Tag Archives: Alexis Smith

The Back of Beyond (1955, Arthur Ripley)

The Back of Beyond has perfectly good production values–it takes place in the West Indies, at a British protectorate island (it’s a Maugham adaptation, where else would it take place)–but director Ripley doesn’t have much going for him.

It’s a play on TV, sure, but he doesn’t know when to use his close-ups and when not to use them. He’s got a fine lead in Alexis Smith as an unfaithful wife (cavorting with her husband’s assistant) and George Macready is great as the husband. Even though Ripley’s direction lacks subtlety, the strange relationship between the couple comes through in the performances.

And Smith does get one rather good monologue towards the end.

Once it becomes clear nothing interesting is going to happen in Beyond, it becomes tiresome. There are all sorts of innuendoes no one ever delivers; Ripley’s not an imaginative director. His actors are good though.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Ripley; teleplay by Frederick Brady, based on a story by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, George E. Diskant; edited by Samuel E. Beetley; produced by Warren Lewis.

Starring Alexis Smith (Violet Saffrey), George Macready (Roger Saffrey), Robin Hughes (Tom Clark), John Hamilton (Fraser), Leonard Mudie (Gannon) and Victor Sen Yung (Peng).


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The Woman in White (1948, Peter Godfrey)

I’m not sure what’s more impressive in The Woman in White: Max Steiner’s exceptional score or Sidney Greenstreet’s performance. Both are phenomenal–it’s probably Steiner’s finest score. Greenstreet’s performance of the film’s cogent, ruthless villain is not just one of his finest performances, but one of the finest villains in film history. I’ve seem the film before, but somehow Greenstreet’s endless supply of sinisterness made me frequently question the ending I remembered.

Almost everything else about The Woman in White is excellent–not on the level of those two particulars–but, overall, excellent. Peter Godfrey knows how to construct a shot–and especially how to move a camera–and there’s some great comic moments in the film, which is not, overall, comical at all. John Abbott is great as a wacky recluse, John Emery is great as Greenstreet’s sidekick. Great’s a word I’d use a lot to describe aspects of The Woman in White… like Agnes Moorehead, she’s great in a difficult role. (No surprise). However–I was just going to say the editing isn’t great, but it isn’t just the editing–The Woman in White has some drastic changes in its narrative and they hamstring the film.

The first half of The Woman in White, with Gig Young starting a new job as a drawing instructor for wealthy Eleanor Parker who comes across a strange girl, recently escaped from an asylum (also Parker), is fantastic. Absolutely wonderful. Here’s the best direction in the film, the best part of Young’s performance and two good roles for Parker. Alexis Smith is good as the friend who’s got the crush on Young, even though Young and Parker (as the wealthy heiress, not the escaped mental patient) are getting romantic. Young and Parker have great chemistry, regardless of the role Parker’s playing. Young’s new to the estate, just like the viewer, and the film draws them both in at the same time. It’s masterful.

Then it skips ahead some months and now it’s Smith the film’s following, except not really, because Greenstreet eventually locks her in a room and then it follows Greenstreet for a long time. Parker’s wealthy heiress is poisoned so that role is made inessential and the mental patient role doesn’t have quite enough for her to do (though there are some nice special effects of the two of them in the same frame). Young and Smith have no chemistry as their romance takes off and the film drags on and on. Greenstreet’s great in this part, best in this part, and his scenes with Smith do a lot for the picture. Young’s almost useless, a long fall from the beginning, when he’s absolutely fantastic.

Overall, The Woman in White‘s best parts–with the exception of Greenstreet and Steiner–don’t make it to the end. Parker’s performance as the cursed mental patient is wonderful, but the romantic stuff with her and Young in the first half–which goes away–is just as good. By the end, it’s hard to believe Young started out so strong and even Steiner’s score, for the last bit, isn’t as good as it had been. So, disappointing as a whole, but its pieces are stellar.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Godfrey; screenplay by Stephen Morehouse Avery, based on the novel by Wilkie Collins; director of photography, Carl E. Guthrie; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by Max Steiner; produced by Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Alexis Smith (Marian Halcombe), Eleanor Parker (Laura Fairlie/Ann Catherick), Sydney Greenstreet (Count Alessandro Fosco), Gig Young (Walter Hartright), Agnes Moorehead (Countess Fosco), John Abbott (Frederick Fairlie), John Emery (Sir Percival Glyde) and Curt Bois (Louis).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 1: Dream Factory.

Of Human Bondage (1946, Edmund Goulding)

Slow-moving (which probably goes hand-in-hand with the source material, a novel that took me two months to read, just for lack of interest), but still rather good. Goulding is an interesting director, he really holds his shots, and he creates the material out of the basic frameworks of the novel. Paul Henreid’s Philip Carey becomes redeemable a lot sooner than Maugham’s does, which makes the second half of the film much more pleasant than the first. The second half also has a great Edmund Gwenn performance.

TCM tends to show Of Human Bondage on their Henreid or Alexis Smith days, but Smith’s hardly in the film. The female lead is Eleanor Parker, who’s great… but… Parker doesn’t get to exit the film. Her character does, from the back of the head, but it’s all Henreid’s scene. This choice is interesting (and appropriate) since Parker has a lot more to do in the film. I tend not to like actor-absence in the final scenes, but it lets Henreid become the center again. So much of the film is about Parker’s presence and absence, something jarring is needed to focus on Henreid. Henreid doesn’t even try to make his character likable, because the audience gets to see his faults over and over.

The feeling of the film–the long, torturous “bondage” Carey feels in regard to his relationship with Parker’s character–is absent in the book. The novel is big and long (I just recently referred to Lanark as an enjoyable version of Of Human Bondage–and I love Maugham, by the way) and it never leaves you feeling good. In the second half of the film, Gwenn gives every scene a pleasant end, so it’s appropriate the film manages to confirm some positivity in the human condition….

A couple odd points. 1) I always thought Alexis Smith played two characters. She doesn’t. Janis Paige plays the other one. 2) I can not understand why there’s a reference to Of Human Bondage in Seven. Not this film nor the book. Must have been an attempt at a smarty-pants move.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edmund Goulding; screenplay by Catherine Turney, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, J. Peverell Marley; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; produced by Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Paul Henreid (Philip Carey), Eleanor Parker (Mildred Rogers), Alexis Smith (Nora Nesbitt), Edmund Gwenn (Athelny), Patric Knowles (Griffiths), Janis Paige (Sally Athelny), Henry Stephenson (Dr. Tyrell), Marten Lamont (Dunsford), Isobel Elsom (Mrs. Athelny), Una O’Connor (Mrs. Foreman), Eva Moore (Mrs. Gray) and Richard Nugent (Emil Miller).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 1: Dream Factory.