Four Publicity Photos and the US Release of Love on the Dole (Four Continents Inc., 12 October, 1945)

In my Greenwood collection I have four stills used by the US film distribution company Four Continents Inc., which released the film of Love on the Dole in the US on 12 October 1945, more than four years after the British release date of 30 June 1941 (it was released earlier in London on 2 April of the same year). I have used some of these stills elsewhere on this web-site to illustrate articles, but the set, and their role in the US release of the film, seems interesting enough to deserve an article in its own right. Below are the stills of Deborah Kerr, Clifford Evans, Geoffrey Hibbert, and a group shot (from left to right) of Deborah Kerr, Mary Merrall, Marie Ault, Vi Kaley, Marjorie Rhodes, and Maire O’Neill. (1) I think it probable that there was a further still of George Carney, given that he is one of only three actors named on each still, with the implication that these are the leads in the film (I would say ‘stars’, but the director, John Baxter, was keen that the film should not be a star vehicle since it was about a community of ordinary people). (2)

Deborah Kerr as Sally Hardcastle. The still is related to the scene in the film set in the Hardcastle’s kitchen, when Sally has just returned from her ramble with Larry and is talking to her mother about what a grand time they have had, and how Larry knows the names of all the birds. Mrs Hardcastle says she can’t see what use it is to know all the birds’ names, but supposes that is what education is – knowing lots of useless things! She also though says how much she approves of Larry – because he is a ‘gentleman’ – and says that Sally shouldn’t believe what people say about ‘Labour men’!
Clifford Evans as Larry Meath. The still is related to the scene in the film where Ned Narkey reports a fault with the crane he operates to Larry, who works in the maintenance shop at Marlowe’s Works. This soon turns into a threat and a warning from Ned that Sally is his girl. Larry laughs off the threat of violence. Larry wears the goggles round his neck because, before Ned interrupts him, he has been welding, something which reinforces his status as a skilled engineer. In the end Ned’s threat leads – with the connivance of Sam Grundy – to Larry losing his job.
This still features Geoffrey Hibbert as Harry Hardcastle. It is related to the scene in the film when Harry’s apprenticeship has finished and Marlowe’s (breaking union agreements) lays him off rather than pay him at a qualified engineer’s rate. In a sequence where he is seen superimposed on industrial backgrounds he tramps round all the works in Salford and Manchester receiving nothing but shaken heads. He prays for a job – ‘Oh God let me get one soon’ – but it is early in 1931 and there simply are no jobs. Harry is wearing his working clothes, which we have seen earlier when he was in work at Marlowe’s, and the white neckerchief was always oily. Here it is clean – a sign of his workless state.
This still, featuring the so-called ‘chorus’ of older women, is from the scene in which Mrs Jikes leads a séance in her house. Partway through Mrs Hardcastle and Sally knock at the door, and Mrs Hardcastle says they would like Sally’s fortune told – though Sally says she doesn’t believe in such stuff. From left to right are Deborah Kerr as Sally, Mary Merrall as Mrs Hardcastle, Marie Ault as Mrs Jikes, Vi Kaley as fourth neighbour, Marjorie Rhodes as Mrs Bull, and Maire O’Neill as Mrs Dorbell. It is noticeable that Mrs Jikes can afford ornaments for her mantlepiece, and even two pictures, no doubt funded from her own brand of ‘enterprise’. We know that the painting above the fire-place is of a young Queen Victoria because it is referred to in the film dialogue, which draws on a similar exchange in the novel and play. Mrs Bull is casually dismissive of the old Queen, while Mrs Jikes despite her own many shady dealings, respects the upright monarch – the conversation clearly casts an ironic light on the topic of ‘respectability’, an important theme in the novel, play and film.

