Sunday, January 30, 2011


This romantic melodrama has a strong reputation among classic movie fans, but I've avoided it largely because I don't have a high tolerance for the genre; the mixture of romance and pathos and high emotion has to be just right for me to appreciate it (as in HUMORESQUE). We first meet Leslie Howard, a famous concert violinist at the end of a successful American tour; he and his pianist (John Halliday), who is retiring, head back to their native Sweden where Howard is happy to catch up with his wife and children. When he meets his daughter's piano teacher (Ingrid Bergman), who is also a protege of Halliday's, he barely notices her until he hears her play and realizes her potential. After a romantic evening together at the symphony, they stroll around town and fall in love. She fights the feeling for a while, but when he suggests she come along on his European tour as his accompanist, their flirtation becomes a full-blown affair. They have an idyllic time until reality intrudes in two ways: 1) his wife serves him with divorce papers, and 2) Bergman gets word through Halliday that she has won a prestigious musical scholarship. Halliday assumes that the two will come to their senses and end their affair, and they do, half-heartedly, but soon a near-tragedy will cause Howard to finally make a decision one way or another.

Though this film is short (70 minutes), it feels longer, and not in a good way. The beginning of the affair is handled well, and Howard and Bergman have a nice, casually intimate chemistry. For a time, when it works well, it feels like the much better British film BRIEF ENCOUNTER, but when melodrama takes over, things get draggy. It might have helped to have given the supporting cast more to do, especially the always welcome Cecil Kellaway as Howard's manager. Halliday is OK, though Edna Best is bland as the wronged wife; Ann E. Todd gets a few good scenes as Howard's daughter. The masterful Gregg Toland does his usual solid work as cinematographer. I suppose now that I've seen this, I'll need to see the other big romance I've avoided for too long, AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER. [TCM]

No comments: