The Love Test +
Something Always Happens

UK 1935, 64 mins
UK 1934, 66 mins
Director: Michael Powell

Male chauvinist pigs meet 1930s girl power in Powell’s superior quota-quickie, in which chemists seeking a formula for fireproofing celluloid take exception to colleague Mary’s upcoming promotion – she’s a woman after all, and a ‘serious-minded little frump’ to boot. A plot to distract her from her vocation via shameless seduction ensues, but will Mary find true love after all? Powell’s answer to the screwball comedy is polished off with Deco designs and lashings of witty banter.
Simon McCallum,

Michael Powell sometimes used the very circumstances of the cinema in which he worked for story material. In The Red Ensign (1934) for instance, the quota act is the basis for a plot about a shipbuilder determined to stop the beleaguered British shipping industry being run down by ships flying under foreign flags. The Love Test (1935) instead revolves around attempts to render celluloid less flammable, the highly combustible properties of nitrate film stock being one of the reasons why so many movies from the period have vanished.

What is impressive about The Love Test is not so much the hackneyed story (at a research lab, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl), but rather its sexual subtext and frequently stylish presentation. Powell’s visual grace notes (with credit also due to cinematographer Arthur Crabtree) include a complicated opening tracking shot (over a minute long) that snakes all around the central research lab; ‘framing’ the lovers (in a taxi, in the corner of a restaurant, or through a gap in the laboratory equipment) to create more intimate romantic scenes; and giving the climax a small stylistic fillip by having the hero’s voice, when suddenly heard in the office through a heating shaft, matched visually by a series of quickly edited shots of the grille to heighten the impact of the scene.

This is the earliest of Powell’s films to point to the sensuousness and sexuality which later became so prominent in his work. While using incendiary nitrate dolls for transitions in the stages of the couple’s love affair is plain enough, a real surprise is the subtle but clear suggestion of lesbianism in the character of Mary’s neighbour, who ‘feminises’ her with new clothes, make-up and hair-do and is then permanently excluded when Hayward arrives. This is contrasted amusingly with scenes in which Googie Withers gives Hayward kissing ‘lessons’, in a role that Variety magazine, in its inimitable style, described as ‘a gum-chewing secretary-vamp who crank-starts Hayward’s engine’.

These elements reveal the enthusiasm, vigour and humour that mark many of Powell’s surviving quota features. In the movie, Hayward finds a commercially viable solution to making nitrate film less flammable; sadly, the film industry itself wasn’t able to do so until 1951. The Love Test, a film long thought lost, was, fortunately, restored and re-presented at the London Film Festival in 1990.
Sergio Angelini, BFI Screenonline,

Something Always Happens
After three films at Gaumont-British, Powell returned to quota productions with this sprightly comedy about a freeloading charmer who romances the daughter of a wealthy petrol station owner, before conflict ensues when he takes a job with a rival. No surprise if that sounds like a Hollywood screwball: the story was lifted from the script library of Warner Bros’ American offices.
James Bell,

Something Always Happens, a comedy where authority figures get taken down a peg or two while the poor get rich quick, neatly encompasses many of the recurring themes of Depression-era cinema in 1930s Britain. In fact most of the 23 low budget films Michael Powell directed between 1931 and 1936 focus on money and class in some way. A third element, which obliquely combines the two, is hypergamy, marriage to a person of a class higher than one’s own, which appears in Night of the Party (1934) and Her Last Affaire (1935), but is nicely reversed in Something Always Happens.

The film tries to have its cake and eat it, its amiable but lackadaisical hero (Ian Hunter), blissfully unconcerned by his lack of money or prospects, eventually still becoming hugely rich. His seemingly imperturbable character prefigures the one Hunter would play in Lazybones (1935), where once again he has to prove himself by getting a steady job and making a success of it. This foregrounds the aspirational tendencies of most moviegoers of the time, showing that even those without money can become a success through perseverance and ingenuity

The nexus between high and low society had already been ingeniously explored by Powell in Rynox (1931), in which the rich Benedik and the working-class ruffian Marsh aren’t just two sides of the same coin, but actually turn out to be the same person, part of a complicated scheme to save Benedik’s ailing company. Brock Williams’ tightly structured screenplay for Something Always Happens goes out of its way to draw parallels between rich and poor, young and old, as dialogue and actions are repeated or developed in adjacent scenes, constantly juxtaposing contrasting situations and characters to draw out the links that tie them together. This is emphasised in the early scene in which the destitute hero pretends to be rich while the fabulously wealthy girl he’s just met lets him believe she is a poor shop girl.

This slick, fast moving comedy makes good use of its location filming (especially the market scene) and offers, despite a rather insipid leading lady, a variety of incidental pleasures, such as casting George Zucco (shortly before he decamped for Hollywood) as an Italian restaurant owner. Powell himself remembered it affectionately: ‘We played it all out for laughs; great speed, excellent dialogue and it was about a chap who never paid for anything’.
Sergio Angelini, BFI Screenonline,

Directed by: Michael Powell
Presented by: Fox Film Company Ltd.
Unit Producer: Leslie L. Landau
Scenario & Dialogue by: Selwyn Jepson
An Original Story by: Jack Celestin
Photography by: Arthur Crabtree
Sound System: Visatone-Marconi
Produced at: Wembley Studios
Production Company: Fox-British Pictures
Producer: John Findlay

