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Trio (1950, Ken Annakin and Harold French)

Trio is a lopsided anthology of three W. Somerset Maugham short story adaptations. The first two segments, directed by Ken Annakin, are deliberate, thoughtful, wry comedies. The last one, directed by Harold French–and taking up over half the film’s runtime–is something of a tragedy. It’s deeply, chastely romantic, full of characters and enough story to probably run for a feature length outing on its own. Instead, it gets fifty minutes to meander to its finish.

Maugham introduces each story, though not for very long. Trio cuts away from him while he’s in mid-sentence, the uncredited narrator always cutting him off. Kind of strange, given Maugham’s one of the three screenwriters. Apparently someone thought he’d detract from the adaptations themselves.

Annakin does an excellent job with the first two segments.

The first has long-time church verger James Hayter losing his job. His boss finds out he can’t read or write and so does the Christian thing, throwing Hayter out on his butt (because liability issues). All right, so the vicar does give Hayter the chance to become literate but Hayter isn’t interested.

Hayter’s performance is awesome. It’s a quiet, cautious, deliberative performance. Much of the segment, at least in the first half, is just understanding Hayter’s perception of the world and his place in it. When he does make his moves for the future, involving landlady Kathleen Harrison, the segment speeds up quite a bit without losing any of its personality. Very nice work from Annakin, Harrison, and, obviously, Hayter.

The second segment has a much bigger principal cast. Nigel Patrick is an annoying passenger on an oceanliner, who irritates his roommate (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and his roommate’s colleague (Naunton Wayne) and the colleague’s wife (Anne Crawford). While the first segment does end with a bit of a punchline, the second just moves along until it gets to a smile.

The strong direction from Annakin, the excellent performances–particularly Patrick and Crawford, but everyone’s quite good–it gets Trio to a good place before kicking off the third story… the feature presentation, as it were.

Before cutting from Maugham, Trio establishes Roland Culver is going to be playing an analogue of the author. He’s got tuberculosis and he’s going to a sanatorium to recuperate. Sanatorium is also the title of the story. There he meets a cast of interesting people who have all sorts of things going on. Well, not Marjorie Fielding and Mary Merrall, who inexplicably don’t even warrant getting credited. They’re the two gossips who pishposh about goings on.

The main story is between Michael Rennie and Jean Simmons. He’s a retired Army officer and a determined cad. She’s the young woman who’s spent over a third of her life recuperating from tuberculosis but she’s not easily fooled. We never see her not be easily fooled, Culver just talks about observing it multiple times. Rennie pursues her, Simmons doesn’t want to be pursued, but doesn’t entirely avoid his attention.

Meanwhile, Raymond Huntley is a bore to visiting, suffering wife Betty Ann Davies. And John Laurie and Finaly Currie comedically bicker. André Morell’s the doctor in charge of the place, though he really doesn’t have anything to do. Neither does Culver. He’s just around to give Davies someone to talk with about Huntley. Rennie and Simmons function on their own, Laurie, Currie, Fielding, and Merrall are all background.

From the start, director French clearly doesn’t have the same kind of handle Annakin did on the first two segments. French and cinematographers Geoffrey Unsworth and Reginald H. Wyer frequently rely on bad projection backdrops, and French really doesn’t have anything interesting to do with all the talking heads shots. He’s seemingly more concerned with keeping it appear busy.

But the segment gets by. All the performances are good, even if the actors don’t have much in the way of parts. Whether due to the adaptation or the original text, the potentially good scenes (for the narrative) get avoided so there can be occasional reveals. When it does wrap up, it does so without much resolution. French is going for melodramatic effect, nothing else; shame the actors’ fine work adds up to so little. The segment needs more time. It’s got too much for the anthology and not enough for the story itself.

Trio’s universally well-acted, fairly well-written, either well-directed or at least mediocrely, but the lopsided nature of the segments–in terms of runtime and overall effect–hurt it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ken Annakin and Harold French; screenplay by W. Somerset Maugham, R.C. Sheriff, and Noel Langley, based on stories by Maugham; directors of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth and Reginald H. Wyer; edited by Alfred Roome; music by John Greenwood; produced by Antony Darnborough; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring James Hayter (Albert Foreman), Kathleen Harrison (Emma), Nigel Patrick (Kelada), Anne Crawford (Mrs. Ramsey), Naunton Wayne (Mr. Ramsey), Wilfrid Hyde-White (Mr. Gray), Roland Culver (Mr. Ashenden), Michael Rennie (Major Templeton), Jean Simmons (Miss Bishop), Betty Ann Davies (Mrs. Chester), Raymond Huntley (Mr. Chester), Finlay Currie (Mr. McLeod), Marjorie Fielding (Mrs. Whitbread), Mary Merrall (Miss Atkin), John Laurie (Mr. Campbell), and André Morell (Dr. Lennox).


