Aren’t they some movies that you always feel like watching, whatever the time, your mood, etc.? For me, Give Us the Moon, one of the most delightful comedies ever made, is one of them. Yes, a delicious film, just like ice cream. It’s one of those films that makes you forget your problems and simply appreciate a cinematographic moment. Talking about ice cream, it’s precisely for the Ice Cream Social Blogathonhosted by Fritzi at Movie Silently, that I chose to write about Give Us the Moon. I wanted to do so since a long time, but never had the occasion to. When I saw what Fritzi Blogathon was about (writing about movies that cheer us up), I said to myself “Ok, Virginie, that’s your occasion.”
My objective here will not only be to tell you why I love this film so much, but I also really want to convince you to see it as well, because you might have never heard about Give Us the Moon. It’s normal, it’s not a very well-known film, but you ought to watch it and discover it. It’s an order!
In this case, you might wonder how I came to watch this film. It’s simple. Two words: Margaret Lockwood. As she is one of my very favourite actresses, I want to watch all her films, so I purchased it (having then no idea what it was about), watched it and voila. Oh, and it also stars a young Jean Simmons which is for me a major bonus. Jean Simmons and Margaret Lockwood in the same film, that’s like dream!
This British moving picture was directed by Val Guest and release in 1944. It stars Margaret Lockwood as Nina, Peter Graves as Peter Pyke, Vic Oliver as Sascha, Roland Culver as Ferdinand Foret, Jean Simmons as Heidi, Frank Cellier as Pyke Sr. (aslo known as “The Fat One”), Max Bacon as Jacobus, George Relph as Otto, Eliot Makeham as Lunka, Alan Keith as Raphael, Iris Lang as Tania and Gibb McLaughlin as Marcel. The movie was based on the novel The Elephant is White by Caryl Brahams and S.J Simon, a book that I certainly would love to read. Caryl Brahams also participated to the writing of the film alongside Val Guest.
Give Us the Moon takes place in London after the second world war. Peter Pyke, a lazy young man, lives in his father’s chic hotel the “Eisenhower Hotel”, and doesn’t seem to do much of his life. However, his father is pressuring him to take care of the hotel business, which obviously doesn’t interest Peter at all. One morning, he receives a letter from an unknown girl asking him to meet her at the restaurant The Silver Samovar. The letter is signed “Nina Princess of…Ah! But that was in Moscow” Of course, Peter is curious and goes to the restaurant. On his way, he saves a tramp who was about to commit suicide by jumping in a river. The tramp accuses him to “interfere with his destiny” and finally asks him for money. At the Silver Samovar, Peter wait, and wait and wait, until he discovers that he is not the only one to have received the famous letter. He has been fooled. Angry, he decides to only take a glass of water. Then, the “famous” Nina arrives and begs him to leave, because her “husband” is “very jealous”. Peter goes, but comes back as soon as she has left to finish his glass of water (and doesn’t really believe Nina’s story). He then meets Heidi, Nina’s little sister. When Nina comes back, she doesn’t understand what he’s still doing here. He then tells her that “this would make a fine story for the morning paper”. Nina, scandalized, asks to her friends to not let him go. He is then brought in a room where are seated a few other people. Nina is angry that Peter might ruin the restaurant, but he tells her that this was only a joke. Meanwhile, Nina and her partners keep talking about “White Elephants”. Nina explains to Peter that he and his friend are “White Elephant”, meaning they are useless members of the society. They make money by doing nothing useful or helpful, one of them being Sascha, the tramp Peter had previously met. Peter confesses that he hates work himself. So, Nina and the other agrees that he should become a white elephant. Of course, this is just the beginning of the adventure.
Alongside movies such as Bringing Up Baby or It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World!, Give Us the Moon is one of the craziest comedies I’ve ever seen, but crazy in the good way! The moments where I don’t laugh are rare. Even when I just think about it, it makes me smile. See how a great effect it has on me!
The comedy in this film is first embodied by the characters’ variety. They are all interesting.
First, you have Peter Pyke. Peter is one of those people who succeed to escape from a boring business life to have some fun at last. Well, that’s what he is meant to be. Even if Peter can be easily irritable, on another side, he has a great sense of humour and he is a rather sympathetic person. Peter is played by Peter Graves. We’re here talking about the British actor, not the American one. I have to say it’s the only film of his I’ve seen, but I think he’s a rather nice actor. It’s easy to appreciate him. He and Margaret Lockwood have a great chemistry together. They also starred together in I’ll Be Your Sweetheart release the next year (also directed by Val Guest).
Then, there’s Nina. Nina is a white Russian and claims she once was a princess. However, Nina has a lot of imagination and Peter (whom she calls “Pete”) is not easily fooled. Nina is a sparkling young lady, full of life and energy. She also has a maternal side and often seems to forget that Heidi is not her daughter, but jus her sister. By playing the role of Nina, Margaret Lockwood proves us her versatility as an actress. Here, she is as lovely as ever and simply hilarious. I love when she does that little sigh “Hummmm!” She’ll certainly reach your heart when you’ll watch this film!
