This modest (probably less than $300,000), 50-year-old and black-and-white production would seem more likely a candidate for Sony's new video-on-demand program, but has been rescued from obscurity by another arm of that conglomerate, Affirm Films. In any case it's a pleasant film with something worth teaching children and adults alike. The 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer is good; the disc has no extra features.
Surely the only film to boast endorsements from both Eleanor Roosevelt and Edd "Kookie" Byrnes!
The film traces the friendship of a two children, each around ten years of age: Michael O'Malley (Philip Needs) is Catholic while Rachel Mathias (Loretta Parry) is Jewish. They become fast friends after their teacher thinks Michael is making fun of Rachel when she takes a bad fall during a choir performance. Later, when some of Michael's friends tease her, he comes to her defense and quickly realize they like one another.
The differences of their respective faiths don't enter into their relationship - they have more important concerns, like caring for Michael's pet mouse, Hector - until one of Michael's friends quotes his racist father in stating, "The Jews killed Christ." Of course, the never-seen father hates Catholics, too. This distresses Michael.
More subtly, Michael and Rachel's parents take note of the children's differences. Michael's mother (Black Narcissus's Kathleen Byron) says of Rachel, "You wouldn't think she was Jewish, would you?" while Rachel's mother hopes her daughter will some day marry "a nice Jewish boy."
The film is told in flashback and generates some unnecessary suspense, with a desperate Michael confessing to Father Timothy (John Gregson) that he's "killed" his dear friend.
In flashbacks, Michael tells Father Timothy how he and Rachel took a blood oath, pricking each other's fingers with a pin, and later tested their friendship with Rachel insisting Michael visit her synagogue and, the following day, Michael insisting Rachel come to Mass.
Directed by Philip Leacock (The Little Kidnappers, and later a prolific director of American series television) Hand in Hand touts much substantial talent. Besides actress Byron, Sybil Thorndyke and Finlay Currie have small but memorable roles as understanding adults; Freddie Young did the cinematography and Stanley Black wrote the score. A woman named Helen Winston produced the film, but this does not seem to be the same Helen Winston who had small, mostly uncredited roles in American films of the 1950s, nor does she appear to have any other narrative feature film credits as a producer.
Needs and Parry have wonderfully expressive faces, average but appealing and sensitive. Though obviously reading scripted lines they come off as entirely natural. Each did a bit of British television after this; Parry is one of the children in the Disney-produced The Horse Without a Head (1963), a regrettably obscure film released theatrically overseas much like Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow (1963) and featuring an intriguing cast (Jean-Pierre Aumont, Herbert Lom, Leo McKern, Pamela Franklin, etc.).
Video & Audio
Hand in Hand looks just fine - it's 1.66:1 OAR is retained in a crisp 16:9 enhanced transfer with good contrast and a pleasingly sharp image. The mono audio is likewise fine and English and English SDH subtitles are included. There are no Extra Features
Modest but charming, Hand in Hand is a pleasant film with something positive to say, and it's something both children and their parents should enjoy. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Tora-san DVD boxed set, is on sale now.