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Quartet (1948, Ralph Smart, Harold French, Arthur Crabtree, and Ken Annakin)

Quartet opens with what turns out to be a questionable introduction from source story author W. Somerset Maugham. In the rather stodgy introduction to the film–featuring adaptations of four personal favorites from Maugham’s extensive bibliography–Maugham indentifies adjectives critics have given his work over the years.

Those adjectives prove useful during some of the film’s more labored sections.

While there are four different stories with four different directors and four different casts, screenwriter R.C. Sherriff handles the whole adaptation. The script doesn’t really affect the segments, since Sherriff sticks way too close to the source material for each of them. The cast and the directors make and break the segments, though the detached narratives–flashbacks in flashbacks in flashbacks–which might work fine in prose, clunk repeatedly on film.

The first story, boringly directed by Ralph Smart, has gentleman Basil Radford complaining to some of his chums about his son’s misbehaviors abroad. The flashback starts with Radford but then switches over to the son, the amiable if not particularly effective Jack Watling. The first segment gets the least effort in terms of production values–it’s set in Monte Carlo, where everything is inside save one hotel exterior (at night)–and it doesn’t help things.

Watling, ignoring Radford’s advice, tries his hands at gambling and womanizing. The woman in question is Mai Zetterling, who’s got a little more energy than Watling, but not much. The segment does move pretty, mostly because of their amiability, but it doesn’t amount to anything. It doesn’t amount to anything for Watling or for Radford.

The presupplied adjectives start coming into use as it winds down, though not the complimentary ones. Smart’s lack of direction doesn’t help at all.

The second story, featuring Dirk Bogarde as an heir to a country estate who just wants to be a professional pianist, has similarly unimpressive direction from Harold French. Quartet never takes the time to be stagy, though that approach might actually help given the reliance on interiors.

Bogarde’s parents, Raymond Lovell and Irene Browne, don’t approve of his career choices. Meanwhile cousin (Honor Blackman) ostensibly supports him, but really just wants to marry him.

The script and Bogarde’s performance get this one through, along with Blackman’s uneven performance being a lot better in the first half than the second. She doesn’t get any help from French, who ruins her best possible moment during Bogarde’s big piano recital by superimposing previous dramatic events on the frame. A few minutes later, Bogarde gets a similar opportunity and French (and editor Ray Elton) use medium shots instead of close-ups, sapping his expressions.

A clunky epilogue doesn’t help either. It’s back to those adjectives Maugham supplied in the opening bookend.

The third segment, directed by Arthur Crabtree, is a flashback in a flashback in a flashback. A narrator, who seems like it should be Maugham but doesn’t sound like him (and is uncredited), explains it’s a story his friend Bernard Lee told him. Lee is a prison visitor, someone who helps out incarcerted chaps and provides an ear or shoulder as needed. Lee meets prisoner George Cole, who’s in jail for a peculiar reason. Crabtree, Sherriff, and Maugham drag out the revelation of why way too long before getting into Cole’s story. Oh, wait, there’s actually a flashback in a flashback in a flashback in a flashback at one point.

Anyway, Cole’s in jail because he doesn’t want to support his wife (Susan Shaw) because she broke his kite. Why does Cole care about kites? Why would Shaw want to break one? A lot of it has to do with Cole’s overbearing, protective mother Hermione Baddeley, who thinks Shaw is a harpy. And Shaw is a harpy. And Baddeley is awful. It’s a story without any sympathetic characters, much less any one would want to identify with; it drags on and on, easily the lowpoint of Quartet, even if it’s better directed than the first two segments. It’s just grating. Intentionally so.

And its conclusion, presumambly straight from the source story, is downright asinine, which wasn’t one of Maugham’s supplied adjectives, but definitely should have been. None of the performances are bad, they’re all as good as the poorly drawn caricatures deserve.

