Saturday, April 25, 2009


Trevor Howard (left) is an associate police commissioner in the British territory of Sierra Leone in West Africa during WWII. He is unhappily married to Elizabeth Allan, who is herself unhappy being stuck in a backwater colony, and she's even more unhappy when Howard is passed over for a promotion and doesn't make a fuss about it. She is flirting with, and maybe having an affair with, Denholm Elliott, who though young and handsome seems a bit seedy and decadent. The Catholic Howard is disturbed when another officer hangs himself, and he and a priest (Peter Finch) have an angry dialogue about whether or not suicide is the one sin that God cannot forgive. Soon, Howard is in trouble on a couple of fronts: in order to get money for his wife to take a vacation to South Africa, he takes out a loan from a notorious criminal (Gerard Oury), which complicates his association with a diamond smuggling case the police have been working on. At the same time, he gets involved in a passionate affair with a young widowed Austrian refugee (Maria Schell). When the wife returns and the police get suspicious about his relationship with Oury, things start to fall apart for Howard.

I haven't read much Graham Greene, but I wouldn't think that his books about Catholic faith and marital problems would be movie bait; nevertheless, much of his work (Catholic-centered and otherwise) has been adapted for the screen, and successfully. Even more interesting is that what are arguably two of the best Greene films were done in the 50's, though they seem more akin to recent indie films in their indirect and slow-building narrative arcs. (The other film is the 1956 THE END OF THE AFFAIR.) Howard is excellent as a man unmoored, even from his god. The entire cast is top-drawer, especially Oury who went on to make a name as a director in the 60's and 70's. The ending is apparently different from that of the novel, but is almost as bleak. As a long-lapsed Catholic boy, I still find films and novels about Catholics interesting, and this is certainly among the best. [TCM]

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