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Halliwell attended St. Catharine’s College Cambridge from 1949 to 1952, reading English Literature.  In addition to appearing on stage in several productions for the ‘Mummers’, he also contributed to Varsity, the student newspaper, rising to the position of editor in his final term.  After graduating he spent a few unhappy months working for Picturegoer magazine in London before returning to Cambridge to manage the Rex Cinema, a dishevelled flea-pit whose programmes of golden oldies appealed to the local students.

(Oh, and he was just coming up to his twenty-second birthday at the time of the first article.)








A Filmgoer’s Guide
Films for this term
Next week’s films
Running the Rex




This first one from early 1951 is most significant, being as the headline combines the titles of Halliwell's famous movie reference books... fourteen years before the first would be published. It also calls for a repertory cinema which would show older movies, something Halliwell would later make a reality in his role as manager of the Rex.



A FILMGOER’S GUIDE – by Leslie Halliwell

           Most of us accept the town’s cinemas casually as “somewhere to go after Hall.”  Occasionally we complain to our friends of poor films, or long intervals, or the small child who sat behind us and breathed down our neck; sometimes we feel we would like to find the manager and murmur approval of a good programme or a novel advertising campaign. It seems worth while to try to sum up general opinion on the virtues and vices of the eight available cinemas.

           Five of them are controlled by the ABC circuit, but they are by no means of an even standard either in pro­grammes or in presentation.  The Regal has all the trappings of the modern super-cinema; it is comfort­able to sit in, slick and reliable in presentation, and just the place to take visiting relatives.  But what tawdry stuff it sometimes offers!  Its rigidly-scheduled “circuit” pro­grammes include the “biggest” films rather than the best, and they are too often supported by the poorest of second features.  The Victoria, though a cramped and uncomfortable cinema, is run with imagination, and often surmounts the second-feature obstacle by using a good old film, preferably a comedy, to support the new one; during the last year it has presented revivals of “Movie Crazy,” “Thark” and “My Little Chickadee” before their general release.  This term its programmes include “Manon,” “Bitter Rice” and some Chaplin revivals.  


           The Central is a smart little cinema which receives third choice of the new films.  This means that its programmes are often the most interesting, as it presents films which the distributors passed by as doubtful box office but which are better than those for which the publicity trumpets have blared.  So last year the Central gave prominence to “Thieves’ High­way,” “The Reckless Moment” and “Intruder in the Dust.”

           Programme-planning at the Play­house and Tivoli appears to be some­what slapdash, and the cinemas are both unpleasing to the eye and incon­veniently far away for most of us.  But the Journey is often worth mak­ing, for although both cinemas thrive on “Zamba the Gorilla” and “The Tomahawk Trail,” they occasionally surprise us by putting on something more worth while.  “The Contact. Man,” an ingenious variation of the Faust legend, and John Ford’s “Long Voyage Home2 were shown recently at the Playhouse, while the Tivoli was one of the first cinemas in the country to screen Max Ophuls’ neglected “Letter from an Unknown Woman,” and now proposes to show good foreign films from time to time.

           The Rex, a large but remote independent cinema, shows re-issues of light American films and its second-features are usually carefully chosen.  The Kinema’s standards are uneven, but it frequently builds nip an excellent programme.

           The Arts is, of course, the Mecca of undergraduate filmgoers, and it is an institution we are grateful for.  It is a joy to sit through a well-planned and carefully-timed programme with­out trailers, intervals, advertisements or interruptions of any kind.  But critics have detected some lack of imagination in recent choices, especially of such English films as “Oliver Twist,” which have only just com­pleted their tour of the circuits.  The Arts can also afford to show fewer run-of-the-mill continental dramas such as “An Dela des Grilles” and more acknowledged classics from “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” to “Citizen Kane.” This term’s programme is its most interesting for some time.

           The serious filmgoer will, of course, belong to the Film Society, which presents excellent programmes at an astonishingly small charge.  Those who have this term sat uncomfort­able but uncomplaining in the Examination School Hall will, however, wish that the subscription might be sufficiently increased to allow all the performances to take place in the Central Cinema.  For a town of its size, Cambridge is well served by its cinemas, but two improvements are possible: the addition of a news theatre, for which there is a regular demand, and of a repertory cinema on the lines of the London Classics, which present revivals of English-speaking productions which qualify not necessarily as great films but as undoubtedly good entertainment.