However, Quartet doesn’t just save the best for last, it saves the good one for last. Not only is Ken Annakin’s direction immediately superior, there’s no silly frame for the fourth segment and it’s got the pacing, plotting, and production values appropriate for a film.

Cecil Parker is an obnoxious, anti-intellectual upper-middle classman with various responsibilities around country and in London, though he mostly just likes London because mistress Linden Travers is there. Unbeknownst to him, wife Nora Swinburne has literary ambitions. She publishes a steamy book of verse and it becomes a huge hit. Parker doesn’t have any interest in reading it until he finds out it’s about a middle-aged woman and her love affair with a younger man.

The segment is a delight and about the only time Quartet approaches its promised insight into the human condition. Parker is fantastic as the bewildered, stogdy boob thrown into arty conversations and–dreadfully–book stores. No one addresses the obvious contradiction–he’s complaining to mistress Travers about Swinburne’s possible adultery–but it still comes through.

Annakin’s direction, focusing on Parker’s subdued but increasing outrage, is great. Travers is good, if underutilized. There’s a fun Ernest Thesiger cameo. And Swinburne, while she has the tale more worth telling, is good.

It almost saves Quartet, at least, as much as it could be saved after three lackluster–though reasonably well-paced–segments. But then there’s Maugham again, offering a parting thought or two to the viewer. Maybe if he had any insight into the film and its adaptations, but it doesn’t even seem like he’s seen them.

Maybe he got bored during the Crabtree directed one and gave up.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ralph Smart, Harold French, Arthur Crabtree, and Ken Annakin; screenplay by R.C. Sherriff, based on stories by W. Somerset Maugham; directors of photography, Reginald H. Wyer and Ray Elton; edited by Jean Barker and A. Charles Knott; music by John Greenwood; produced by Antony Darnborough; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring Jack Watling (Nicky), Mai Zetterling (Jeanne), Basil Radford (Henry Garnet), Dirk Bogarde (George Bland), Honor Blackman (Paula), Raymond Lovell (Sir Frederick Bland), Irene Browne (Lady Bland), Françoise Rosay (Lea Makart), George Cole (Herbert Sunbury), Hermione Baddeley (Beatrice Sunbury), Mervyn Johns (Samuel Sunbury), Susan Shaw (Betty Baker), Bernard Lee (Prison Visitor), Cecil Parker (Colonel Peregrine), Nora Swinburne (Mrs. Peregrine), Linden Travers (Daphne), and Ernest Thesiger (Henry Dashwood).


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Give Us the Moon (1944, Val Guest)

Even though Give Us the Moon ends up going exactly where I expected it to go, the film’s not predictable at all. It opens with Peter Graves’s post-war layabout. He was a war hero, his father (Frank Cellier) is a rich hotelier, he wants to do nothing with his life except enjoy it. Through coincidence, he meets a woman (Margaret Lockwood) who similarly wants to do nothing with her life except enjoy it–this idea of being idle following the war never gets a lot of attention, but many of the film’s characters share the thought–so Give Us the Moon will inevitably be a romantic comedy.

I mean, Lockwood’s got an assortment of fellow layabouts who provide wonderful support and she’s got an adorable, if troublesome little sister (a fantastic Jean Simmons). It’s got all the pieces for romantic comedy, only director Guest takes it in an entirely different direction. Eventually. Graves and Lockwood have immediate chemistry, which their characters recognize in one of the script’s most efficient moves, and for a while Moon stays on its predictable course.

Until Guest deviates, sort of demoting Graves from his position as protagonist, then even demoting Lockwood as his replacement. Instead, the film becomes this wonderful situational comedy involving all her sidekicks, led by Vic Oliver. Oliver’s a con artist, whether he’s trying to get a pound off would-be saviors or getting into a hotel suite, and he’s an absolute delight. The film introduces him, brings him back, starts lingering more on him and then realizes he’s the one to follow. Well, him and Simmons. She’s got a phenomenal arc, even managing to stay relevant when she’s off-screen for some of her character’s best action.

Graves is a charming lead; Lockwood gets some great material towards the beginning before joining the supporting ranks. Cellier’s good as Graves’s disappointed father and there’s wonderful support from everyone, especially Roland Culver, Eliot Makeham and Gibb McLaughlin. Guest’s direction is solid–though filming restraints are a little obvious (although it’s set after the war, Moon was made during it)–and it’s all technically fine. Maybe Phil Grindrod’s photography could be a little better, but it all works out.

