Thursday, May 08, 2003


I've wanted to see this ever since I saw the 1992 remake with Miranda Richardson and Joan Plowright. I recall that film as being enjoyable, in a "Merchant-Ivory lite" way, and this version, though not as strong on characterization, is almost as much fun. It opens on a rainy English afternoon, with Ann Harding visiting her local ladies club, meeting up with a stranger (Katherine Alexander), and expressing her frustration with her husband, Frank Morgan. He had been a mild-mannered scholar until, with her prodding, he started writing bestselling romanticized biographies; Alexander happens to be reading his book on Madame Dubarry. Morgan has moved out of the house into a studio (temporarily, he insists) and Harding is feeling at sea. Similarly, Alexander suffers quietly with her husband, Reginald Owen, a stuffy blowhard, something of a exaggerated variation on the charcter of Mr. Banks in MARY POPPINS. The two women decide to rent an villa in Italy for the month of April and to help with expenses, they get two upper-class women, Jessie Ralph as an old dowager and Jane Baxter as a young and lovely heiress, to share the place. The women have some problems adjusting to each other at first, but just as things are going smoothly, the husbands show up. Owen follows out of admiration for his wife's initiative; it turns out that Morgan has been having an affair with Baxter and he arrives to see her, unaware of his wife's presence. Adding to the complications, the villa's owner, Ralph Forbes, a dandyish painter, shows up to flirt with anyone who responds. Very short, just over an hour, and therefore character development is sacrificed. Background about Morgan's affair is nonexistent, and Jessie Ralph's character, though amusing, is made up of superficial stereotypes with no depth. Things are wrapped up far too quickly, as though the studio had a stopwatch running. Harding looks the part, but can't handle the light comic dialogue--clever lines that might have sounded sparkling from Myrna Loy or Irene Dunne fall flat out of her mouth. Unlike the '92 verison, this was not shot on location, but the sets work well enough. Short and sweet, and worth watching.

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