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.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Lost and found: The Deep Blue Sea, 1955

Hardly a "forgotten film", more like an unavailable one the 1955 THE DEEP BLUE SEA has not been properly available for decades, I was given a so-so copy a year or two ago but had not really bothered with it. Now though it is back, and being shown by the BFI in their November tribute to Vivien Leigh. It seems they have made a digital copy of a surviving 35mm print with variable quality, which they will be screening twice, so a new dvd may follow in due course. 
Stealing a march on the BFI, time to dig out my copy then - and the print is reasonably ok, not fuzzy but maybe a bit bleached out. It is of course one of Terence Rattigan's most famous plays and a key Vivien Leigh film. Leigh only made 8 films after GONE WITH THE WIND (WATERLOO BRIDGE, THAT HAMILTON WOMAN, CAESAR & CLEOPATRA, ANNA KARENINA in 1947, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, THE DEEP BLUE SEA in 1955, THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE in 1960 and SHIP OF FOOLS in 1965 - see Leigh label for reviews on these later ones. She also began that routine programmer ELEPHANT WALK in 1953 (an odd choice for her but it seems she wanted to work with Peter Finch, whom she was involved with) - but her illness forced her to leave the production, though it seems she is still seen in long shots, as she was replaced by Elizabeth Taylor.  So, finally to THE DEEP BLUE SEA:

I looked at my serviceable copy of it yesterday and its a fascinating mid-50s movie, it must have been novel at the time for the audience to see Lady Olivier putting a shilling in the gas meter to gas herself ... but her Hester seems to be on a similar arc as her Mrs Stone and Mrs Treadwell (SHIP OF FOOLS) - a glacial (some may say icy) beauty with deep needs which are not being fulfilled - by either her baffled lover Freddy (who flees to Canada to test planes) or her staid husband. Poor old Kenny More comes on as though he is still playing the silly ass from GENEVIEVE. The play has been opened up with flashbacks to how they met, at an aerodrome, the golf course, a society ball, and ski-ing as Klosters. They are referred to at the apartments as Mr and Mrs Page, but surely they are not married? Maybe they could not be seen living in sin then ...

Hester has attempted suicide in Freddy's absence but is rescued in time. Freddy is furious when he finds out (and gives her another shilling for the meter in case he is late for dinner!). Her husband (Emlyn Williams), a judge, is still in love with her, but seems not to provide the passion she seeks. The doctor (Eric Portman) who saved her life proffers some advice, but can Hester take control of her own destiny and live for herself? She could return to the judge and continue that high class existance .... 

It is a nice view of mid-'50s London, at that apartment house on the riverbank, and there are some familiar faces: Dandy Nichols, Moira Lister, Miriam Karlin, even Sid James as "man in street".  Ultimately it is Leigh's film, and as one of her classic roles it should be made available again. Terence Davies of course re-made it in 2011, rewriting the Rattigan original considerably to suit his own milieu, to the annoyance of the Rattigan purists. The 1955 film is pure Rattigan of course, like his play SEPARATE TABLES (Rattigan label). I saw him once giving a lecture at the National Film Theatre, sometime in the early '70s, a very dapper man; his house on Brighton seafront (which I used to live near) has a blue plaque in his honour.  

Leigh died in 1967, but was always a great beauty and a true star - I don't care for GWTW that much, but her Blanche DuBois in STREETCAR remains one of the great female performances in cinema, I particularly like THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE. Alexander Walker's biography captures her best, particularly that great era when she and Laurence Olivier were the reigning couple in British theatre. Above: SHIP OF FOOLS.


  1. Masterpiece of a Movie