Judy Gunn (Mary Lee)
Louis Hayward (John Gregg)
Dave Hutcheson (Thompson)
Googie Withers (Minnie)
Morris Harvey (company president)
Aubrey Dexter (company vice-president)
Jack Knight (managing director)
Gilbert Davis (Hosiah H. Smith, chief chemist)
Eve Turner (Kathleen)
Bernard Miles (Allan)
Shayle Gardner (night watchman)
James Craig (boiler man)
uncredited: Ian Wilson (‘Amoeba’, a chemist)
Thorley Walters (chemist)

UK 1935
64 mins
Digital 4K

Director: Michael Powell
Production Company: Warner Brothers First National Productions
Executive Producer: Irving Asher
Screenplay/Dialogue: Brock Williams
Director of Photography: Basil Emmott
Editor: Ralph Dawson
Art Director: Peter Proud
Gowns: Louis Brooks
Sound: Leslie Murray, H.C. Pearson

Ian Hunter (Peter Middleton)
Nancy O’Neil (Cynthia Hatch)
Peter Gawthorne (Benjamin Hatch)
Johnny Singer (Billy)
Muriel George (Mrs Badger, the landlady)
Barry Livesey (George Hamlin)
Millicent Wolf (Glenda)
Louie Emery (Mrs Tremlett)
Reg Marcus (‘Coster’)
George Zucco (proprietor of ‘Café de Paris’)
Janet Fitzpatrick

UK 1934
66 mins
Digital 4K

Remastering has been supported by Matt Spick and the Charles Skey Charitable Trust.

The Small Back Room
Fri 1 Dec 18:10 (+ intro); Sun 10 Dec 18:30; Sat 16 Dec 20:45; Fri 22 Dec 18:20; Wed 27 Dec 20:30; Sat 30 Dec 15:00
Oh… Rosalinda!!
Sat 2 Dec 11:45; Wed 13 Dec 20:45
Lazybones + Her Last Affaire
Sat 2 Dec 15:20; Wed 20 Dec 17:50
The Love Test + Something Always Happens
Sun 3 Dec 15:30; Tue 19 Dec 20:20
Library Talk: The Glass Pearls
Mon 4 Dec 18:30 BFI Reuben Library
Wanted for Murder + intro by Simon McCallum, BFI curator
Mon 4 Dec 20:40
Projecting the Archive: The End of the River + intro by film scholar Dr Kulraj Phullar
Tue 5 Dec 18:20
The Phantom Light
Wed 6 Dec 20:30; Sun 17 Dec 12:30
Peeping Tom
Thu 7 Dec 20:45 (+ intro); Sat 9 Dec 15:00 (+ Doesn’t Exist magazine launch and panel discussion hosted by Victor Fraga); Fri 15 Dec 20:50; Mon 18 Dec 20:45; Thu 21 Dec 18:00; Sat 23 Dec 18:00; Fri 29 Dec 18:15
The Red Shoes
From Fri 8 Dec
The Red Shoes in the Spotlight
Fri 8 Dec 18:00
Bluebeard’s Castle (Herzog Blaubarts Burg)
Fri 8 Dec 20:40; Fri 15 Dec 18:10 (+ intro by writer Lillian Crawford); Sat 23 Dec 13:30
Crown v. Stevens + Behind the Mask (aka The Man Behind the Mask)
Sat 9 Dec 12:40; Sat 23 Dec 15:00
The Tales of Hoffmann
Sat 9 Dec 17:30; Tue 12 Dec 20:20 (+ intro by Andrew Moor, Manchester Metropolitan University); Sat 16 Dec 14:45; Sat 30 Dec 17:30
Honeymoon (Luna de miel)
Sun 10 Dec 13:25; Thu 28 Dec 20:40
Queering Powell + Pressburger
Tue 12 Dec 18:00
Experimenta: Michelle Williams Gamaker and Powell + Pressburger + Michelle Williams Gamaker in conversation with Dr Kulraj Phullar
Wed 13 Dec 18:05
They’re a Weird Mob
Sat 16 Dec 17:45; Fri 29 Dec 20:40
Espionage: Never Turn Your Back on a Friend / A Free Agent + intro
Sun 17 Dec 15:15
Age of Consent
Fri 22 Dec 20:45; Wed 27 Dec 18:15
A Matter of Life and Death
Sat 23 Dec 15:00 BFI IMAX
Black Narcissus
Sat 30 Dec 14:30 BFI IMAX

With thanks to

Never miss an issue with Sight and Sound, the BFI’s internationally renowned film magazine. Subscribe from just £25*
*Price based on a 6-month print subscription (UK only). More info:

Welcome to the home of great film and TV, with three cinemas and a studio, a world-class library, regular exhibitions and a pioneering Mediatheque with 1000s of free titles for you to explore. Browse special-edition merchandise in the BFI Shop.We're also pleased to offer you a unique new space, the BFI Riverfront – with unrivalled riverside views of Waterloo Bridge and beyond, a delicious seasonal menu, plus a stylish balcony bar for cocktails or special events. Come and enjoy a pre-cinema dinner or a drink on the balcony as the sun goes down.

Enjoy a great package of film benefits including priority booking at BFI Southbank and BFI Festivals. Join today at

We are always open online on BFI Player where you can watch the best new, cult & classic cinema on demand. Showcasing hand-picked landmark British and independent titles, films are available to watch in three distinct ways: Subscription, Rentals & Free to view.

See something different today on

Join the BFI mailing list for regular programme updates. Not yet registered? Create a new account at

Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email