I think all are striking images, dramatically lit, the three focusing on the faces of the single actors being probably more striking than the ensemble photograph, though it too is carefully composed. The stills do not seem to be enlarged individual frames from the film as released, but are rather slightly different photographs I assume taken specially during filming and on set, since they seem so carefully composed and lit . Either way, they must originate from the filming at Rock Studies, Boreham Wood, Hertfordshire in November – December 1940, and I think the identifiers probably also date back to this point (L.D. 112, 113, 118 and 120 – the missing numbers implying further photographs). However, I have not so far seen any instances of these images being used as publicity photos in Britain. The standard caption for each photograph was presumably provided by Four Continents Inc. and notably does not identify the parts played by the actors, but only the actors themselves, though even then it is for the viewer to work out which of those named in the caption are actually featured in a particular still (the ensemble photo clearly being a particular challenge). This implies that Four Continents assumed a degree of familiarity with either the story of Love on the Dole, or the actors, or both. In fact, typed notices pasted to the reverse of two of the stills suggest that these were press publicity photos, so the particular viewers Four Continents had in mind were reviewers rather than the general public, and perhaps that group could be expected to keep something of a professional eye on current actors and even films not yet released in the US. Here are the two typed notices, with their information more or less uniform, but each presented in a different sequence and with differing wording – particularly about the film adaptation, one opting for ‘filmed’ and the other ‘picturization’ ‘from the successful Broadway stage play of the same title’. I think ‘filmed’ has remained the more current term!

According to a US movie theatre history website, the World Theatre at this New York address was previously called the Westminister Cinema, and specialised in showing British Films between 1933 and 1936, when the renamed World Theatre continued as a niche venue, screening ‘foreign films’. (3) This suggests that Four Continents were not necessarily expecting wide distribution. Though I have found relatively little information about Four Continents Films, the US professional entertainment periodical, Variety, reported on September 12, 1945 that the company had been newly established in that year by Daniel Frankel to distribute ‘foreign-mades’ (volume 160, number 1, p.16). The company planned to distribute twelve non-US films initially, and Love on the Dole was to be the first, so they presumably sent these publicity photos out to cinemas likely to be interested in that market, such as the World Theatre. The company seems to have been active in distributing British films from 1945 until at least 1951. (4) The play version of Love on the Dole had run on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre from February till June 1936, nearly ten years previously, so reviewers were being expected to have quite long memories by Four Continents. Film reviewers might perhaps have also recalled the novel version which had also been something of a success in the USA, but that was as long ago as 1934. The reputations of some of the actors might have been fresher in reviewers’ minds. However, though the first typed clipping refers to an ‘imposing cast’ (and I think this is absolutely true), I am not sure how well-known most of these actors were in the States. Most had been cast by John Baxter, as mentioned above, precisely because they did not have Hollywood-style star personas, though a number had long British stage and/or screen careers behind them. George Carney had appeared in some forty British films by 1940, often as a working-class character, and several times working with John Baxter as director, but only a few of the later films had been released in the US. Clifford Evans was similarly well-established in British films, but had made few films which attracted US attention. He did play the lead role (again opposite Deborah Kerr, though she was less prominent in the story than he) in Penn of Pennsylvania (1941, British National films, director Lance Comfort, who had been associate director for Love on the Dole). This was a British film designed deliberately for US distribution and intended to weaken isolationist feeling by looking at a shared democratic past, but it was not well-reviewed nor a popular success in either Britain or the US. Geoffrey Hibbert was little known when cast in Love on the Dole – his first film role was in John Baxter’s previous film, The Common Touch (1941, British National Films). For the remainder of the nineteen-forties, he played a number of supporting roles in British films, which did however include In Which We Serve (1942, Two Cities Films, directed by Noel Coward and David Lean), a box office success in both Britain and the US. Even Deborah Kerr had been cast by Baxter and Greenwood at the beginning of filming in late 1940 partly because she did not have a star-persona or reputation.

