Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 4 March 2011

A Rattigan double bill

A terrific early '50s double bill of Terence Rattigan adaptations - I thought I would steal a march on the London NFT (National Film Theatre) with their mini-Rattigan season in April, it being Rattigan's centenary year (as it is also Tennessee Williams]. Several Rattigan productions are already on their way to being staged here - a new version of FLARE PATH opens shortly by Trevor Nunn (this was the basis for the great 1945 THE WAY TO THE STARS) [my review of this favourite is at War label], and there is also a new production of CAUSE CELEBRE and Terence Davies has made a new version of THE DEEP BLUE SEA (the 1955 Vivien Leigh film being curiously unavailable for years [though I did source a copy last year]. So it seems Rattigan is back being in favour again. I saw him give a lecture back at the NFT in the early '70s when he was as spry and dapper as ever. His great successes of the '50s and those scripts he turned out in the '60s for films like THE VIPS, THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE and that remake of GOODBYE MR CHIPS had all been quite successful, though his type of well made plays had temporarily gone out of fashion with the arrival of the 'kitchen sink' dramatists.

I had not seen THE SOUND BARRIER before and it is a revelation. Totally engrossing and marvellously filmed by David Lean, as meticulous as ever, with great depths of controlled feeling and emotion, depicting the breaking of the sound barrier. This may have been done by pilot Chuck Yeager back in 1947 (as shown in THE RIGHT STUFF), but this drama excels as driven industrialist Ralph Richardson and his equally driven test pilots Nigel Patrick and then John Justin take the controls of those aircraft. We get great aerial photography, no obvious process shots, and those aircraft like the Comet are lovingly filmed. Ann Todd (Mrs Lean at the time) excels here, as she does in Lean's 1948 THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS (another great discovery recently) as Richardson's daughter who has already seen her brother (Denholm Elliot) die in a plane crash trying to please his father, and now her husband is also going to try to smash the sound barrier. That excellent actor John Justin is the other pilot - with that ideal home life with Dinah Sheridan to whom Todd flees when she can no longer stay with her tyrant (or is he?) father. The drama is nicely resolved and there is a nice detour with a trip to Egypt - quite a novelty then I imagine. It is just a perfect early 50s British film, with those actors like Richardson, Patrick and Todd at the top of their game, as of course was Lean and Rattigan.

THE BROWNING VERSION is Anthony Asquith's sterling 1951 film of Rattigan's play, again superbly cast with Michael Redgrave in perhaps his best film role (along with Losey's TIME WITHOUT PITY in 1957) as the schoolmaster Crocker-Brown, with Jean Kent as his unfaithful wife and Nigel Patrick again (as insouciant as ever) as her lover.
Once a brilliant teacher, Redgrave has turned into a desiccated, unfeeling pedant, despised by his colleagues and feared by his pupils, apart from young Taplow. Ill-health has prompted his early retirement, but it is apparent that his departure will go unmourned, in contrast to that of his attractive wife (Jean Kent). Dismissed as outdated and irrelevant after the Angry Young Men of the mid '50s rendered his middle-class scenarios unfashionable, Rattigan was a master technician of drama, and his dialogue and pacing are faultless. I like that long terrific scene with Redgrave and Patrick where the latter regrets his affair with the spiteful wife and tries to make amends, but Redgrave knows well how unsatisfied his wife is and how it is his fault. There is so much restraint and control here it is quite affecting. There was a 1994 remake but like those lightweight recent remakes of Wilde's THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST and AN IDEAL HUSBAND they are just not in the same league as the 1952 and 1947 originals.


  1. One excellent Rattigan remake is John Schlesinger's television version of "Seperate Tables" from the 80's, which was stagy, but more faithful to the play than the 50's movie. It featured marvelous performances by Julie Christie and Alan Bates, who always worked so well together, as well as Claire Bloom and Irene Worth. Well worth checking out if you can find it!

  2. It was only ever shown once by the BBC. Surely they still have it. The National Film Theatre is only showing the 1958 film as part of their Rattigan season. I saw a revival of Separate Tables (must have been late 70s) with John Mills and Jill Bennett playing the leads in both of the two acts which the film jumbled up together.

  3. Yes, that's how it was done on stage, and also in Schlesinger's version. The stars each played dual roles, as it was structured more like two one-act plays in that each act highlighted a different set of characters. I suppose in 1958 they wanted to up the star power by having four stars rather than two.

  4. Yes - particularly as it was produced by the Hecht-Hill-Lancaster production team for United Artists, with Lancaster to star and Rita Hayworth was Mrs Hill at the time!