Home Video Hovel: Passport to Pimlico, by David Bax
Before it even gets into its delightfully convoluted plot, 1949’s Passport to Pimlico, directed by Henry Cornelius and out now on Blu-ray from Film Movement Classics, establishes its neighborhood setting in the same way Spike Lee would 40 years later. In short, it’s a very hot day in London’s Pimlico area and, while the kids have fun seeing who can hold their hand against the bank’s metal drop slot door the longest, most of the denizens are just trying to stay cool. What defines community better than co-suffering?
Local shopkeeper Arthur Pemberton (Stanley Holloway) wants to address future heat waves by building a municipal swimming pool. But that’s not really what this story is about. Nor is it about the unexploded World War II bomb that still resides in a crater in the middle of the square. And just when it seems it’s going to be about the centuries-old buried treasure the bomb’s eventual detonation uncovers, it’s not actually about that either. Passport to Pimlico has one of those plots that would become a trademark of The Simpsons, where the first act burns through one premise after another before landing on a storyline that’s miles from where we started out. Among that buried treasure, it seems, is a royal decree from King Edward IV allowing the Duke of Burgundy refuge and naming his estate a legal part of his duchy. The order having never been revoked, those who live on the former duke’s estate–the area now known as Pimlico–declare themselves Burgundians, no longer subject to British rule or taxation.
This is a premise that’s primed for shenanigans and the screenplay by T.E.B. Clarke delivers; the interplay between British diplomats and working-folk-turned-heads-of-state, for instance, is a delight. But Passport to Pimlico has a cynical worldview lurking just beneath its high jinks in which virtues like patriotism are easily–almost gleefully–tossed aside when there’s a quid to be made. With no taxes to pay and the tiny country of Burgundy now wealthy due to that buried treasure, citizenship documents are literally torn to shreds in the first 24 hours.
Unfortunately, Pimlico’s laissez faire economic policies attract unscrupulous vendors and merchants from all over London, who pour into the neighborhood to sell phony goods with no fear of taxes or legal consequences. Passport to Pimlico is a jolly good watch that also happens to be an illustration of the predatory and chaotic nature of deregulated commerce.
Film Movement Classic’s Blu-ray contains a consistently decent transfer in terms of picture. The audio, though, is tinny and the dialogue is occasionally difficult to parse (though I’ll admit the thick accents might have made it hard on my Yankee ears).
Special features include an interview with BFI curator Mark Duguid, a featurette on the movie’s locations with film historian Richard Dacre and a restoration comparison featurette.