However, in Kerr’s case much had changed since the British release of Love on the Dole in 1941, and by 1945 she surely would have registered as a star for the viewers/readers of these stills. She had a number of British film successes to her name by then, and had appeared in several films which were hits in the US too. Though she was cast by Baxter as an actress with no existing screen persona, she had in fact appeared in the relatively small but striking part of Jenny Hill in the film of a George Bernard Shaw play, Major Barbara (August 1941, Gabriel Pascal Productions, directed Gabriel Pascal). Love on the Dole was released first and enthusiastically received, but Pascal’s Shaw film was also a hit both in Britain and the USA. Kerr followed up Penn of Pennsylvania with a series in quick succession of well-reviewed and commercially successful releases. The film adaptation of A.J. Cronin’s Hatter’s Castle (1942, Grafton Pictures, director – again – Lance Comfort) was a success in Britain, but not however released in the US till 1948. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943, The Archers, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger), in which Kerr played three key roles, was a box-office success in Britain and a moderate success in the US (but had only recently been released, at the end of Mach 1945). However, two other of her films were released more or less simultaneously in both markets and both went down well with audiences and reviewers. The Day Will Dawn (1942, a Paul Soskin Production, directed by Harold French, released in the US as The Avengers) cast her as an early Norwegian resister to German occupation. Perfect Strangers (Vacation from Marriage in the US, October 1945, London Films/Metro-Goldwynn-Mayer, directed by Alexander Korda) saw her as a Wren estranged from and then reunited with her Naval husband, but was only due for US release the week after the US release of Love on the Dole. Nevertheless, Kerr was already reported by the US trade paper, The American Motion Picture Herald in 1942 as ‘the best box office draw among the British women stars’ (5).

In addition, there had been some relatively recent news of Love on the Dole in the US professional entertainment periodical, Variety, which cinema managers might be expected to read. On 30 April 1941 (volume 142, number 8, p.16) Variety published a review of the film a little time after its London release date, but before its general British release (the anonymous reviewer dates the review ‘8 April, London’). This review is therefore the only US response to the film in 1941. Overall, the review thought the film was of very high quality:

‘The camera’s facility in pin-pointing the tenets of tragedy has been harnessed for excellent results in Love on the Dole. The Walter Greenwood novel screens as high dramatics and is in for a good deal of attention from patrons, both here and in the US … John Baxter’s direction skilfully builds episode on episode … Direction, plus the tight scripting of Barbara Emary, Rollo Gamble and Greenwood makes the tragic journey vital and real . . . Photography of Jimmie Wilson is topline, equal plaudits go to Holmes Paul’s department for special effects and art.

However, the review did express considerable concern about the film and the Hayes Code, taking a firm view that more self-censorship would have been wiser:

Closely followed play and the book’s original mean subject matter and moral outlook and frequently the dialogue of the characters in the drab tale of near matrimony under the Depression are served without softening or regard for a Hays Office frown. Hand of author Walter Greenwood in the production doubtless accounts for this rigid but unfortunate adherence to his theme. The disregard is to be regretted, particularly as picture is otherwise a commendable effort and would make its mark anywhere. Snipping for the world market may be the answer, but it would certainly take a deft hand.

It is certainly true that Greenwood had stated in the British press his extreme reluctance to see anything he regarded as essential to the story being altered for a more ‘acceptable’ film version, as the film reviewer Molly Hobman reminded British viewers in 1941 on the release of the film:

For years Walter Greenwood has been turning down offers from studios, English and American, to make his Love On The Dole. He was afraid of what the star system would do to his realistic slice of life among the Lancashire unemployed. He sold at last on the understanding that he had more than an ‘author’s-eye view’ of the film in production, and the screen Love On The Dole, which comes to the Odeon vetted by Greenwood, acted by young unknowns or semi-unknowns, retains its sincerity and has the same direct and touching appeal as the play that toured England for years (‘Film Notes’, Bradford Observer, 30 May 1941, p. 2).

A number of the Production Code ‘commandments’ might well have been considered to apply to Love on the Dole, if Sally’s role were considered against the grain of the film, including the ‘General Principle’ number 1, that: ‘the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil, or sin’, and ‘Special Subjects’ prohibition number 4 against depicting: ‘the sale of women, or a woman selling her virtue’. (6) However, the Variety review clearly did expect that with some cuts the film would reach US audiences – presumably in 1941 or 1942, rather than four years later. The Four Continents release was strictly a reissue since in fact, there had been a release of some kind in the US on 12 December 1941 by the distributor United Artists, as shown by a ‘Film Booking Chart’ in Variety (10 December 1941, p. 16) and as referred to nearly four years later in a Variety report titled ‘Inside Stuff – Pictures’ on 10 October 1945 (pp. 22 and 25). However, there do not seem to have actually been any screenings of the film in the US in 1941 or 1942 – perhaps because Production Code issues presented too many obstacles? As we shall see, reviewers of the 1945 reissue do not seem to have known anything about the 1941 United Pictures release, suggesting it made very little of a splash.