It’s a delightful comedy, full of marvelous performances. It’s simultaneously fortunate and unfortunate Graves and Lockwood don’t have a better story arc. It’d be nice to have seen more of them, especially in the second half, but the film doesn’t really need them. There’s so much good stuff going on anyway; Guest’s wrangling of it all is most impressive.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Val Guest; screenplay by Guest, Caryl Brahms, S.J. Simon and Howard Irving Young, based on a novel by Brahms and Simon; director of photography, Phil Grindrod; edited by R.E. Dearing; music by Bob Busby; produced by Edward Black; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring Peter Graves (Peter Pyke), Margaret Lockwood (Nina), Vic Oliver (Sascha), Jean Simmons (Heidi), Frank Cellier (Mr. Pyke), Roland Culver (Ferdinand), Max Bacon (Jacobus), Iris Lang (Tania), George Relph (Otto), Gibb McLaughlin (Marcel) and Eliot Makeham (Dumka).


margaretlockwoodblogathon3

THIS POST IS PART OF THE MARGARET LOCKWOOD CENTENNIAL BLOGATHON HOSTED BY TERENCE TOWLES CANOTE OF A SHROUD OF THOUGHTS


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They Met in the Dark (1943, Carl Lamac)

They Met in the Dark offers James Mason as a romantic leading man in a thriller. For that one alone, it’s worth a look, but also because it’s an incredibly peculiar film. Not overall, unfortunately, because it descends into a routine wartime propaganda bit about fifth columnists–the details of the sinister plot are very familiar to anyone who’s seen 1930s Hitchcock films. But the point isn’t the plot–it takes some ludicrous turns–but the amusing turn… it reminds, especially at the beginning, of the Hollywood comedy mystery (maybe not a Thin Man but a Thin Man knock-off). It’s fun….

But, nicely, there’s more.

Something about the British filmmaking–even though Lamac was a Bohemian–makes They Met in the Dark quite different. It’s set in the small British village, in the small British pub, in the strange British country home, all staples of Hollywood films… seeing the British make a Hollywood film using those tropes makes for a constantly interesting viewing experience. Until the movie goes for the fifth columnists angle, which it doesn’t for quite a while and takes a little bit to get there even when it’s close, anything is possible and that possibility promises, unfortunately, more than They Met in the Dark delivers.

While Mason is great, once he’s got the girl–which happens a lot sooner than a) it should and b) it’s useful for the plot–his performance changes. It’s standard instead of singular. Mason gives such a wonderfully enigmatic performance–he is the protagonist–I kept suspecting him, along with the romantic interest, even though I knew it wasn’t him.

The female lead, Joyce Howard, is all wrong. She was twenty-one at the time of the film’s release–it was not her first role–her performance is too immature. It doesn’t fit the character’s actions. Phyllis Stanley, in the second female lead, is real good, so the contrast doesn’t help either. I mean, at the end–after I knew it wasn’t going to be Mason–I kept waiting for him to switch love interests, just because he and Howard are all wrong together. He and Stanley had three really nice scenes… Howard was only effective with him when she suspected he was a murderer.

Edward Rigby, David Farrar, Tom Walls, all good in supporting roles. Brefni O’Rorke has some funny scenes–he’s one of the characters who transitions from mystery comedy to wartime thriller the best.

The movie’s limited, obviously, by the plot and the genre, but there’s a lot good about it. Worth a look. The first twenty or thirty minutes are quite nice.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Lamac; screenplay by Anatole de Grunwald and Miles Malleson, from on a story by Basil Bartlett, Victor MacLure and James Seymour, based on a novel by Anthony Gilbert; director of photography, Otto Heller; edited by Winifred Cooper and Terence Fisher; music by Benjamin Frankel; produced by Marcel Hellman; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring James Mason (Richard Francis Heritage), Joyce Howard (Laura Verity), Tom Walls (Christopher Child), Phyllis Stanley (Lily Bernard), Edward Rigby (Mansel), Ronald Ward (Carter), David Farrar (Commander Lippinscott), Karel Stepanek (Riccardo), Betty Warren (Fay) and Walter Crisham (Charlie).


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