He's a Dirk Rider
As a young man in England Bill Fox (Dirk Bogarde) is fascinated by the sport of Speedway and finds himself riding as a novice for Rowton's (Sidney James) team of riders at the Cobra Speedway. Soon Bill is winning races and with it his ego is swelling especially when he finds himself dating attractive socialite Dotty Liz (Moira Lister). But the sport of speedway is dangerous and after his friend Lag Gibbon (Bill Owen) ends up seriously hurt in a crash Bill undeterred from racing finds himself leaving Dotty for Lag's sister Pat (Renee Asherson), ending up marrying her whilst also trying to get proper insurance for the riders. But as time passes, WWII and Pat's fear of Bill hurting himself he faces some big decisions.
First things first and the unusual title, "Once a Jolly Swagman" comes from the sport of Speedway's Australian roots. With that little titbit of information done with what "Once a Jolly Swagman" ends up is a drama of choices built around the popular sport of the day which back in Britain in the 1940s Speedway was popular, you just need to look at the crowd scenes in this movie to realise how popular it once was.
What that means is that "Once a Jolly Swagman" is quite a simple movie as we follow the successful career of Bill Fox in a sport with some major risks. But along the way we see how injuries to friends, the war and also his marriage all force Bill to make some choices between what he loves doing and those he loves deeply. That is it but in truth it is also enough as it is an entertaining if typical drama.
Of course a big draw of "Once a Jolly Swagman" is the cast and with Dirk Bogarde in the lead and the likes of Bill Owen, Sidney James and Moira Lister around him it benefits from their familiarity and likeability keeping you interested when the drama's familiarity makes it less than enthralling. Although with it being said that Bogarde not being a fan of motorbikes the actual scenes of speedway riding are not the most exhilarating, relying on distance shots to hide the fact that it is not Bogarde riding and then of course in the close ups of the face looking false.
What this all boils down to is that "Once a Jolly Swagman" is still an entertaining movie based around a sport not often featured in movies. But whilst the sport of speedway gives this a bit of a unique feel the story of a man facing personal choices is a familiar one.