Whatever the impact of the Four Continents publicity for their reissue, and the markedly British flavour of cast, setting, and story, the film was at least a critical success in the US in 1945, with some very positive reviews, though released in a context markedly different from its wartime British release. Most reviews started by noting the large pause between the British and US release dates, and there was a story circulating that this was a result of censorship issues, or some other form of obstruction, probably by the British government or even Churchill himself. (7) I think some elements of these stories may be best seen as mythical, partly because their content and chronology seem confused, and indeed are at times plainly incorrect, but they nevertheless add yet another strand to the censorship history of Love on the Dole. Nelson B. Bell in the Washington Post observed that the ‘release of the picture, made in 1941, was deferred on the other side at the understandable request of the Churchill government. For different reasons, its release in this country was something that entailed a bit of negotiating with filmdom’s regulatory powers’ (24 October 1945, p. 9). This comment interestingly casts the film as critical of Churchill’s wartime coalition government, when in fact its filming and the overturning of the repeated block on its production by the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) was enabled by that government, via the intervention of the Ministry of Information. Moreover, we know that Churchill (and Lady Churchill) had taken the unusual step of attending a special private viewing of Love on the Dole nearly a month before its general release in June 1941 – and this at a time when the wartime leader’s responsibilities and duties were simply enormous. Lord Beaverbrook (then Minister of Supply) recorded that ‘the Prime Minister and Lady Churchill praised it highly’, so Churchillian hostility to the film is not self-evident in 1941 at least. Indeed, according to a letter written to The Guardian (3 April 1984) by Ronald Gow, co-writer with Greenwood of the play version of Love in the Dole (1935):

In 1940 he and Greenwood were summoned to meet with J. Brooke-Wilkinson, the secretary of the British Board of Film Censors. ‘Brookie’ told the two writers that they must turn their dramatic script into a screenplay without delay. ‘This film’s got to be made’, he reportedly told them. ‘We’ve got a tip from someone “higher up”. I can say no more.’

Further, Gow recalls that the context was a British sensitivity to criticism in the US, with ‘headlines in the American press saying, “Britain Bans Workers’ Film”; and in 1940 this was thought to be a bad report from a country fighting for freedom.’ (8) In fact I can find no trace of such an American report, though there are several British newspaper reports from this period on the continuing censorship of the film. Nevertheless this story of the overturning of the BBFC ban by the MOI is not consistent with these later US reports that Churchill’s government suppressed the film in 1941, nor with the idea that its release in the US was obstructed then or later. ‘The ‘higher up’ is suggested by Carole Levine to be the then head of the MOI Film division, the art historian Kenneth Clarke. However, I feel that the language and hints of secrecy in Brooke-Wilson’s conversation suggest someone higher up in the establishment than an MOI head of division, and am tempted to speculate that the ‘higher-up’ is Churchill himself, perhaps motivated by a wish not do do anything which might reinforce isolationist sentiment in the US.

Bell also implies that the film has only been released now after the dissolution of Churchill’s government and the electoral success of Labour in the July 1945 elections. This would be intriguing if true, but I do not know of any evidence to support the idea of the US release as part of a Labour Government overseas political campaign. One can though see that the message of the film about Britain never returning to the unemployment and poverty of the nineteen thirties, and its hopes that post-war there would be jobs for all, looked very much like a Labour Party point of view.

A detailed and acute review in the Washington Evening Star by Harry MacArthur (standing in for Jay Carmody, who we will meet shortly) gave a similar but even more circumstantial account of ‘Tory’ repression of the film:

The film, made in 1941, has been the victim up until just recently of a form of censorship, having been detained by the late Churchill government in England on the ground that such a realistic picture of the depression years would take the mind of the British people off the war and its aims. There is, as anyone who sees Love on the Dole will agree, some ground for suspecting that Mr Churchill might also have felt that the film is something short of an indorsement of the Tories; any any rate if it had been shown in this country in time, there would have been considerable less surprise of the rise to power of Clement Atlee and the Labor government than there seems to have been … the picture does not ignore the common man’s new interest in his democracy … Those Tories who saw the film before the government asked the producer to lay it aside for a while hardly could have been surprised on election day if they remembered Love on the Dole (25 October 1945, section B, p.8). (9)

