review for The Stars Look Down on AllMovie

The Stars Look Down (1939)
by Bob Mastrangelo review

The Stars Look Down is a prime example of the sort of working-class drama that generations of filmmakers have tried to tackle with often mixed results. Such films are often overburdened by their own seriousness, but The Stars Look Down holds up remarkably well. Like many films of this genre, it can be accused of romanticizing the people it portrays, and there are some scenes that descend into blatant soapbox preaching. But the film also possesses a sincerity that helps it to overcome these distracting episodes. There is not a false note in the scene where the striking miners riot in the shop of the butcher opposed to the strike. Nor is there when the mine inevitably floods, which leads to an extended -- and emotionally gripping -- finale. It is at these moments that you can forgive director Carol Reed and the writers for indulging in the predictable domestic misfortunes of Davey and Jenny. Their story feels like a commercial concession, and their scenes distract from the more dramatically compelling story of the miners and their fight for safe working conditions. Nancy Price and Edward Rigby stand out as Davey's parents, using their body language and facial movements as much as their dialogue. And the presence of Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood, as Davey and Jenny, makes for interesting casting since just the year before, they were teamed as the bickering leads in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes. Their roles here are miles from that film and speak well of their diversity as actors. The Stars Look Down may not be fully successful in avoiding some of the clichés of the working-class drama, but it also continues to hold the power of its message.