John Eldridge (1917-1960) b. Folkstone, England.
A British director whose films distinguished themselves by their very Englishness. Eldridge’s documentaries and semi-documentaries have a poetic quality rarely found elsewhere. They are the sons and daughters of the British documentary movement of the 1930s and indeed Eldridge’s three feature films, all with rural or coastal settings, were made for pioneer documentarist John Grierson‘s all-too-short-lived Group 3 Productions. Eldridge started in films as an assistant editor, but had begun making documentaries under his own steam by 1939. The first of these to come into the national spotlight was Our Country (1944), which received a big premiere at one of London’s largest cinemas and immediately polarised critical opinion. But the Britons, along with the Russians, have always been among the foremost poets of the cinema, and, in this remarkable picture of his country, Eldridge was aided in the fulfilment of his aims by the commentary of a ‘real’ poet, Dylan Thomas, sympathetic and uplifting music by William Alwyn and admirable black-and-white photography by Jo Jago. Eldridge’s style was to make rounded characters from real people – more difficult than it sounds – but achieved with real skill, from dancing West Indians, to Scots trawlermen, cockney hop-pickers in Kent and Welsh schoolchildren. Eldridge also caught the eye with Three Dawns to Sydney, which transcended the bounds of normal travelogue in its story of the countries flown over by an aeroplane bound from England to Australia. After casting his poet’s eye at Tyneside in North East Corner (1944), and Edinburgh in Waverley Steps (1948), Eldridge moved into features, wisely choosing Grierson’s unit as the one in which his talents would be best employed. These are gently humorous films, the first, Brandy for the Parson (1952), about liquor-smugglers on the Kent coast; the next, Laxdale Hall (1953), back to Whisky Galore! (1949) country, as Hebridean islanders cannily do battle with bureaucracy; and the third and best, Conflict of Wings (1954), with script co-written by the poet John Pudney and sparkling Eastman Colour photography by Arthur Grant, slightly more serious fare about a bird sanctuary, carefully acted and thought out and a credit to all concerned, deservedly released as a main feature in its native Britain. Unfortunately, Eldridge was already in poor health, and it was to be his last film. Like other talents nurtured in the thirties and early forties, he might have found nowhere to go in the industry, as it progressed, but into television documentary. That we shall never know.