There seems here to be a half-memory of the censorship issues the film had met from the BBFC in 1935 and 1936, but of course the film had never been released and then suppressed – it was screened all over Britain throughout the war – so that part of the narrative is definitely not true. Also this part of the account confuses the film being suppressed in Britain with its export to the States allegedly being obstructed. Moreover, in 1941 Love on the Dole was clearly a contribution to the People’s War narrative – a narrative which in many ways the Coalition government supported, including through films sponsored by the Ministry of Information and the Services. British war aims were explicitly referred to in the film, particularly in the scrolling text at the opening of the film and in the afterword by A.V. Alexander, the Labour MP who was First Lord of the Admiralty in Churchill’s wartime coalition, so that the Government does not seem to have seen the film as a distraction from the war effort. Before the July 1945 election the coalition had of course been dissolved so that there was a more explicit return to party politics, and during the election Churchill’s many objections to a post-war Britain shaped by Labour Party ideals certainly sharpened and were made public. As for censorship in the States, this was mainly conducted through the self-regulation of the film studios under the guidance of the Hays or Production Code. As we have seen, this immediately struck a US reviewer of the film in 1941 as likely to be a considerable issue for Baxter and Greenwood’s film. Presumably under the Code there were likely to be objections like those raised by the BBFC, and cuts might have been asked for, but on the whole the censorship issues with Greenwood’s story were mainly rather at the level of plot than individual scenes, as the Variety reviewer perhaps suggests with his comment about the need for a ‘deft hand’, and the reviews do not suggest any significant alterations of that kind, but this factor may be a crucial one in explaining the few select movie-theaters where the film was screened (see Note 6).

Most (but not all) US reviews also read the film in the context of 1945 rather than 1941. The Washington Post review made no link to either the context of 1941, nor the election of a Labour government, saying that the film is ‘a serving of strong dramatic meat that offers no solid solution of the problem it attacks’ (24 October 1945). However, the New York Times reviewer T.M.P (13/10/1945, p.11) was acutely aware of context:

Coming at a time when England’s new Labor government is beginning to experience some of the labor-management unrest prevalent in this country, Love on the Dole has a peculiar timeliness and significance, notwithstanding that it was filmed four years ago . There have been assorted rumours as to why this British- made social drama, which arrived yesterday at the World Theatre, was not released here sooner, but the most reasonable [motive] seems to be that few people would be interested in a picture about unemployment and poverty at a time when jobs were plentiful and wages high. Being a discourse on the depression years … [it] is critical of an economic system that does not produce jobs for people who want to work and fails to provide a decent wage for those who do have employment. The implication is that a strong Labour party could work out a system whereby the monied and the working interests could both benefit. Current events have provided Love on the Dole with curious sociological and political overtones. As a result it might be taken as a hindsight observation of conditions that brought the Labor Party to power in England, or it might be taken as a warning of unhappy days to come in America unless labor and management finds a way to pull together.

Anyway you take it, Love on the Dole is an important picture … [It] unfolds slowly and sometimes the speech is difficult to understand, but the principal roles are exceedingly well acted by Deborah Kerr, Clifford Evans, Mary Merrall and George Carney. And several minor characters are drawn to life, especially the four old crones played by Marie O’Neill, Iris Vandeleur, Marie Ault, and Marjorie Rhodes. This picture is not intended for people seeking a few hours idle entertainment. Rather it is a thoughtful and earnest attempt to throw some light on a problem which concerns us all in varying degree.

T.M.P acutely interprets the film as both relevant to the past (as a critical commentary on the thirties and on the inadequacy of government responses – a reading also readily adopted by British reviews in 1941), and to the present, with peacetime labour-management issues in both Britain and the US, though with the hope in Britain that the new Labour government will find a way of making both capital and labour benefit from a managed economy. The review then turns to the film as a film, praising all the actors featured in the publicity photos, though noting some difficulties for American audiences with the Salford accents (or would-be accents – in my view Deborah Kerr does quite well, but her accent is variable, while Martin Walker looks the part, but has real troubles with his accent).