Sascha is probably the most deceptive of all the White Elephants. He finds incredible ways to make money, one of them involving Pyke Sr’s hotel. Sasha is a very expressive person. He talks and acts in a very theatrical way, what makes him a rather colourful character. Sasha was played by Vic Oliver, who certainly turns out to be an intriguing actor.
Heidi is the youngest White Elephant. She’s Nina’s eleven years old sister and a little pest. The only one who actually seems to appreciate her is her sister. Heidi hates school and always finds a way to run away from it. She’s a little rebel, smokes and drinks. But overall, she’s very clever and we can help being charmed by her girlish laugh. She’ll become Pyke Sr’s ally when this one will have trouble with the White Elephants at his hotel. This was Jean Simmons’ second film (the first one being Sports Day). She was only 15 when she starred in it. Even if she doesn’t have a leading role, her supporting part is rather important and any Jean Simmons’ fans will enjoy it. I think she’s my favourite character in the film.
Ferdinand Foret (Gee, I love this name!) is probably the laziest White Elephants. He’s always lying down in his sofa and seems to never get up from it. Ferdinand is working on a thesis about jealousy. He makes love to married women to study the husbands’ reactions. However, he has never been caught, so his business is going quite slowly… Until he finally gets caught by the landlord. He will be provoked to a duel. This film allowed me to discover Roland Culver, who certainly is an appreciable actor.
Pyke Sr’s only objective in life is to make sure his son becomes a businessman and run the hotel just like him. He talks a lot a constantly reproaches to his son to be too lazy. To him, the most important thing in life is to make money. However, he won’t say “no” to some fun… I think Frank Cellier was well cast as Pyk. He has the physic and the perfect attitude for such a character.
These are the most important characters of the story. Apart from them, there is Jacobus, a White Elephant who spends his time cutting reduction coupons to save money; General Lunka, who owns the Silver Samovar; Alan Keith, a White Elephant who has a “system”: “With 10 000 pounds I could make your fortune”; Otto, an hypnotic; Marcel, the hotel’s main valet and Tania, another white elephant.
All these characters, even the minor ones, add a rich substance to the film and make it so lively. It’s hard to say which one is a favourite as they are all very different and all have their own shiny personality.
When I was watching the film for the blogathon, I took notes and wow! I couldn’t stop myself quoting it. Give Us the Moon is, of course, a comedy as I have said and the dialogues are a major element to this hilarity. Here are some (ok, many) of my favourite examples:
1. Servant: It’s your breakfast sir.
Peter: There’s something down there staring at me.
Servant: It’s a bloater, sir.
Peter: Well take it away, it reminds me of Arthur Askey. (I was curious to know who Arthur Askey was. He was a British stand up comic).
3. Sascha [after Peter had saved him from his false suicide attemp]: Who are you to interfere with my destiny?
Sascha: What right have you to come between me and my chosen mistress, Death?
4. Sascha [ to Peter]: Then go away English man, to your life, to your roast beef, to your laughter. Ha! Ha! Ha!
5. Sascha [to Peter]: You’ve got money?
Peter: What a nerve! Ahaha!
6. Sascha [repeated line]: What is time? What is life? What is the universe?
7. Nina [talking about her imaginary husband]: He is an American from Chicago, a very bad man. They call him Two-Gun…erm… Two-Gun Abramovitch.
8. Peter: I forgot my water.
Servant: Your water?
Peter: Yes, the stuff that goes under bridges.
9. Heidi [first line. to Peter]: Tip him! (talking about the taxi driver).
10. Peter [meeting Heidi]: Howdy Heidi!
11. Nina [about Peter]: Treat him gently. He has a nice smile!
12. Heidi [ringin a bell]: Come on, wake up!
Raphael: Go away Heidi!
Ferdinand: Why doesn’t somebody drown her?
13. Tania [to Peter]: This is Otto.
Peter: What is he? A white zombie?
14. Otto [repeated line]: Mud. Everything is mud.
15. Nina : You know we must get the ceiling painted. [this line really comes out of nowhere, that’s what makes it funny]
16. Various characters: All elephants are my brothers.
17. Pyke Sr. [to a valet]: What are you doing here?
Valet: Nothing, sir.
Pyke Sr. : Do I pay you to do nothing?
Valet: Yes, sir.
18. Nina: It’s only the stupid person in this world who are happy.
19. Heidi [arriving to her new school]: Oh blast!
Nina: Heidi! Quiet!
Heidi: Well, I’ve left my cigarettes behind.
Nina: It is not nice that you drink and smoke.
20. Nina: Pete, look! A haystack!
Peter: Well, what of it?
21. Peter [sitting down on a needle in the haystack]: Ow!
Nina: My Pete. How clever of you to find a needle in a haystack!
