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The Water Gipsies (1932)

 |  Drama  |  7 November 1932 (USA)
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Jane Bell has lived on an old barge moored in the Thames with her feckless father and sister ever since their mother died, but she would prefer her life to be more like the movies -- ... See full summary »


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Title: The Water Gipsies (1932)

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Cast overview:
Ann Todd ...
Sari Maritza ...
Lily Bell
Ian Hunter ...
Fred Green
Peter Hannen ...
Richard Bird ...
Frances Doble ...
Anthony Ireland ...
Barbara Gott ...
Mrs. Green
Moore Marriott ...
Mr. Pewtar
Harold Scott ...
Mr. Bell
Charles Garry ...
Mr. Green
Betty Shale ...


Jane Bell has lived on an old barge moored in the Thames with her feckless father and sister ever since their mother died, but she would prefer her life to be more like the movies -- reality is being courted by an inarticulate canal boatman, Fred Green, and cleaning the studio of a local artist, Bryan, on whom she has a hopeless crush that leads her to refuse Fred's offer of marriage. When her father loses his job and her sister takes up with a rich young gambler, she becomes engaged instead to Ernest, whose Communist beliefs represent the only fixed set of ideals in her life. But her position as Bryan's sometime model and muse is too precious to give up, even if he doesn't pay any attention to her... and even if Ernest resents it bitterly... Written by Igenlode Wordsmith

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Release Date:

7 November 1932 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Water Gypsies  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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User Reviews

A fascinating record of life on the Thames and inland canals of Britain in 1931
14 February 2015 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

If the thousands of passionate admirers of the inland canals of Britain knew of the existence of this film on DVD, they would surely all rush to buy it. So much of it was shot on location and shows the canals as they were long before the War, when a handsome shire horse stood beside every canal lock and people who lived in the narrow boats greeted or cursed each other as they passed year in and year out, some of them having never lived on dry land for a day in their lives. This film is very authentic because it is based upon a novel by A. P. Herbert, of the same title, and he was intimately familiar with river life, river pubs, and river people. From 1870 to 1971, Herbert lived at 12 and 13 Hammersmith Terrace, with his garden backing directly onto the Thames, where he could keep his own small boat. The pub in the novel and film is probably based upon the Black Lion, a few steps from his door. He knew people who lived on houseboats along the river, all of which moor on the north side of the river, where Herbert lived. Many such houseboats are still moored today at Chiswick, an easy walk from Hammersmith Terrace, not to mention further away in Chelsea as well. Herbert wrote another novel, THE HOUSE ON THE RIVER (1921, nine years before publishing THE WATER GIPSIES), which Fritz Lang filmed in 1950 as THE HOUSE BY THE RIVER. Both of these stories were inspired by the place where Herbert lived all his life. In 1966, he wrote a non-fiction book, THE THAMES, a survey of the river and of the life and work upon it and concerning it. The director of this film was the brilliant Maurice Elvey, famous for FANNY HAWTHORNE (1927, aka HINDLE WAKES, a sound remake of his earlier 1918 silent version of HINDLE WAKES; Victor Saville, who co-wrote the 1927 film then directed the story again himself in 1931 as HINDLE WAKES), and for THE CLAIRVOYANT (1934, see my review). Elvey directed an astonishing 196 films, though many of those were Sherlock Holmes silent shorts. He is also noted for the harrowing and unforgettable BEWARE OF PITY (1946), based on the novel by Stefan Zweig and starring Lili Palmer. In 1931, the year before making THE WATER GIPSIES, Elvey had made FOOTSTEPS IN THE NIGHT (aka A HONEYMOON ADVENTURE) which featured the first film appearance by a promising young actor named Peter Hannen, so it was natural for him to cast the handsome Hannen as the artist with a studio beside the river in THE WATER GIPSIES, in which Hannen was very good indeed. But then a tragedy occurred, and Hannen died on January 21, 1932, eleven months before the film had even been released, at the age of only 23. What is worse, he died because of the filming. In the story, he was called upon to dive into the Thames to save someone from drowning, which he did himself. As a result of this, he contracted influenza and died of the pneumonia which resulted. He had been a brilliant actor on the stage, playing leading roles in Shakespeare at the Old Vic and praised by all the critics of his time. The female lead in the film was played by Ann Todd, appearing in her fourth film. In this film she has one of those wobbly young tragic heroine voices which were popular at the time and seemed to be demanded of all film ingénues then. She was later to become one of the most famous and best loved of British film actresses of her generation, and perhaps the crowning performance of her film career was in David Lean's THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS (1949, see my review), which curiously was a sound remake of a silent film originally directed by Maurice Elvey in 1922 (a film which is apparently now lost). The story of THE WATER GIPSIES is that an attractive young girl who lives in a houseboat on the river, played' by Todd, poses as a model for Hannen and falls in love with him, but he does not notice, and never takes her seriously because of class differences. She has been courted for a long time by a narrow boatman played by Ian Hunter, but she finds him too boring. Her father, a classical musician, loses his job, and Todd's sister flees the houseboat and goes to the bad. On the rebound from her unsuccessful crush on Hannen, who is giving up his studio and moving away anyway, thus depriving her of her only source of income, Todd is desperate and marries the son of the local river publican, played by Richard Bird, which turns into a disastrous nightmare. She is mercifully freed from this by his death in the river. The film is thus something of a sad melodrama, but the main interest is the extensive depiction of river and canal life as it was 85 years ago. The film is well worth seeing, and is truly like stepping back in time into a world which few people alive can remember at all.

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