A newspaper advert for the film from the New York Times on the same page as the review, presumably originating from Four Continents Inc., took a less serious view of the film’s story than the review, and implied sexual content both in the image and the text to attract movie-goers. Sally is not usually imagined in this way, hanging around in a lamplit archway. The shadowy figure in the background is presumably Sam Grundy. Most reviewers of the film and play and novel took the view that Sally had sacrificed herself for her family – a hard rather than easy way out. I think movie-goers would have found the film a very different viewing experience from the one advertised here. As T.M.P. said it was ‘not intended for people seeking a few hours idle entertainment’. In the version of the advert in the Washington Evening Star (25 October 1945, section B, p. 8), the archway was removed from the image, together with the figure of Sam Grundy, as was the text about Sally, which was replaced by descriptions of the seriousness of the film, including a quotation from the New York Times review: ‘An important picture and exceedingly well-acted’ and another from a review in the New York Sun: ‘forceful, over-whelming, hard-talking, hard-hitting’ (I have not been able to trace the full text of this further review). Clearly, this modified approach sought to attract an audience on a very different basis – indeed perhaps a different audience.

There was a curious article (or publicity stunt?) in the Washington Evening Star a week after the MacArthur review, which plainly implied that Love on the Dole indeed potentially suffered from being too serious to fill cinemas. The article, by Jay Carmody, notably does not name Love on the Dole until the very last paragraph, instead posing its question as an intriguingly abstract one, yet based in a specific conversation:

Okay, It’s a Critics’ Picture, but the Little Will Keep It.

Well, it finally has happened.

A motion picture theatre management called us to say that one of the finest pictures it ever exhibited was dying and that it would have to be ‘pulled’. The management was the kind that felt melancholy having to say it, but it guessed that after all here was another ‘critics’ picture; one that the reviewers went mad about but which the public would not bother to see.

It was [then] … that the thing finally happened. The critic became suddenly angry instead of depressed. ‘How crazy are you?’ he asked the theatre management … Why not fight for the picture? Why not, just this once, keep a screenplay just out of respect for it? Hold it an extra week, even if you have to play to an empty house. maybe it will. almost. But there will be a few people who believe in movies with ideas who will come to see it and go away believing even more firmly in movies with ideas. Especially when they are dramatic and timely and poignant. And beautifully acted.

[The ‘theatre management’ agree it is a fine picture, but point out the question of ‘the box office’, to which the critic responds, and also identifies a kind of moviegoers who might come to see Love on the Dole]

‘You’ve lost money before on pictures. The simple fact is that you’ve lost it on far worse pictures. Why not lose money . . . on a good one?’. [There could be an audience among] ‘those people who are always griping at the quality of the movies. The ones who spoil cocktail parties, and much better parts of life, by screaming their heads off at the empty, tawdry vanity, of most of the things the screen has to offer. What do they do when a great picture, the kind they so vehemently want to see, comes along? well they sit around griping at the other kind, and remain oblivious of the fact that a producer and some other people who feel the same way have produced just what they are talking about’.

[The critic wins the debate:]

That clinched it. The picture will be held – and we bet it won’t play to an empty house.

The theater management is that of the Little. The picture is Love on the Dole. Don’t miss it. (31 October 1945, section A, p. 16)

Clearly this is meant to engage readers of the Evening Star who might identify as ‘serious’ movie-goers and help boost the audience for Love on the Dole. Since the article is very much a rhetorical game, and one in which cinema management and newspaper are apparently collaborating, we cannot be certain that the cinema was empty for Greenwood and Baxter’s film, but it surely suggests there is a concern about the attitude of US audiences to such a ‘picture’. Moreover, the Little on Ninth Street was an ‘art cinema’, so like the World Theatre in New York catered for a niche market. Discussion on the American movie theater history website includes a number of pieces of information which give a sense of its ‘foreign’ film repertoire – it screened Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin at its (re)opening in April 1927, and a photograph on the site shows its frontage advertising the screening of Pygmalion (Pascal Film Productions, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, 1938 – and starring Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard):

The Little Theatre on Ninth Street. See; photograph attributed to ‘elmorovivo’, though its original source is not made clear; reproduced here under a Creative Commons licence.

