In one of my first posts for this blog, I talked about my love for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. When I was a teenager, I was shown a film which, in plot, is quite similar – So Long at the Fair.
When I first saw this film, my dad had recently stumbled upon it while watching TCM. He thought I’d enjoy it because of my love for The Lady Vanishes. It’s a small British film with two (at the time, obvi!) up and coming stars: Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde.
The film follows Vicky Barton (Jean Simmons) who travels with her brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) to Paris in 1889 for the World’s Fair. Their first night in Paris, they’re having a grand old time…
The brother-sister relationship is one of the fun parts of the film. Jean Simmons is so delightfully sweet and genuine. You can’t help but feel for her.
That night, she bids her brother goodnight and one of the hotel managers grabs their room keys…
The next morning, something strange has occurred. When Vicky goes to wake her brother, his room has disappeared.
And thus, begins the premise of the film. Where is Vicky’s brother’s room and why is everyone insisting that he was never there at all?
There are so many reasons I love this film, but here are just a few:
This film was my introduction to Jean Simmons, not to be confused with Kiss’s lead singer. I hadn’t yet seen Guys and Dolls which is fitting considering she made So Long at the Fair first. She’s so genuine in every moment, you can’t help but be drawn into her grief.
Dirk Bogarde, her co-star, said of her, “Jean is about the sweetest girl you could wish to meet and all you read about her being natural and unsophisticated is absolutely true” (Jeff Stafford’s TCM article).
This would not usually be one I’d point out, but I so love the time period they recreate in So Long at the Fair. There is so much precision in the costumes and settings that you really believe that they’re in 19th century France. Of course, they do use some stock backgrounds, but that doesn’t bother me much.
The film’s main plot can be more precisely classified as mystery or suspense. However, I really enjoy the romance in this film. Dirk Bogarde plays a British artist who learns about Jean’s predicament and decides to help her.
In interviews, Dirk seemed to assert that them being in the film together was a publicity stunt, meant to pair them together. Jean said in interviews that she was very much in love with Dirk during the making of the film. Whatever is true, Jean was with actor Stewart Granger by the end of the film and Dirk ended up being gay. But, no matter what the behind the scenes truth is, they did right in this film.
I remember telling my dad my biggest problem with the film the first time I saw it – Why don’t Jean and Dirk kiss or something? They needed to complete that storyline. 😉
I don’t want to give away what happens, but I will say that it doesn’t go where you think it will. When I originally saw the film, I was genuinely surprised by its ending. The story is based on an urban legend that apparently took place during the Paris exposition. It has been the inspiration for several stories, including Covered Tracks and an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
The film was based on a book by Anthony Thorne and was co-directed by Terence Fisher and Antony Darnborough. Fisher was an editor, but also a director known for his horror films The Mummy, The Curse of Frankenstein and The Curse of Dracula.
It’s such a wonderful idea for a story, so simple and intriguing. What makes the premise so wonderful is that you’re always questioning if it is simply all in her head, which, to me, is scarier than anything else!
So Long at the Fair is a small film, not an epic. It will not be remembered in the same class as The Lady Vanishes, but for all its flaws, it’s fun nonetheless. I think it’s worth it just to see Jean Simmons in one of her first roles. She carries the film.
I assume, like most people, that you’ve never seen the film. It’s only about an hour and twenty minutes. And…it’s on youtube (aka perfect afternoon watch). I love sharing this film because it is forgotten. It may not have been a film that changed the world or furthered filmmaking technique, but it’s charming, accessible and truly suspenseful.
Sit back and enjoy the charms of So Long at the Fair. Please leave comments letting me know your thoughts!