Miss Grant Goes to the Door (1940)
Britain's Ministry of Information produced or sponsored a range of short films during World War II. Some were stirring and inspiring, like Words for Battle, narrated by Laurence Olivier, or Britain at Bay, written and narrated by J. B. Priestley.
Others were informative, passing on important messages. These included a series on the dangers of "careless talk", as well as individual films about the importance of observing the blackout (Mr. Proudfoot Shows a Light), how to deal with incendiary bombs (Go to Blazes, with the comedian Will Hay), what to put out for salvage (Salvage with a Smile) and how to grow your own veg (Dig for Victory). But 1940's Miss Grant Goes to the Door offers a more sobering lesson - how to act during a German invasion.
Miss Grant Goes to the Door stars Mary Clare as Caroline and Martita Hunt (best remembered as Miss Haversham in David Lean's Great Expectations) as Edith, two sisters living in a quiet country cottage somewhere in England. This might sound vaguely like Private Godfrey's dotty sisters, living in their idyllic ivy-covered cottage in Dad's Army, but Caroline and Edith are plucky old girls, ready to do their bit for the war effort.
|Mary Clare as Caroline|
The sisters' peace is disturbed by an air raid, something all too familiar to the British people in 1940. Edith is reluctant to go to the shelter, but Caroline is insistent. So Edith agrees, as long as she can collect her knitting first.
But before they can get to the shelter, they hear the church bells tolling - the warning sign of a German invasion. And they see something even more disturbing than an air raid - a German soldier lurking outside their window. Fortunately, he seems to be alone and is obviously wounded. The two women then bring him inside to tend to his wounds - rather than bash him on the head, or anything like that. This is England, after all.
Caroline is careful to take the soldier's revolver from him, and when her sister compares his uniform to a picture they have, they conclude that he must be a German paratrooper. Although the fact that he's suddenly appeared in the middle of the English countryside should probably have told them that anyway.
Reinforcements soon arrive in the shape of a British officer (Manning Whiley). He's got lost and was hoping that they might have a map. He explains that he's on his way to Jarvis Cross. Only he pronounces it "Yarvis Cross".
Fortunately, Caroline is on the ball and quickly turns the gun on him. No Englishman would pronounce "Jarvis" like that - he's obviously a German spy. Get your hands up, Jerry! Caroline then tells her sister to fetch help from the local police station. So Edith peddles off on her bike in the middle of the ongoing air raid.
Meanwhile, Caroline keeps watch on the suspected German spy. She reaches for a cigarette to calm her nerves and he persuades her to let him have one too. But as she passes it to him, he grabs the gun and turns it on her. A typical, shabby Nazi trick! You really can't trust them.
The spy then makes a run for it, but he doesn't get far, because the women have immobilised their car, as per the official instructions. Then the boys from the Local Defence Volunteers (later known as the Home Guard) arrive in the nick of time, having been summoned by Edith, and take the spy prisoner.
Miss Grant Goes to the Door was directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, best known for the 1951 film Scrooge with Alastair Sim, and written by the playwright and screenwriter Rodney Ackland.
With its fast pace and insistent music, the film is quite dramatic and was probably a little alarming in 1940. In its brief running time it communicates some of the noise, disruption and confusion that would accompany any attack, and the quick thinking that civilians will need to combat the invasion threat. It also manages to put across some basic messages about keeping maps locked away and immobilising vehicles.
Its simple storyline, showing two ordinary women plunged into a desperate situation, prefigures the 1942 invasion thriller Went the Day Well? Both films implicitly ask the audience if they are prepared for what they will need to do in the event of an invasion, and both convey the clear message not to automatically trust anyone, no matter what uniform they are wearing.
At the end, one of the LDV men, played by Ivan Brandt, sits down for a nice cup of tea with the two ladies.
"The front line's in every home nowadays", he tells them, reinforcing the film's message that civilians must play their part too. "Keep the man talking", he says, referring to anyone they might suspect of being a spy. "If he's a German, he'll give himself away soon enough."
At that point, the two women seem to be looking at him a bit suspiciously. Surely he can't be a German spy as well? But he eagerly accepts their offer of yet another cup of tea, so he's probably alright. Anyone who drinks that much tea must be British.
Miss Grant Goes to the Door is an evocative short film from the darkest days of World War II, and is well worth 7 minutes of your time. It can be viewed on the Imperial War Museum website:
Miss Grant Goes to the Door
Genre: War Drama / Short Film
Director: Brian Desmond Hurst
Cast Mary Clare (Caroline), Martita Hunt (Edith), Manning Whiley (The officer), Ivan Brandt (The LDV)
Screenplay Rodney Ackland, story Thorold Dickinson, Donald Bull Producer Brian Desmond Hurst Cinematography Bernard Browne Editor Ralph Kemplen
Running time 7 mins (black and white)
Production company Ministry of Information