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Christmas Watch: The Crowded Day AKA Shop Spoiled (1954)

Join us Tuesdays and Thursdays in December for our Christmas Watch. Each time you comment and share a post, you are entered into a drawing to win a free paperback of your choice from Bear Manor Media. Today, Adam and Samantha look at a British film set during the Christmas season.

S: The Crowded Day follows the lives of many different people who are all connected via the Bunting and Hobbs department store. Director John Guillermin masterfully follows the women enough to make us care about their individual stories and to be able to differentiate between them. I was not familiar with any of these actors prior to seeing this film, so it would have been easy to get lost in the shuffle, but we are in the hands of a top notch storyteller and everything runs smoothly.

A: The movie packed full of characters and fast-paced, but it still feels like an intimate picture. It deals with some heavy social issues, and there are a couple scenes that ratchet up the tension quite dramatically, but it never bludgeons the audience with a message.

S: Department stores have always been glamorous places for me. We always walked through them when we went to the mall, but we rarely bought anything because they were so expensive. I especially liked visiting Lazarus at Christmastime when their villages were set up and lit, and the nutcrackers were on display and the holiday music was playing. I worked at the mall in college and Christmas was my favorite time of year at work too. This movie brought back lots of happy memories. However, that end of business bell is something I wish existed in real life. It is incredibly loud, and the customers immediately leave whether they're done shopping or not. The workers can cover over their stations and leave. If only life were like in the movies.

A: I came across The Crowded Day a couple years ago because I was specifically looking for movies set in department stores. Even though it predates me by a few decades and is from across the ocean, I was immediately “at home” with this movie because of the staples of any department store: the escalator, perfume counter, and little sectioned-off fake rooms displaying beds and home goods. It’s a familiar sight, and a hallmark of the post-war economy that was still in bloom when we were growing up. My favorite movie set in this world is Frederick Wiseman’s documentary, The Store, about the flagship Neiman Marcus in Dallas during the Christmas rush. That movie precisely captures the rousing extravagance and neuroses on parade that are part and parcel of the shopping experience. My feelings toward malls and department stores mirror my feelings toward Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: I think about them a lot, but the actual experience leaves me over-stimulated and uncomfortable.

S: Josephine Griffin as Yvonne Pascal has the elegance of Grace Kelly and the cultured accent of Audrey Hepburn. Cameraman Gordon Dines seemed to delight in her because she gets several close-ups including one on the phone that is so close, you can see the tiny hairs on her upper lip. The scene where she is being chased by a predatory man is intense, and it employs a black cat crossing her path to foreshadow what might happen to her, a device I've only ever seen in horror movies or cartoons.

A: In my notes I dubbed that frightening man, Clammy Fish Lips. He looks like he has killed many times before. So, I was surprised to find out he was played by Laurie Main, who had a long career in television but might be best known for voice acting for Disney in the 80s.

I agree that Josephine Griffin is great in this. As striking as she is, it’s odd that she had such a short film career.

S: I wonder if she was one of those actresses who opted to get married and have children rather than invest her energy into a career. Patricia Plunkett is the gorgeous but lonely shopgirl who resorts to an escort service, so she doesn't have to go to the Christmas party alone. Vera Day is a bubbly blonde who thinks she is dating a Hollywood executive and that she's on her way to stardom, even though her boyfriend is just a chauffeur. Joan Rice is an energetic salesgirl who tries to get her boyfriend to take their relationship more seriously by pretending to be in a relationship with her supervisor.

A: I would never have made the connection if not for the booklet that came with the Blu-ray, but Prunella Scales (Sybil in Fawlty Towers) plays the mopey young bride-to-be that has a really strong preference for nylon over satin.

S: Poor girl; she wasn't allowed to have a say in her own wedding dress. All of these women live in a hostel together and share bathrooms. The scene of them getting ready reminded me of The Women. It is filled with gossip and cattiness, and I can tell you it rings true based on my experiences working with a lot of women.

A: I related to the coworkers that would go to any length to swipe your commission.

This film’s dramatic scenes are excellent, but I felt the comedic bits, such as the business with the old jalopy, fell flat. However, while Rachel Roberts’ food-obsessed comic relief was a bit tiring overall, I loved her line, “Oh, my poor old feet! I feel like an overdone suet pudding.” In lieu of a suet pudding, I’ll serve this film fulfilling roasted chestnuts—3 stars.

S: If you loved Mr. Selfridge, seek this movie out. It is like that show set in a more modern era (though still nostalgic because it is not contemporary), and on a smaller scale. I love the styles of this era, women in heavy swing coats and stockings with seams in the back and gloves. It is an opulent film.

The bookends of the film are the department store after closing time. The only one there is the night watchman. It reminds me very much of the bookends on Grand Hotel where Otternschlag says, "People come; people go. Nothing ever happens."

I bestow upon this film a gorgeous sable coat. 4 stars!

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