Friday, March 15, 2013


British diplomat Harrington Brande is upset at his latest move, from Madrid to the less important coastal town of St. George. His career has stalled out, he believes, because of his messy divorce, though later he is told by his boss that, for all his academic credentials, it is his coldness and lack of humanity that keeps him back. Indeed, he loves his 11-year-old son Nicholas very much, but has a hard time showing it; he is overly protective of the boy, homeschooling him and keeping him away from companions his age because he's "delicate." At St. George, Brande hires a local gardener named José and soon Nicholas is outside helping José with his chores. The two form a close bond which makes Brande irrationally jealous. Eventually he forbids the two to talk to each other, but when Brande is called back to Madrid briefly, José and the boy go fishing together. That night, the drunken servant Garcia threatens Nicholas and he runs to José's house, spending the night there. When Brande arrives home, he is furious. To cement José's fate, Garcia frames José for the theft of Nicholas's watch. Brande has the gardener arrested and intends to press charges, but José escapes into the hills and Nicholas goes after him. When confronted with evidence of Garcia's guilt, Brande tries to do the right thing, but he may be too late.

Like THE FALLEN IDOL, another classic British film centered on a diplomat's son, this is about a child and his first experiences of disillusionment with the adult world. Nicholas believes his father loves him, but also misses his mother and, without knowing it, misses having friends. José sees what the father is doing and takes on the role of surrogate father, knowing he'll probably pay for it somehow. This being a character study, the acting is important and the whole cast is fine. Dirk Bogarde (pictured), at his youngest and most handsome, makes José a believable character, not just a plot device. Jon Whiteley is excellent as the boy, and Cyril Cusack is just as good as the slimy servant, who truly seems to be diseased and decadent, though he's not fleshed out enough for us to know why. But despite the title, this movie is really about the diplomat and he is embodied perfectly by character actor Michael Hordern who manages the difficult feat of seeming to be both a distant and smothering father. Some critics have suggested a homoerotic sheen to the relationship between José and Nicholas, perhaps because of the secretive nature of the friendship, though except for the fact that José is intended to be an earthy and sensual character, I don't see it. I do, however, see something a little strange in the makeup of Brande; we never find out why he and his wife are divorced, and when his boss explains why he's not getting a promotion, he tells him, "It is as a man that you fail." Mostly shot in England, but the Spanish exteriors are lovely.  [TCM]

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