“Bitter Harvest” is a weird title for a 1963 indie Brit flick that had nothing to do with agriculture. It is, in fact, the sad saga of a young Welsh woman who wants something good to happen to her before she dies. Her name is Jennie Jones and like her kindred spirit from another time and place, Emma Bovary, her dreams of wealth and romance are fueled by popular culture. After watching a glamour-drenched commercial while babysitting, she decides she wants a glamour-drenched bubble bath off the master bedroom. The master, deftly played by William Lucas, naturally arrives home as she’s splashing away and offers her money to buy her very own negligee. She accepts the gift, but says she really needs a new coat instead, and that’s what she’s wearing the next time we see her with her girlfriend, Violet (Barbara Ferris) and a couple of pickups, including Terence Alexander as Andy, fully equipped with a moustache and a leer. During the wild night that follows, we discover that Jennie never really smiles unless she’s smashed to the gills.
She wakes up in London, far away from Cardiff and far away from being in the glamour city of her childhood dreams. It is there that she meets John Stride as Bob Williams, the cutest barman anyone ever saw, who takes a shine to her and offers her love, protection, security and even marriage. Jennie, however, still yearns for wealth and romance drenched in glamour and she dismisses the adorable barman with biting contempt. Jennie, as we’ve already seen in the opening sequence, does indeed achieve all the glamour she can stand as the kept girl of producer Alan Badel as Karl Denny (the one with the heart of a cement mixer) and she hates her boozy life, his guts and every thread of her lavish wardrobe.
The saddest aspect of “Bitter Harvest” is the realization that its gifted star, Janet Munro, died at 38 of “natural causes”, although her once-sparkling career was finished within five years of “Bitter Harvest” because of her real-life drinking problem. She is best remembered in America for her glowing performances in the Disney films “Darby O’Gill and The Little People”, “Third Man On The Mountain”, Swiss Family Robinson” and “The Horsemasters” and by sci-fi fans for “The Day The Earth Caught Fire”. The insight Munro brought to her alcoholic character in “Bitter Harvest” is tremendous, but she married Ian Hendy, the brilliant alcoholic star of “The Avengers” that same year and she died the year after their divorce.
Many of the cast and crew of “Bitter Harvest” also participated in “The Avengers”, including Director Peter Graham Scott, and Laurie Johnson, whose great score gives poignance to Jennie’s misadventures. Watch this on Retroflix on Friday September 14 2007. It’s as timely as it was in 1963.
© 2007 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 9/5/07
Bitter Harvest (1963)
UK - 1963