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We move on a year to find Halliwell rounding up the offerings of the local cinemas for the new term, and having a predictable whinge about the fare.  Also reproduced, an advert for the Rex cinema.  It is probable that Halliwell was at the time advising the owner, George Webb, on what films to show.  Out of this relationship came the job which would realise one of Halliwell's dreams



Films For This Term, by Leslie Halliwell

           Bookings so far suggest that the five circuit cinemas will this term tread their conventional way, with consistently dreary second features and the very occasional box-office success which happens to be also a good film.  Thus the Regal will show ‘A Place in the Sun’ and ‘Murder Inc.’, the Victoria ‘Detective Story’ and ‘High Treason’.  Other noteworthy films which have slipped in somehow are ‘Donna Senza Nome’ (central), ‘Jour de Fete’ and ‘Four in a Jeep’ (Tivoli) and ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ (Playhouse).  But, as usual, those who seek the most interesting and rewarding films will go to the independent cinemas. 


           Of these, the Arts programme is more sombre than usual and less crowded with absolute masterpieces, but it includes Renoir’s unforgettable ‘Parite de Campagne’, Vigo’s surrealist ‘L’Atalante’ and the highly-praised comedy ‘Edouard et Caroline’; also, we are promised some vitage Disneys and no newsreel whoatsoever.  The Rex plans an attractive series of English, American and French comedies, including ‘Mr Deeds Goes to Town’, ‘Night Train to Munich’, ‘It Happened One night’, ‘Adam’s Rib’, ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’, ‘On the Town’, ‘Occcupy-Toi d’Amelie’ and some of the best films of the Marx Brothers and Bob Hope; it may be possible also to present ‘Things to Come’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’.  The Kinema will show ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ and the original ‘Broadway Melody’ with Fred Astaire.  Sunday programmes at the circuit cinemas will include ‘The Woman in White’, ‘Crossfire’ , ‘An Act of Murder’ and Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Blue Dahlia’.

           The Arts and the Rex, then, will have a good term.  For the rest, it is a poor crop.  If the local managers had a free hand we might fare better, but as it is the powers that be will rarely book foreign or ‘specialist’ films (unless they have an X certificate), and are obviously scared of revivals.  A pity: there are many films which could still be good box office, now only collecting dust.


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Next up is an example of Halliwell’s regular column in the paper, ‘Next week’s films’.  It was here he refined his succinct summations of movies, something which would later characterise his reference books.  On this occasion his style incurs the wrath of one particular reader...


Saturday, January 19, 1952

Next Week’s Films


ARTS: René Clair’s *The Ghost Goes West, made in England in 1935.  A whimsical fantasy about a million­aire tourist who buys a Scottish castle and takes it stone by stone to the States—family ghost and all. Technically it is surprisingly naive, but it is likeable for its witty script and an attractive dual performance by Robert Donat.  Also a good Dis- ney, Mickey’s Trailer.
VICTORIA: *Rommel, the Desert Fox, notable for its first-class jour­nalistic technique.  The title is mis­leading, for this is the story of Rommel’s private and political life, the only scenes of battle coming from irrelevant newsreel material which is used with irritating frequency and tends to disrupt the story.  The film is superbly efficient and very gripping, but it does not convince.  Leo G. Carroll’s two short scenes as Von Rundstedt are the best thing, in it; Mason is only Mason.  The “surprise” introduction is horrifying and quite unnecessary.  Also Road Show (1941), a very crazy, much re-issued circus comedy, with Adolphe Menjou as an amiable lunatic, some good tunes, and an agreeable lack of significance.
TIVOLI : Monday, three days: Laugh­ter in Paradise, a Wodehouse-type comedy about a freak will, crammed with fascinating talent but only partly successful, the Fay Compton episode being a direct misfire.  But although there is neither pace nor style, there are a great many laughs, and Mr. Sim’s followers will like it.  Also Sierra Passage, a West ern thriller which can be safely missed.  Thursday, three clays: *People Will Talk, Mankiewiecz’s mystifying medical hotch-potch.  Most of it, including the acting, is admirable, though the plot is clut­tered up with strange irrelevances and there are some bewildering in­consistencies of tone.  At any rate it won’t bore anybody.
KINEMA: Sunday, four days: Colt .45, a very silly Western, rather hil­ariously overacted.  Also Night Unto Night, a gloomy psychopathic drama produced with great care but little skill: often interesting, though, and intelligently written and acted.  Thursday, three days: The Marx Brothers *Horse Feathers (1932) one of the very best, memorabilia being a university campus, a punt, a football match, and Harpo as a dog-catcher.  Also Desert Fury (1947), a mild little melodrama in Technicolor.
CENTRAL: Captain Horatio Horn-blower, R.N., a good sea story for those who like sea stories.  Rambling and overlong, but certainly crammed with incident.
REGAL: Lullaby of Broadway, a patchy comedy-drama with tunes worth listening to. The story has middle-age spread, but Nelson and Day dance neatly, and there’s Technicolor.  Also Mystery Junction, a cheap British comedy-thriller on Ghost Train lines.  Worth a look.
REX: Submarine Command, self-explanatory and not good: William Holden and Nancy Olsen are worthy of a more seaworthy script.  Also Rhubarb a coy farce about a millionaire cat which owns a base­ball team.  Frequently funny, and just as frequently not.
PLAYHOUSE: Monday, three days: as Tivoli.  Thursday, three days: Quicksand, a depressingly vile melodrama involving Mickey Rooney in robbery, blackmail and violence.  Also Lucky Mascot (1947), a curious and wearisome British thriller with music-hall turns.
TO-DAY is your last chance to see a brilliant programme the Rex: Duck Soup (1933) which is vintage Marx with Groucho as a Ruritanian dictator, and *Ace In The Hole, Billy Wilder’s savage attack on newspaper sensationalism, consummately made and acted.  On SUNDAY there is Hitchcock’s lumpy but exciting *Foreign Corres­pondent (1940), with George Sand­ers, Herbert Marshall and Robert Benchley at the Playhouse; Harold Lloyd in *Movie Crazy (1932), parts of which are among the funniest things I have ever seen, is at the Rex; and there is a good glossy matrimonial melodrama, The Unfaithful (1917), at the Regal.  The Arts will still have *The Little Foxes (1939), which, combining as it does the talents of Lilian Hellman, William Wyler and Bette Davis, is too good to miss.

