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84 Charing Cross RdUK/USA 1987
Directed by David Jones
84 Charing Cross Rd is based on a hugely successful book of the same name by Helene Hanff that was written as an exchange of letters between herself and the employees of a London antiquarian bookshop, it was, surprising to me, turned into a hit play and then into this movie. Mel Brooks was the executive producer and his wife, Anne Bancroft, plays Miss Hanff, a feisty unmarried script editor living in a tatty New York brownstone. On the other side of the Atlantic is Frank Doel, aka Anthony Hopkins, a cardiganed little man who seeks out the books that she cannot find in The Big Apple.
Whilst the production values are superb, particularly in its recreation of post-war London and New York, dramatically the film holds little of interest as the ocean-divided characters never meet and the narrative simply swings back and forth between its two main loci. A few titles are cited and the odd passage from them is quoted but this film is more about the idea of books rather than being itself literary or intellectually-challenging (fittingly, one of the titles cited is Cardinal Newman’s Idea of a University). What unites both Miss Hanff and Mr Doel is not intellectual curiosity but the collector’s anally-retentive pedantry. If Hanff’s original book was lightweight, the film suffers from having to stretch its limited material even to the relatively short running time of 88 minutes. To do this we are treated to increasingly cloying depictions of quaintly fuddy-duddy Englishness, contrasted with brassy New York spinsterdom in an ambience of unrelenting, self-regarding preciosity.
Still, it was a big hit so clearly its middle-brow sentimentality has considerable appeal in some quarters.