. I don't think they saw the same movie I did - there are a lot of darker colours there, and the locale is a significant part of that. A little like the way some writers perceive A FAMILY WAY as a light and cheery comedy - didn't feel that way to me at all. If these two aren't exactly the Brit social realism thing, they are certainly coloured by that tendency.

I'm thinking about how there's a nice tension between belief (which is naive, but somehow "right") and pragmatic fact-facing (which also gets its due).

I found the whole film very ambiguous in this regard. On the one hand, here are these children living out the words of Christ--"As much as you do for one of my brothers, you do for me"--and they do this in the face of the religious hypocrisy of the grownup world around them.

Absolutely. SPOILER: Indeed, the little brother's own shift from belief to skepticism further undercuts the straightforward "suffer the little children" thing.

On the other hand, the guy's a murderer and he's got a gun, and here they are under the illusion that he is Jesus, utterly confident that he will not let them down. I couldn't really decide whether the film was cynical about faith or not.

I love that about the film! It's just not resolvable, at least not without discounting details on one side or the other of the dialectic. That ambiguity is what makes the film art, as far as I'm concerned.

Btw, Ron, did you find the Christ-symbolism a bit heavy or about right? It can hardly be called subtle, yet the stark-staring obliqueness of it all the time may have been entirely deliberate. What do you think?

A bit heavy AND about right, I should say. The film is very explicit about that because it clearly is the way the Hayley Mills character perceives him - but that is held in constant tension with the patently obvious reality that he really isn't any version of Jesus - except in the sense that Christ is present in anyone, particularly anyone in need. The stronger the film makers underline the Jesus parallels, the more strongly we feel the underlying tension with what we suspect, then know, to be true - that this ain't no messiah. Nifty.

For what it's worth, here's the review I ended up writing;

*

WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND (1961, UK)

He's not your private property. Everyone can see him if they want.

This Hayley Mills vehicle

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Re: Social realism: The short BBC documentary I saw alongside the film mentioned this, and said the film was seminal in bridging the gap between the sentimentalism of postwar British cinema and the social realism of the 1960s. It certainly does fall somewhere inbetween the two, as you note, Ron, but whether that makes it seminal is debatable. The social realism really started taking off in the late '50s with Room at the Top and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, so Whistle Down the Wind was hardly pioneering in that regard.

Btw, it seems the film has never really taken off on your side of the Atlantic? The only edition available on Amazon is an overpriced VHS copy that warrants only three reviews, no picture and scant details.

Drop by The Grace Pages, a rest-stop for fellow pilgrims.

-- Dave aka Alvy

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Re: Social realism: The short BBC documentary I saw alongside the film mentioned this, and said the film was seminal in bridging the gap between the sentimentalism of postwar British cinema and the social realism of the 1960s....

Sounds about right. Sight & Sound (September 2003) had a feature on Richard Attenborough that kind of implied something in that direction without quite saying it;

In talking about 1950s British film culture Attenborough paints a picture of an industry beginning to stagnate... In summer 1958...he and his close friend, the writer Bryan Forbes...decided, almost on a whim, to form their own production company (Beaver Films).... Attenborough and Forbes were part of Allied Film Makers, a production and distribution outfit formed in 1959 and backed by the Rank Organisation.... he rapidly established himself as a top producer on such films as WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND (1951) and THE L-SHAPED ROOM (1962)..."

Sort of implies that WHISTLE was a reaction to "stagnant" fifties films, but not quite.

Btw, it seems the film has never really taken off on your side of the Atlantic? The only edition available on Amazon is an overpriced VHS copy that warrants only three reviews, no picture and scant details.

No, I don't think it's real well known here. People I mention it to have rarely heard of it.

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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British film was "stagnant" in the 1950s? The same decade that gave us David Lean classics like Hobson's Choice and Bridge on the River Kwai? Or is that last film too Hollywood because one of the main stars is American? Anyway, my understanding was that the turning point in British film was Room at the Top, which came out in 1959, I think.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 7 years later...

Just saw this one again. It's been a long time and I honestly forgot how really good this is.

- It looks like it's still only available on Region 2 DVD.

- Or (and I haven't tested them all), it looks like it might all be on youtube, cut up into 9 segments? Starting here -

http://www.youtube.c...feature=related

- Read Ron Reed's review, (also posted above). Then there's another good review over at FilmFanatic.

(Spoilers ahead)

- Honestly, Whistle Down the Wind is amazing. Sure, it's about the innocence of children. But it's also about what you'd do if Jesus came back. The first response of each of the main child characters is a combination of fear/awe and pure joy. Their love for Him is instant, and while the children are obviously human with their own petty quarrels and selfishness, their love for Jesus transcends their sinfulness. I'm not sure if I've ever seen anything quite like this in any other film.