Leslie Halliwell

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For some reason the above column enraged one reader, as the 'Letters to the Editor' page in the following edition showed:

“Invective: Sir, - Seeing a new name at the foot of ‘Next Week’s Films,’ I read it hoping for a change from the superior carping of your previous “critic.”  What unrewarded optimism!  Once again we appear to be in for a weekly column drooling over anything continental or by the Marx Brothers, and sneering with a cocktail party type of wit at anything else.  Let us glance at some of the week’s remarks by our dictator of taste: “neither pace nor style,” “does not convince,” “can be safely missed,” “hotch-potch,” “very silly,” “rambling and overlong,” “patchy,” “cheap,” “not good,” “wearisome,” “depressingly vile,” “gloomy.”  A nice effusion and by no means unusual!
            Since our national newspapers run columns of more reliable and less adolescent criticism, it would be an improvement were you to turn Leslie Halliwell out to grass and leave us a blank column on which we could write our own comments. – Yours etc., MIKE SHEARMAN, Trinity Hall. 21.1.52.



Leslie Halliwell writes: I fail to see a point in Mr Shearman’s letter; if I sincerely believe a film to be bad, it is hardly “superior carping” to say so.  The column is intended as an acceptable guide for the majority of intelligent film-goers, and if space limits me to a single strong adjective, that should not be construed as a sneer.”

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A few months later and Halliwell really has the bit between his teeth: actually managing a cinema devoted to showing movies of an older vintage.  He’s clearly in his element even though he tries to pursuade us it’s all too much at times...



Running the Rex

By LESLIE HALLIWELL, Ex-Editor of Varsity

            THE central fascination of a cinema manger’s job is its glorious opportunities for presenting good films to a discriminating public.  But the truth of the matter is that a large part of the public has no discrimination, so that one must rage with silent indignation when a French classic is greeted with empty houses, and smile with barely-surpressed contempt at the crowds which invariably flock to see the latest redskin epic in Supercinecolor.  It is a dangerous job, too, because one’s enthusiasm for pictures is likely to be sapped by the mass of petty administration which is involved in their showng.  Controlling the staff, controlling the queues, controlling the temperature; ventilating, disinfecting, advertising; listening to com­plaints, ordering trailers, repair­ing seats; keeping one eye on the box office, the other on the fire regulations; and even, in the name of Publicity, pretending to be King Kong. After a daily dose of these and other frenzied activities one’s taste becomes slightly jaded, and the films one has so carefully booked and arranged become a secondary consideration unless one of them turns out to be too long, too short, or in too bad a condition to show.  Suppose the day’s work is more or less done and I settle down in the back row for a langorous half-hour with Dietrich or the divine Katie.  The odds are two to one that I shall be jolted back to unromantic reality by the advent of a film traveler or two.  Most of these gentlemen are rogues, but genial ones. 




