Fender is a lowly clerk in the warehouse of clothing manufacturers Ranting and Co. His one ambition is to have an overcoat of his own. Refused one by the cold hearted Ranting he asks a ...
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Fender is a lowly clerk in the warehouse of clothing manufacturers Ranting and Co. His one ambition is to have an overcoat of his own. Refused one by the cold hearted Ranting he asks a tailor friend, Morry, to make him one instead, but dies of cold before he can take delivery of it. Unwilling to give up his only desire even in death, he returns as a ghost to persuade Morry to steal him the overcoat he so coveted in life. Written by
The one and only time I saw "The Bespoke Overcoat" (TBO) was during the summer of 1957. I had gone into the Waverly Theater in N.Y., in Greenwich Village, to catch some AC and a double feature I was told by my trendy friends "not to miss." I can't remember what the other films were, but I haven't forgotten some of the visual details of TBO in nearly 50 years.
The film opened with a long, drawn-out, circular pan approach to a bed. The black and white film was grainy. A spotlight shone from above making a cone of light. Someone was singing the Aramaic chant for the dead. A man is on the bed. He is dead or dying. Another man is chanting the Kaddish over him. And this is the opening. I was riveted to my seat. My eyes were wide as if held open by some Lon Chaney contraption. My heart didn't break, yet, as it would when the story finally spun out. But, as a seventeen year old, I knew this was an artful film, that the cinematography alone was outstanding.
Then the "play" began, explaining how this man lived and died. I had sometime before read, or seen on TV, a dramatization of a Sholom Alechem short story about the world's most righteous man's death. That was set in heaven and all the angels, seraphim, cherubim, arch-angels, etc. were discussing what they ought do to mark the arrival of the world's most holy man. And when he came, this small, shy man, they badgered him with questions about what he might like: a performance by the heavenly band of musicians? a banquet? what? And he answered, "All I'd like might be a hot roll and a little butter. If it's not too much trouble."
So TBO was something like this other story. You couldn't say that the one influenced the other; but, they did have their similarities. Of course, being Russian in its origins, there were surreal elements to the visual setting of TBO. But these were less than I imagined when I got to read "The Overcoat" in a collection of Russian stories. In this film, "The Bespoke Overcoat," writer Wolf Mankowitz managed to incorporate elements of Gogol (its author), plus a little Sholom Alechem into the script, and director Jack Clayton put it all together in an unforgettable cinematic style that was so moving I've remembered it vividly since 1957, which makes it among the most memorable films I've ever seen. And today, 2007, I get misty remembering how little Fender endured his final agony.
I have searched for a place to purchase a copy of this film to no avail. My quest did lead me to the British Film Institute, or BFI, who seem to have the only known copy of the film. But they can not issue copies because they do not hold the copyright. The copyright is held by Granada. If IMDb can be cajoled into getting the permission from Granada, they might be able to make reasonably priced DVD copies of this film, one of the best short films ever. If you're reading this, you know what to do.
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