- Alan Bates plays the murderer whose character is potentially changed by his exposure to the love of these children. Whether his character is really changed is one of the questions of the story, but he does throw his gun away at the end (at a time when you'd think the easiest way out of there would simply be to take a hostage). Looks like he doesn't quite get what's happening until halfway through the story when Cathy gives him "a picture of you." When he gets it, first, the takes advantage of it, but then, he doesn't have the heart to destroy the faith he finds around him. A great, understated and gentle, performance.

- Barnes' character is a fantastic contrast to Mills' character. You fall in love with all three of the children early on, but Barnes is the only one who (rightly) figures things out. When his sister convinces him of the impossible, his joy is so great all he can do is dance. But his faith in Jesus is also such that, when "the Man" doesn't do what he knows the real Jesus would do, he's the only kid to make the distinction between mistake and reality. Mills' faith is more naive than her little brother's, and yet, at the end, "the Man" decides to be gentle with it. She's made a mistake, but that doesn't change the fact that (also in spite of some of the bad theology the grownups are telling her) she still believes in and loves the real Christ in heaven, and will be showing love to others because of this while she waits for him to come back.

- I don't know why, because I managed just nicely through the entire film (while others in the room were sniffling), but I only had like 10 seconds left to go and ...

Latecomer: Has he gone?

Cathy: Yes ... yes, you missed Him this time. But He'll be coming again.

The look of utter crushing disappointment on their faces, but then Mills' attempt at an encouraging smile for their sake ... my eyes got blurry.

- The scene with the bully. Where did the scriptwriters come up with this stuff? One of the kids gets stuck with the role of Peter. But then he comes right out of it, and 15 minutes later, suddenly the bully is one of the next group of children who want to see the Lord.

- C.S. Lewis theme of the point of view of children vs. the point of view of "grownups" is at the forefront of this movie. And yet, the grownups aren't bad, it's just that they've lost something.

- Children's theological questions: There are a number of times in here when the kids try and ask the grownups for answers about the big questions. Each and every time, the grownup (Sunday school teacher, clergyman, etc.) completely and utterly fails at answering the quite important question. Boy I hope I can do better than that when some 8-year-old puts me in that situation?

Highly recommended for the crowd on this forum. If you haven't seen it, put it on your list. If you haven't seen it for years, it's worth another try for the upcoming holidays.

Edited by Persiflage
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I know it may seem like grandstanding if I called this one of the world's great movies, but that's really how I feel about it. It's a crime this isn't available on DVD. It seems like such a juicy candidate for a Criterion release.

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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I know it may seem like grandstanding if I called this one of the world's great movies, but that's really how I feel about it. It's a crime this isn't available on DVD. It seems like such a juicy candidate for a Criterion release.

Give it a "2nd" over on the nominating thread and maybe we'll get enough of the crowd here to watch it for it to make the Top 100 list of "films characterized both by artistic excellence and a serious wrestling with questions that at root might be called religious or spiritual."

Again, for those who haven't invested in a multi-region DVD player, it's available at youtube starting here.

Since no one seems to be using the nomination discussion thread, here's a blurb for why this should be included on the list -

There are not very many films out there that have specifically reminded me how I actually do desire Christ's return, but this is the best of them (if in fact, there are any others). You alternatively see this story through three different viewpoints. First, you understand the point of view of the "grown-ups" who know "The Man" is a dangerous criminal who simply needs to be brought into the arms of the law, for the sake of justice, and for the protection of family. Bernard Lee's Mr. Bostock isn't unlikeable. He's just a regular, responsible father and farmer, who cares for his children. Second, you see the point of view of "The Man" who is on the run from the law, and inexplicably finds himself being protected and provided for by a group of children (because of quickly forgotten curse word). It isn't until later that he realizes why they are caring for him, and whether or not this revelation with change his behavior is one of the redemptive questions of the story. Third, and finally, you see the point of view of the children. To them, Christ their Savior, has returned. Their response is both love and pure joy. But they, like everyone else, are not perfect - and their little petty selfishnesses are suddenly confronted with the grave and solemn possibility that they have just been entrusted with a sacred responsibility. Their theology isn't the most sound (any more than the theology of the adults who they try and ask questions to is), but their love for Jesus is real. The differences between Kathy (Hayley Mills) and Charles (Alan Barnes) are common differences between different believers, and those differences affect their understanding of important truths. But through all the children's eyes, the viewer is confronted with the question of what your own response would be if suddenly, there He was, right there, come back just like he said he would. Charles leaves the story, hurt, but safe with the knowledge that there are some things he knows for sure about Jesus. Kathy leaves the experience knowing, and more willing to share with others, the astonishing fact that there is still something incredible for every believer to look forward to. Starkly shot on camera, the acting performances are stellar, the script is intellectually provoking, and the musical score gives one a sense of both hope and joy.

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I know it may seem like grandstanding if I called this one of the world's great movies, but that's really how I feel about it. It's a crime this isn't available on DVD. It seems like such a juicy candidate for a Criterion release.

Well, there is a VHS copy in the LA County Library System, but it's at a closed branch, so I can't even put a hold on it and have them ship it to my local branch. (#@%*! budget cuts!)

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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