Wednesday, August 01, 2007

QUARTET (1948)

An anthology film of four short stories by Somerset Maugham. In its day, this film was seen as something unusual and its success led to two more Maugham films and a handful of other "omnibus" movies, but without a unifying theme or other organizing principal, it plays out like four randomly chosen episodes of a TV show. I've read some Maugham and I don't think of him as an O. Henry-type author whose stories turn on an ironic twist ending, but most of these do just that. In "The Facts of Life," a father (Basil Radford) tells his men's club friends about his son's adventures in Monte Carlo. After being warned by his father against gambling, lending money, and hanging out with strange women, the boy (Jack Watling) proceeds to gamble, lend money, and go home with a strange woman (Mai Zetterling). But instead of it all being the cause of his ruin, things actually go oddly right for the boy, which totally mystifies the old man. The delightful Naunton Wayne, who is frequently coupled with Radford in British movies to good comic effect, has a small role as one of the friends. The second story, "The Alien Corn," stars Dirk Bogarde as a young upper-class man who turns 21 and tells his father that his only ambition is to be become a professional pianist. The father is not happy but is persuaded to give him enough money to study in Paris for two years. When he comes back, he will submit to a "test" from an experienced pianist (Francoise Rosay), and if she says he has what it takes, he'll be allowed to follow his dream. The outcome is not terribly surprising, but it plays out well. Honor Blackman, who entered movie immortality as Pussy Galore in GOLDFINGER, plays his girl friend.

"The Kite" is a silly little story with elements of Mary Poppins and Bartleby. George Cole is a young man, still living with his parents, who is obsessed with kites and is quite proud of one very special kite he made on his own. He falls in love with Susan Shaw, disturbing his family's equilibrium, especially his mother's (Hermione Baddley). The kites become a weapon in a minor war between Shaw and Baddley, with the father (Mervyn Johns, who was Bob Cratchit in the Alastair Sim Christmas Carol) more or less observing from the sidelines. After Shaw smashes Cole's kite, he leaves her and refuses to pay any financial support, so he goes to jail where it seems as if he'll be a Bartleby figure, simply refusing to do anything, but the story is given a somewhat unconvincing happy ending by its narrator (Bernard Lee), a prison social worker. In the last story, "The Colonel's Lady," Cecil Parker is a stuffy country gentleman (a bit like Radford was in the first story) whose rather passive wife (Nora Swinburne) gets a book of poetry published. She gives him a copy to read, but he isn't interested until he realizes that the book is getting quite a bit of attention as a passionate, sexy read about a woman's memories of her dead lover. This last story has a near-perfect mix of humor and seriousness and solid performances from all, including Ernest Thesiger and Felix Aylmer. Each story is fine on its own, but, as I noted above, the lack of a strong tie between the tales leaves one feeling at sea. Maugham himself introduces the film, rather awkwardly. Among anthology films, the American O. HENRY'S FULL HOUSE is a little more fun, and the earlier British DEAD OF NIGHT is a must-see. [TCM]

1 comment:

Heartmates said...

It is a great series of must see movies recommendations. I will be watching one of the movie this weekend.


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