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.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

3 very British treats

THE ASTONISHED HEART, 1950, written by Noel Coward who also scored the music and he stars too as the psychiatrist contentedly married to Barbara (Celia Johnson). Barbara meets her old school friend Leonora (Margaret Leighton) by chance and they become friends again. There is an initial coolness between the husband and Leonora but soon passions are raging beneath those stiff upper lip exteriors as they embark on an affair. The wife though does not seem to mind too much and even encourages the lovers to go away together. Is she waiting for it to run out of steam and he will return to her? I knew nothing about this 1950 rarity so the ending is a surprise. It is all redolent of that older age of film-making, easy to spoof now, with the upper-class accents, the high life in Mayfair (complete with butler and cook) as Coward and Leighton do the rounds of nightclubs and restaurants, ordering their stingers and trying the samba. The two ladies are of course splendid as ever (with Leighton, as gowned by Molyneux, the height of late 40s chic), but it is odd seeing Coward with his clipped vocal delivery and mandarin appearance as the clever man torn between two women [he was perfect though with Johnson in IN WHICH WE SERVE] … it seems Michael Redgrave was set to star initially. Coward’s pals Graham Payn and Joyce Carey are in support, and co-director is Terence Fisher who helmed those Hammer classics. A very intriguing oddity then - essential though not to know how it is going to end....

Much more conventional is THE HOLLY AND THE IVY from 1952. Adapted from a play and directed by George More O’Ferrell it is a “heartwarming tale of an English minister and his family reunited at Christmas time” so why isn’t it a Christmas perennial? Ralph Richardson is the rather bumbling minister but he hardly seems old enough to be the father of daughters Celia Johnson and Margaret Leighton (again) or son Denholm Elliott. Celia is the dutiful daughter who stays at home to look after him but she longs to leave and marry reliable John Gregson who has an offer of work abroad. Also returning home is Leighton as the wayward daughter in London whose life has gone wrong – she has taken to drink after the loss of her wartime lover and the death of her child. As son Denholm rails to the minister, he cannot be told the truth about them, but he turns out to be very human and understands perfectly as solutions are found to suit everyone. Add in two maiden aunts (one very bitter about losing her own chances of marriage by having to look after aged parents) and suave Hugh Williams and the stage is set for a nice drama played out with the snow falling on that perfectly quaint English village. I loved it.

Back to 1945 (the year I was born!) for THE SEVENTH VEIL, an enormous hit at the time and one can see why. It's a delirious melodrama, classily done, which pushes all the right buttons: lots of music, heightened emotions and great roles for James Mason and Ann Todd. Todd starts as a convincing 14 year old in pigtails, in thrall to her ward Nicholas (Mason with that cane…). She becomes a famous pianist but is always under the Svengali-like spell of her lame cousin/guardian and mentor until she attempts suicide by jumping off a bridge. Enter the doctor (Herbert Lom) who tries to unlock her secrets and her phobia about playing again. Lom discovers the severely shy young woman's repressed need for love, and her guardian's overbearing need to live his life's dream through her and her talent as a pianist. By the end her three suitors (the band-leader she wanted to elope with, before Nicholas whisked her off to Paris, and the painter who fell for her as he painted her, as well as the brooding Nicholas) are all waiting to see which she will choose – but it is not really a surprise. Lom, in a long and varied career, went on to play the psychiatrist in a successful tv series THE HUMAN JUNGLE.

Todd, with her odd Garbo quality, is fascinating as ever here, and no wonder Mason was soon on his way to Hollywood. Todd though remains virtually unknown of all the major British actresses of the ‘40s – was she too patrician or aloof for the moviegoers to take to their collective bosoms? Directed by Compton Bennett, with an Oscar-winning script by Muriel and Sydney Box.

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