A. J. Cronin's novel, "The Stars Look Down." is a saga of simple working people. The English movie-version best film to enliven local screens in many a month-logically extends the implication of its subject-matter. From a timely oral prologue we learn that the Welsh coal-miners, whose lives are to be dug and coughed and hammered out before us, symbolize the guys-named-Joe "of every nationality and every calling, such as there are the whole world over."
Hollywood has produced nothing that begins to match the poignant tragedy of this picture since "The Grapes of Wrath" or "The Long Voyage Home." As a sociological document, the scope of its undertaking is gigantic; and happily, Carol Reed and his company are almost everywhere equal to their task. With the epic mundaneness of Sandburg and the brutal candor of Van Gogh, they have captured in word and picture the grim atmosphere of mining life and the grimmer heroism of its day-to-day struggle for survival.
David Fenwick is duped by the cheap, voluptuous city-girl whom he marries, forgetting what it's like to be weaned on coal-dust, and sacrificing his ideals of mine-reform for the frustrating and impotent life of schoolmaster in his native hamlet. Novelist Cronin is a scientist, and the generally powerful plot of this movie goes back to his painstaking delineation of character. But when scenario-writers-in the inconceivably heroic turnabout of the mine-owner, Barras, and again in a superfluous and mystical epilogue-attempt to expand a stirring argument for public ownership into a vague essay on the goodness of man, they over step logical bounds.
To laud any single actor in this film is to do an injustice to a cast which is thoroughly superb, down to the smallest realistic bit-part. In contrast to the thousands of feet of escapism and trite propaganda that roll daily from the cameras of Hollywood, "The Stars Look Down" is an, effective reminder that the move can be a force for both education and art.