Love on the Dole was indeed released in three continents at least (Europe, America, and Australia/New Zealand), but the impact of its release was different in each continent. The film was a clear critical success in Britain where reviews in every newspaper were united in their praise, though there has been some debate about how much of a box office success it was. In fact, a Kinematograph Weekly report makes it clear that it was one of the British distributor Anglo-American’s most successful films in 1941, of which ‘each is a winner’. (10) It is also clear from adverts and notices of film programmes in British newspapers that Love on the Dole was being screened all over the country continuously throughout 1941 and on into 1942. In fact, it was still being regularly screened in 1943 and 1944, and indeed on into 1945 (when Kinematograph Weekly on 15 February (p.50) advertised seven trade showings of the film in Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, and Newcastle, even though it had first been released four years earlier). (11) Though the important Mass Observation witness Len England claimed that Love on the Dole was ‘one of the biggest box-office failure in years’, this was part of a larger hypothesis about film genres and taste on his part, and the film would not have been so frequently screened across this sustained period if it had not been consistently attracting sizeable audiences. (12) The film was also a critical and box-office success in Australia and New Zealand – in both cases public interest was positively boosted by much-discussed bans by the respective censors, which were then lifted, but frequently (and no doubt advantageously) remembered in publicity material. (13)

In contrast, and despite the high praise in two or three film reviews, I think we must conclude that Love on the Dole was not a mass box-office success in the States, and indeed that it was not even generally distributed. Though Variety reported on September 12, 1945 that ‘first-run dates had already been set in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington’, there do not appear to be any further reviews apart from those already explored from New York and Washington (Variety, volume 160, number 1, p.16). Perhaps houses really were less than full, even in these niche movie theatres. One final piece of evidence suggests the lack of wide-impact in the USA, or even a lack of wide-spread knowledge among movie professionals that Baxter and Greenwood’s film had been released in the States . On 19 May 1946, the British paper the People reported that:

[A] Love On The Dole . . . bouquet comes from a group of Hollywood writers, worried about American movies which so often escape into ‘the much too-contrived never-land of prettily enamelled fairy tales.’ To prove their case, that make-up artistry cannot compensate for loss of reality, they screened Love on the Dole, a five-year old British National picture. Emphasising our courage, they pointed out the large demand in America for mature films (‘ Screen News’ by Maurice Cowan, p.4)

A similar sense that British film aesthetics were sometimes quite distinct from those of US films formed part of the argument in a Hollywood Quarterly article titled ‘A Change of Pattern?’ by Kenneth MacGowan, published in January 1946, presumably after he had viewed Love on the Dole at one of its few screenings:

Still more of a challenge to the American film is Love on the Dole. It is sordid reality, told with pathos and humour. The slums of an English factory town come alive, and with them the damned that live there. The picture never touches the technical level of our trickeries; but it is finely acted, and it has a script of unusual quality. From the novel of Walter Greenwood, through the play in which Robert Gow [sic – should be Ronald] collaborated, it carries, by virtue of the screen play, true and uncompromising values which are seldom even hinted on the American screen. It is a How Green Is My Valley [sic] stripped down to the grubby, terrible facts of industrial peonage. In casting, as in writing, it never for a moment trafficks in glamour, and yet – acted as it is – it brings us a love story that moves our deepest sympathies (Vol.1, no. 2, pp.148-153).

Again there is the contrast between reality and glamour, between authenticity and surface cinematic sophistication.

We are fortunate that the Four Continents publicity stills remain from what seems to have been a partially successful experiment in international distribution of what was, after all, a very British ‘picture’. The story may also in several respects be another addition to the as yet not complete narrative of Love on the Dole‘s encounters with censorship, and if so, means that it indeed faced censorship, if by different means, in all three of the continents where it was distributed.


Note 1. All images of the front and reverse of the stills are scanned from copies in the author’s collection. Vi Kaley is uncredited in the film, but identified by IMDB, which also gives her part the label ‘4th Old Lady at Seance’ (see: Information about the Love on the Dole cast and their careers is derived from their wikipedia entries, from the IMDB database, and from BFI Screenonline.

Note 2. See: and .

Note 3. See the Cinema Treasures website entry for the Embassy 49th Street Theatre (a further renaming of the World Theatre): The cinema and area had a chequered history.

