Tuesday, July 18, 2006

THE FAN (1949)

Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan" is the basis for this amusing comedy of manners. I haven't seen or read the play, and predictably most critics don't like the liberties the movie takes with the original material, but on its own merits, I found this to be a pleasant enough diversion. The frame story, set in post-WWII London, has the ancient Mrs. Erlynne (Madeleine Carroll) claiming to be the owner of an fan being sold at an auction; she contacts her old friend Lord Darlington (George Sanders) so he can prove her identity, but his memory needs some prodding, so the rest of the film is a series of flashbacks to a time when Carroll, a middle-aged "adventuress," as she calls herself, is rebuilding her life (for reasons which remain hidden from us until much later in the film) and attempting to make a place for herself in London high society. She charms a trio of moneyed men (Sanders, John Sutton, and the young and handsome Richard Greene) and sets out to marry the boring but rich Lord Augustus (Hugh Dempster). Lord Windermere (Greene) helps her out socially and financially, and rumors of an affair between the two eventually reach Lady Windermere (Jeanne Crain) thanks to gossipy duchess Martita Hunt. It turns out that Greene has good reasons for helping her out, though the secret is a good one so I won't give it away here. Suffice to say that things climax in a semi-farcical drawing room scene of mistaken identity (and mistaken intentions), and though the movie is a comedy, there is a mood of sad resignation in the way matters ultimately play out. Widean one-liners abound--at least I assume that most of them are drawn from Wilde, even though famed wit Dorothy Parker had a hand in the screenplay. One of my favorites here has Dempster saying, "Sometimes I think I'm married to Mrs. Erlynne, she treats me with such damned indifference!" All the actors are fine, especially Sanders and Hunt, and the relatively lightweight Greene and Crain hold their own nicely. Richard Ney (the soldier son in Mrs. Miniver) and Terry Kilburn (Tiny Tim in the 1938 Christmas Carol) make brief appearances. Wilde purists may quibble (as Noel Coward purists rightfully complain about the bowdlerization of most of his works by Hollywood), but I thought the film was fun. [FMC]

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