Be Upstanding in Court

London Belongs to MeLast weekend I needed to escape from reality for a while, so I spent a whole afternoon watching old British courtroom dramas on Netflix: “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957) with Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Elsa Lanchester; “Hostile Witness” (1968) with Ray Milland; and “London Belongs to Me” (1948) with Richard Attenborough and Alastair Sim. I enjoyed them all — I like anything with barristers and judges in wigs, in any time period. I also love to hear the call “Be upstanding in court” — it just sounds so much better than “All rise.”

“London Belongs to Me” was based on the 1945 bestselling novel of the same title by Norman Collins, also published as “Dulcimer Street.” The movie opens on Christmas Eve of 1938, and centers around the tenants of an old house in London, including the Percy Boon, a young mechanic who lives with his invalid mother, the respectable Mr. and Mrs. Josser and their beautiful daughter Doris; Mrs. Vizzard, the widowed landlady who believes in Spiritualism, and her new tenant, Mr. Squales, who claims to be a medium and is played to creepy perfection by Alastair Sim. Percy is in love with Doris, but he gets involved in some shady schemes, things go badly, and he causes the death of a former girlfriend while fleeing from the Police. The residents of the house on Dulcimer Street get involved in his trial and its aftermath.

It’s not really a great movie, but it’s interesting. The characters have an almost Dickensian quality, although perhaps it just seemed that way to me because Alastair Sim is my favorite Ebenezer Scrooge, and I just watched his version of “A Christmas Carol” last month. But parts of the movie have a noir quality, all broody black-and-white with lots of steam, smoke and gritty urban scenes, with a sense of impending war always present. I loved the street scenes, especially with this wonderful old service station where Percy worked and the Funland arcade across the street.

London Belongs to Me

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