Note 4. Variety accessed via that invaluable database, the Entertainment Magazine Archive. I have not so far found any further information about Daniel Frankel. IMDB does not provide much company information, but does list ten films distributed in the US by Four Continents. All are British films, of which the earliest was released in the UK in 1943 and the latest in 1946. They distributed a variety of genres, including films very unlike Love on the Dole, such as the thrillers Appointment with Crime (1946), Latin Quarter (also called Frenzy, 1945) and Murder in Reverse (1945), and musicals such as Lisbon Story (1946), Waltz Time (1945) and The Laughing Lady (1946). The closest in genre and seriousness, if not necessarily politics, seems to be The Agitator (1945), in which, according to IMDB, ‘a socialist agitator inherits the ownership of a major company and begins wrestling with his beliefs’ . Note that these are the UK release dates – Four Continents released most of these titles between 1946 and 1951. See the search results at:

Note 5. Cited in Kerr’s wikipedia entry, and the source given in endnote 12 as ‘Film Notes’ in the West Australian, 7/12/1945, p.13, with a link to the relevant page of the Australian National Library newspaper database, Trove. That 1945 article refers to the American Motion Picture Herald as its source, but does not give a full reference. See: and . Information about the other films and actors in this paragraph is taken from the relevant IMDB, BFI Screen-online and Wikipedia entries.

Note 6. Quotations from the Code are from the ‘Appendix: the Production Code’ in Thomas Doherty’s study, Hollywood’s Censor – Joseph L. Breen and the Production Code, Columbia University Press, 2009, pp. 352 and 356. As Doherty points out, the Code was frequently updated and there was never a definitive version, but these principles were certainly in operation in the mid-nineteen-forties. There is no specific reference to Love on the Dole in the book, but there is some very relevant discussion of the challenges posed to the Code by ‘Art Houses’ which showed films made abroad, including in Britain, in the immediate post-war period (see chapter 12, ‘Invasion of the Art Films’). This factor may help explain how it was possible for the World Theater and Little Theatre to screen Love on the Dole, and perhaps also why it did not have a wider distribution.

Note 7. I first briefly discussed the US reception of the film in Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole – Novel, Play, Film, Liverpool University Press, 2018, pp. 272-3. Sadly, there is an error in the referencing of the two US reviews cited, which are wrongly dated to 1934 in the footnotes. They certainly are both from October 1945.

Note 8. From a letter by Beaverbrook dated 2/6/1941, quoted in Carole Levine’s excellent article ‘Propaganda for Democracy: the Curious Case of Love on the Dole‘, Journal of British Studies, 45, October 2006, p.846 and footnote 1. The material on the meeting with Brooke-Wilson comes from the same article, p.867. I first discussed some of this material in Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole – Novel, Play, Film, Liverpool University Press, 2018, pp.148-9.

Note 9. This review and the second from the Washington Evening Star were accessed via the invaluable Library of Congress/ National Endowment of the Humanities open access database, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers: . It does not seem to be possible to give the URL for each relevant page, but both came up as results from a search for ‘Love on the Dole’, within the date limits 1944 to 1946.

Note 10. The British critical response is discussed in Chris Hopkins, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole – Novel, Play, Film, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 2018, pp. 174-8, with the question of box-office explored on pp.174-5. The Kinematograph Weekly report was published in the issue of 8 January 1942, p.41. As in the book, my thanks to my Film colleague Dr Sheldon Hall at Sheffield Hallam University for finding this source for me, and further thanks to Sheldon for reading this article in draft and suggesting some valuable developments and amendments.

Note 11. These conclusions are drawn from browsing through the newspaper cinema adverts for screenings of the film throughout the war years in the numerous papers currently included in the British Library National Newspaper Newspaper Archive database.

Note 12. Mass Observation report FR2120 on ‘The Film and Family Life’, quoted by Jeffrey Richards and Dorothy Sheridan (eds) in Mass Observation at the Movies, Routledge, London, 1987, p.298; discussed in Chris Hopkins, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole – Novel, Play, Film, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 2018, pp. 174-5. Since then the research in the British Library National Newspaper Archive referred to above in Note 9 has strengthened my view that in fact Love on the Dole was a box-office success in Britain.

Note 13. See more detail in Chris Hopkins, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole – Novel, Play, Film, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 2018, pp. 178-183.