22. Ferdinand [being provoked to a duel with the landlord]: The things I’ve done for my thesis!
23. Nina [to Peter on the evening before Ferdinand’s duel]: And now we must say goodbye to Ferdinand. And remember to keep a sad face because he has only a few more hours with us.
24. Nina [arriving on the duel location with a first Aid quit]: Ferdinand! Ohhh! Ferdinand! But you have won! This is glorious! Where is the dead man?
Ferdinand: We haven’t started yet…
25. Nina [to Sascha wearing a complet]: Oh. Sacha, but you look so distingué!
26. Pyke Sr. [surprised by Nina while doing his exercices at the hotel’s gym]: Good lord! How long have you been there?
Nina: But continue. Do not mind me. I like it. It reminds me of the ballet.
27. Pyke Sr. [writing a check to Nina]: Nina who?
Pyke Sr. : “Pay Cash”
28. Otto [power cut has started]: Dark. Everything is dark.
Ferdinand: Then why don’t you just shut up and go to sleep?
I know there are many, but I just love them all!
What I also love about Give Us the Moon is the irony of it. For instance, when the Russian characters talk in another language, it’s never in Russian, but always in French (???) making us wondering if they are really Russian! I can think of Nina saying ” We shall pay him back every sous” or “Bon” at the end of a sentence. Or I can think of Sasha saying ” Voilà!” or ” Oh pardon monsieur! Pardon mademoiselle!” And I have to say, from the few words we hear, their french seems quite good and well spoken. 😉
Another irony resides in the fact that the film takes place after the war. However, it was made during the war (released in 1944)! It gives us the clue that it was one of those films that were made to make us forget the troubles that were going on at the time, a movie to simply entertain the people in those difficult moments.
Finally, one of those little delightful ironic things is the fact that, every times Nina and Peter try to kiss, they are interrupted by someone or something. They are about to kiss and Sascha arrives: “Ex…quisite.” They are about to kiss and Heidi arrives, sidling on the banister. They are about to kiss and Peter sits down on a needle in the haystack.
What is also amusing about Give Us the Moon are the many references to classic Hollywood and famous movie stars in general:
The film is introduced to us with a quote: “If Any Character in this film resemble and character. Living of dead. Then that character has no character.” – Groucho Marx or Someone-
Sascha [Talking on the phone with the Swedish Ambassy]: Oh I just called you, it’s nothing important… I wanted to tell you, I love Greta Garbo”
A young valet at the hotel [about Sascha]: They said Jack Benny was the meanest man in the world.
Peter [about the man sitting at the table with Nina]: What is that pocket Charles Laughton doing at Nina’s table?
There are pictures of movies stars (including Marlene Dietrich) in Heidi’s room
One of the white Elephant, Sergei, is in Hollywood to become an actor. He has promised to the other members to send them half of his pay. They are all waiting patiently the famous “letter” since a long time.
Nina: Everywhere I have adventures. I remember when I was at Casablanca…
Nina: I was never in Casablanca.
I’ve always wondered if that was not a reference to the film Casablanca… Could be!
Finally, aside from all these quotes, various characters and movie stars’ references, what makes this film worthy and entertaining are all those delightful little moments and little details. The film is truffled by a ton of them, so it will be hard to name them all. You also have to discover them by yourself when you’ll watch it! Because you will watch it. Yes?
In the meantime, I can name a few of my favourites just to give you a preview:
– Nina and Peter’s love scenes almost always happen in the Silver Samovar’ staircase.
– In one of those love scenes, we heard sentimental music. Peter (and us) then discover it was Sascha playing violin with a little orchestra (the musicians of the restaurant) to add a romantic ambiance. 😉
– Heidi’s laugh.
– Nina’s smile and little grin.
– The servant at the hotel who takes a shoe instead of the phone.
– The door at the Silver Samovar who always creaks, telling us when someone is going in or going out.
– Nina’s stories.
– Heidi, who always finds a may to make noise and disturb everybody, often with a bell.
– Nina and Peter’s reaction when they discover Heidi has once more run away from school.
– When Nina shows a picture of Sergei to Peter.
– The lobster in Otto’s plate, starring at him.
– When Sascha cooks “crêpes suzettes”
And so on.
I’ve obviously have said much about this film, but it’s because there was a lot to say! I just simply love it! Give Us the Moon is not a known as a “masterpiece”, but it’s the perfect movie to simply be entertained and not having to think too much. It’s a film that deserves to be seen many times. While I’m writing these words, it makes me want to watch it over and over again. Give Us the Moon is the perfect film to cheer you up and make you forget about your life problems. Well, that’s supposed to be the objective of the movies people are talking about in this blogathon!
Anyway, I hope this long article (!) convinced you to see this film for the first time, or re-watch it, if you’ve already seen it. I swear, you won’t regret it!
Unfortunately, there aren’t any existing trailer of the film, but I’ll invite you to watch this only youtube clip. It’s short, enjoyable and it will gives you a good preview.