As you may remember, I recently reviewed a little film called Midnight Warning in my Mill Creek Musings series. That 1932 film tells the story of a woman whose brother goes missing at a luxurious hotel, and the hotel staff seems to be trying to cover up his disappearance, with none of them even willing to admit that they ever saw him.
Midnight Warning was remade as Dangerous Crossing, which takes place on a cruise ship rather than in a hotel. Both of those films bear a striking resemblance in terms of premise to today’s film, So Long at the Fair. Once again the story was told in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “Into Thin Air,” but with a mother gone missing rather than a brother, and in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. It is an incredibly familiar tale, based on an old urban legend.
Released in 1950, So Long at the Fair follows Vicky and Johnny Barton (Jean Simmons and David Tomlinson), British siblings who are traveling to France for the Paris Exhibition. All is well when they arrive in France and part ways to their separate rooms in a swanky hotel. When Vicky wakes the next morning, she discovers that her brother has gone missing, and with no one willing to divulge information about his whereabouts, she must put in the work herself to figure out what happened to him.
The film was directed by Antony Darnborough and Terence Fisher from a script by Anthony Thorne and Hugh Mills.
Purely by chance, I discovered Midnight Warning and So Long at the Fair in the same week. I didn’t realize until I began watching Midnight Warning that its premise was much like that of a film I had recently taped from TCM: So Long at the Fair.
Though alike in plot, the films have differences that go far beyond one being set amongst the frenzied and exciting event of the Paris Exhibition.
So Long at the Fair boasts far superior production values to Midnight Warning. The print of that film in the Mill Creek set has a lot of problems, but even in its better days, the cinematography wouldn’t have been much to write home about. So Long at the Fair isn’t exactly a remarkable effort in this respect either and in fact pales in comparison to some thrillers of the same period, but it does include a number of interesting shot sequences and angles, whereas Midnight Warning is an average B-picture visually.
Also working in favor of So Long at the Fair are the performances and the story’s shift in focus. In the 1932 film the focus was more on the detective than on the girl whose brother has gone missing, but here Jean Simmons takes the lead as frightened, confused Vicky Barton. Simmons’ performance is fantastic. She allows the viewer no opportunity to think of her character as a simple, crazed woman who has imagined that she had a brother. Because of her sense of conviction, her persistence that her brother was at the hotel and did stay in room 19, the audience is on her side for the entire film. We are as confused as she is, and we are suspicious of everyone she comes in contact with. I can add this one to my list of favorite Jean Simmons performances.
Dirk Bogarde gives another great performance here as George Hathaway, the one person in the whole of Paris who is willing to listen to Vicky and believes her story. Bogarde and Simmons have wonderful chemistry as well.
The story’s intrigue and suspense are further heightened here than in any of the other renditions of the story I’ve seen, aside of course from Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful explorations. The film has a great sense of urgency to it, bolstered by the fact that Vicky is completely alone in Paris and her brother is her only living relative. She needs to find him, because (at least until she meets George Hathaway) he is the most important person in her life.
The surprise end to all of this drama is sure to be seen by some viewers as a cop-out, but I think it’s pretty brilliant given the time in which the film is set. (That’s all I can really say without spoiling it!) There are a couple of effective twists peppered throughout the film, all leading up to the final resolution.
So Long at the Fair is an underrated film, deserving of more attention by modern audiences, especially lovers of mystery and suspense. With Jean Simmons’ wonderful lead performance, So Long at the Fair provides a tense take on a classic mystery legend and keeps a firm grip on the viewer throughout its entire running time. The score: 4/5