The Stars Look Down

1939, Movie, NR, 104 mins


Made in 1939, but released in the US at around the same time as HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, this superb view of the plight of British miners was unfortunately overlooked at the box office. Though related in subject, THE STARS LOOK DOWN is much grimmer than John Ford's classic.

Based on a novel by A.J. Cronin, Carol Reed's first major film is set in a bleak coal mining town in northern England, where Rigby and Price have struggled to give their son (Redgrave) an opportunity for a better life and a university education. Rigby works in the mine with his younger son (Desmond Tester) and attempts to organize his fellow miners, who are working under dangerous conditions. While away at school, Redgrave meets Lockwood. A vain young woman, Lockwood has been rejected by Williams, and now traps Redgrave into marriage. When Williams, an unctuous type, renews his affair with Lockwood, Redgrave leaves her and turns his attention to helping the miners back home, who have been forced to return to work after an aborted strike. Redgrave, who has ambitions of becoming an MP, tries to rally support for the union, but to no avail. After a cave-in at the mine in which many--including Rigby and Tester--are killed, he decides to stay in the small town and devote his life to improving the lot of the miners.

At once topical and enduring, this powerful drama influenced by the social realism of the British documentary greatly enhanced the growing reputation of Reed, then a young director. Shot partially at a colliery in Cumberland, THE STARS LOOK DOWN was also an important film for the young Michael Redgrave, who was still fresh from the British stage (and from THE LADY VANISHES). He gives a strong performance, as do Lockwood and Williams, with Rigby and Price lending fine support. leave a comment

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