            Working on commission, they cheerfully present the unsuspecting manager with smiles, cigarettes, a natty line in sales talk, and a heap of atrocious films at high prices.  But they do know when they are beaten.  A recent conversation ran thus:
            “Here’s a smashing little picture you ought to book while you can.  The circuits are crying out for it, but we’re offering it to independent exhibitors first.  It’s fast and funny and well-made, and its got sex appeal and…”
            “I’ve seen it.”
            “Say no more.  I agree with you.  It’s stinks.  Now what about…”
            It isn’t easy, even in a university city, to make a thousand-seater hall pay by showing programmes of consistently intelligent films.  Nor is it easy to get the films.  If one refuses, as I do, to play rubbishy second features, then one must couple two “big” films, which is expensive.  And the renters are violently opposed to this behaviour because they want a market for their immense accumulations of cheap “quickies.”  I once tried to couple a modest Bob Hope comedy with a 20-year-old Marx Brothers picture, and received this angry retort from Wardour Street:
            “We cannot depart from our definite rule not to couple im­portant films.  It is obviously not in your interest or ours.  If you start doing this sort of thing you will make your public always want it, and then they will never be satisfied with whatever you give them.”
            Let me also shatter the illusion that old films are cheap.  When I ask a renter for a 20­year-old film he knows that I must be fairly sure of an audience for it, and will consequently demand a high price.  In other parts of the country Marx Brothers’ films are two a penny, but in Cambridge the renter’s fee is usually one third of the takings.  Sometimes, it is true, one can pick up for next to nothing a good film which is held in low regard by its owner because it “never did anything” on its circuit release.  (“What the hell d’you want that damned slow old thing for?” asked a salesman when I booked a classic John Ford Western).  But the general rule is that if one wants something unusual one pays through the nose for it.  And this is dangerous even for Cambridge.  I can put on a film which I know is good (for instance, Lubitsh’s “To Be or Not to Be”) and hardly take enough money to pay for maintenance of the cinema
            Films are big business, and the renter’s view is that the public will take any sort of rubbish provided that it has been sufficiently widely and vulgarly advertised.  Presumably taking themselves as examples, the Wardour Street boys have come to the conclusion that audiences are entirely composed of persons wanting a laugh, a thrill, a sleep or a cuddle, and they say rude things about those silly folk who call movies an art.  There are, of course, signs of regeneration: Stanley Kramer said recently that the only way to beat television is to make films which cater for the thinking people over 25 as well as for the retarded adolescents who now form two-thirds of the world’s audiences.  And it is possible to make sensible films which yet have glamour and appeal for the nitwits: Wuthering Heights, Gone With the Wind, The Third Man, for instance, appealed successfully to both types of audience.
            But still nine films out of ten are made for human beings with mental ages of four-and-a-half or there-abouts, and the rare exceptions to this rule, such as Death of a Salesman and Mourn­ing Becomes Electra, achieve only a very restricted showing.
           These latter films ought to find their proper reception in Cambridge.  But undergraduates are on the whole surprisingly narrow-minded.  They, too, want easy laughs, and though they appreciate wit they do not like being made to think deeply.  In their determination not to be taken in by sentimentality or propaganda they will often boo and jeer at something which has considerable intrinsic worth.  The brutal rejection of Pare Lorentz’ lovely Mississippi documentary The River is something which Cambridge should not be allowed easily to forget.
            What does Cambridge want to see?  Well, the Rex’s biggest recent successes have been On The Town, The Philadelphia Story, Horse Feathers, I Married a Witch, A Night in Casablanca, Fantasia, Quartet, Blithe Spirit, and A Matter of Life and Death.  Undergraduates enjoy French films, but will not rush to see them in sufficient numbers to fill the Rex; they delight in outlandish personalities such as Dietrich, Hepburn, Groucho Marx and James Stewart, just as they abhor the more conven­tional hero and heroine; and they are passionately fond of Destry Rides Again. The results of the “favourite film” poll now being organised by Varsity will be interesting though not, I imagine, surprising; I predict that seven or eight of the first ten will be light comedies.  To be fair I should submit my own list of favourites, so here they are (technical assurance being a major qualification): Trouble in Paradise, The Blue Angel, The Wizard of Oz, The Philadelphia Story, The Man in the White Suit, The Jolson Story, Lost Hori­zon, Duck Soup, Citizen Kane and The Bride of Frankenstein. Let the psychiatrists work that one out!


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