Tag Archives: Noel Coward

Brief Encounter (1945, David Lean)

For the majority of Brief Encounter, I had very little opinion of Lean’s direction. It’s incredibly dispassionate and functional, but very solid. I think I assumed it’d be innovative (along the lines of the Archers) but it’s not. Very realistic, very British.

Until the second to last scene, when Lean has to essay the most dramatic moment in the film and fails miserably. He gets away with it for a couple reasons, which I’ll discuss in a moment, but it’s a terrible moment and Lean forecasts it as well, making it even worse.

But he gets away with it because Brief Encounter relies very little on his direction. The film rises and falls with Celia Johnson. Though the film is about her and Trevor Howard’s infidelity (he’s a married doctor, she’s a housewife–though she does have a maid and cook, so housewife doesn’t have the same connotation as the American sense), the film’s not about Howard at all. Quite unfortunately, Johnson narrates the film in her internal monologue confession to her boring but loving husband (Cyril Raymond).

If Johnson’s performance can overcome that narration–the film eventually breaks from it to show a single, humanizing scene with Howard–she can make Lean’s unfortunate spinning camera go away.

Brief Encounter is a rather good film, but fails to be anything extraordinary (except in terms of Johnson’s acting).

Oh, I forgot–the other way Lean makes up for the terrible direction moment. Immediately following it, there’s an exquisite fade, simply masterful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Lean; screenplay by Anthony Havelock-Allan, Lean and Ronald Neame, based on a play by Noel Coward; director of photography, Robert Krasker; edited by Jack Harris; produced by Lean, Havelock-Allan and Neame; released by Eagle-Lion Distributors Limited.

Starring Celia Johnson (Laura Jesson), Trevor Howard (Dr. Alec Harvey), Stanley Holloway (Albert Godby), Joyce Carey (Myrtle Bagot), Cyril Raymond (Fred Jesson), Everley Gregg (Dolly Messiter), Marjorie Mars (Mary Norton) and Margaret Barton (Beryl Walters, Tea Room Assistant).


RELATED

Advertisements

The Italian Job (1969, Peter Collinson)

What a strange film. I’d never really heard of it, past the title, so… I didn’t know what to expect, but even if I’d known something about it, I doubt I could have expected it.

Collinson is a fantastic Panavision director, so the Italian Job is always watchable, even through the awkward opening. The first act or so pretends it’s a traditional heist movie with Michael Caine as the lead. In addition to playing a lucky recently released convict (the heist has nothing to do with his ability, just his enthusiasm), he’s also the most irresistible man in all of England. The first fifteen minutes do little but feature women swooning for Caine.

Also incredibly strange is Noel Coward’s criminal mastermind (imagine a Bond villain as an affable British gentleman). It’s silly, but funny… especially his cell walls covered in pictures of the Queen.

It takes a while to make itself clear, but the Italian Job is a farce. It’s not a spoof of a heist movie, instead it is farcical.

The heist sequence, which removes actors and gives the audience cars to root for and identify with, is exhilarating. It’s not particularly strikingly choreographed for a car chase, but the Italian locations and Collinson’s composition make it great to watch.

Speaking of Italian locations, the film’s so outrageously anti-Italian, I can’t believe they were allowed to film there.

And a great score from Quincy Jones.

It’s slow to define itself, but once it does… it’s a great time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Collinson; written by Troy Kennedy-Martin; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by John Trumper; music by Quincy Jones; production designer, Disley Jones; produced by Michael Deeley; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Charlie Croker), Noel Coward (Mr. Bridger), Benny Hill (Professor Simon Peach), Raf Vallone (Altabani), Tony Beckley (Freddie), Rossano Brazzi (Beckerman), Margaret Blye (Lorna), Irene Handl (Miss Peach), John Le Mesurier (Governor) and Fred Emney (Birkinshaw).


RELATED

Design for Living (1933, Ernst Lubitsch)

From the first third of Design for Living, it’s impossible to think it might not be absolutely fantastic throughout. Eventually it does hit a dry period and it’s impossible to think it’s going to pull out of it. Then it does and it’s impossible to think… well, you get the idea. I don’t know why I wasn’t fully trusting of Lubitsch, but during that dry spell, I really did think he’d lost control of the film.

The problem he–and the characters–needs to work out is a familiar one, the love triangle, but here with the added complication of the two male legs being best friends. I’m not sure how much of the solution Lubitsch got from Noel Coward’s source play (Ben Hecht’s adaptation only retained one line of dialogue and I can’t find any information on the plotting), but Lubitsch’s resolution is perfect. The film’s already over its bumpy period and it’s already assured he’s going to end it well, but the way he does is even better than expected.

The bumpy period–which probably only lasts fifteen minutes, at most, of the film’s ninety minute running time–is distinct because of what it lacks. The film opens with Miriam Hopkins sitting down across from Gary Cooper and Fredric March. The opening minutes are silent, followed by a minute of Cooper and Hopkins speaking French, then it’s the trio full steam. They all play perfectly off each other, so when the film’s without them–when it’s just March or just Cooper–it doesn’t work right. Hopkins works great with both of them, but they don’t work quite so well when they aren’t together. In fact, there’s a whole scene emphasizing that point.

Seeing Cooper and March–two leading men–sharing a film like this one, complimenting each other so well, it’s hard to believe they never reunited. The film only spends thirty seconds establishing the friendship–silently no less–between the two. While March went on to do a lot of comedies, Cooper only did them in his (relatively) early career, at least playing up his abilities as a physical comedian. Both of them are superb; hearing them fire Hecht’s dialogue back and forth is joyous.

What’s so frustrating about not knowing how Hecht’s adaptation works is in terms of discussing the scene structure. If I didn’t know the film came from a play, had I missed the opening titles, I might have guessed it. The scenes have a lot of dialogue and a lack of mobility–even if it’s a multi-room setting, the action takes place in the same areas. But then there are other touches–Lubitsch communicating the passage of time with an advertisement on a bus, for example–which are entirely filmic.

The handling of Edward Everett Horton’s character, a ludicrous suitor for Hopkins, is also rather filmic. Horton manages the film’s second most difficult performance (Hopkins having the first, having to convey her conflicted feelings for both Cooper and March in a constantly fresh way); Horton has to both be believable and absurd. The film makes a few drastic changes to the character to keep him in line for the narrative to work and Horton negotiates them well. He’s an amusing, antagonistic buffoon.

The film’s such a success, I’m a little surprised I hadn’t heard of it before. Between the performances–the pairing of Cooper and March and Hopkins in general–Lubitsch’s sublime direction (that opening is masterful), and Hecht’s script… Design for Living should be much better known.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch; screenplay by Ben Hecht, based on the play by Noel Coward; director of photography, Victor Milner; edited by Frances Marsh; music by John Leipold; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Fredric March (Tom Chambers), Gary Cooper (George Curtis), Miriam Hopkins (Gilda Farrell), Edward Everett Horton (Max Plunkett), Franklin Pangborn (Mr. Douglas), Isabel Jewell (Plunkett’s Stenographer), Jane Darwell (Curtis’s Housekeeper) and Wyndham Standing (Max’s Butler).


RELATED

Our Man in Havana (1959, Carol Reed)

As Our Man in Havana opened, I couldn’t help thinking of Touch of Evil. Reed uses a cock-eyed angle a few times throughout the film and it looks like Evil. The music doesn’t hurt either. Except, I hadn’t realized it was Reed–the opening titles start a few minutes in to the film–and then all I could think about was The Third Man for the opening titles. The film picks up immediately following, so the preoccupation didn’t last.

Our Man in Havana is a quiet film. A quiet film with a loud music, but a quiet film. It’s hard to explain, or maybe not so much–it’s quiet in the scenes where Maureen O’Hara and Alec Guinness communicate silently and it’s quiet in the scenes where Guinness has to do things and can’t tell anyone, including the audience. It gets even quieter than those two examples, but I don’t really want to spoil anything.

The film is an odd mix of comedy and suspense. Reed handles the mood perfectly, even treating some of Guinness scenes–the early ones–like old Ealing comedies. It all changes when O’Hara arrives, then the film becomes strangely Hollywood–before, with just Burl Ives and Ernie Kovacs, Havana seems small and peculiar, but when O’Hara shows up (in one of those quiet scenes) she signals a change–not just to film’s atmosphere or to the second act accelerating, but to Guinness’s character as well. The small British comedy–albeit in Cinemascope–has all of a sudden gotten out of his hands.

There’s not a false step in the film, from the first few moments with Noel Coward’s small role as Guinness’s recruiter. It’s an Ealing comedy about British people abroad, mixed with a spy thriller, but the result is … obviously, quiet. It’s a quiet film about expatriates and the friendship among them. For some of it. Towards the end, it shaves off even the expatriates part and just becomes about friendship. (Quietly, of course).

Guinness is perfect and Ives and O’Hara are both great–their scenes together, Guinness and Ives and Guinness and O’Hara, are wonderful–but the most surprising performance is Kovacs. He brings this humanity and a sadness to his performance, in a role those traits would seem to be incompatible and creates a lot of beautiful moments in the third act.

Our Man in Havana is shamefully unavailable in region one (it’s out in the UK). It’s certainly a reason for one to investigate as a region-free DVD player.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Carol Reed; screenplay by Graham Greene, based on his novel; director of photography, Oswald Morris; edited by Bert Bates; music by Frank Deniz and Laurence Deniz; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Alec Guinness (Jim Wormold), Burl Ives (Dr. Hasselbacher), Maureen O’Hara (Beatrice Severn), Ernie Kovacs (Capt. Segura), Noel Coward (Hawthorne), Ralph Richardson (‘C’), Jo Morrow (Milly Wormold), Grégoire Aslan (Cifuentes) and Paul Rogers (Hubert Carter).


RELATED