Monday, September 08, 2014


After the war, wealthy banker Claude Rains and his younger wife (Ann Todd) are vacationing in the Swiss Alps. Todd arrives first and, unexpectedly, the long-lost love of her life (Trevor Howard) whom she hasn't seen since before the war, is staying in the room next to hers. She slips in and out of reveries about Howard and we get flashbacks that explain their relationship. Many years ago, before Todd met Rains, she and Howard were lovers; he proposed marriage but she treasured her independence, wanting love "without clutching" and, fearing that marriage would trigger feelings of possession, she turned him down. In 1939, at a New Year's party, they meet again; he's with a date and she's with her husband, Rains. She cares for Rains, but their marriage is sexless and she seems satisfied with the status quo, but when Rains leaves on an extended business trip, she and Howard meet for lunch which leads to a long afternoon together which leads to an affair. When Rains finds out, the three have a confrontation and she agrees to end it. Now, in Switzerland, Todd and Howard—who is married with kids—become reacquainted and he pushes her to resume their affair, but she hesitates. Unfortunately, Rains arrives and, seeing them return from a picnic in the mountains, assumes the worst. He instigates divorce proceedings, which leaves Todd with mixed emotions, but when she finds out that Howard is unlikely to leave his family, she is driven to a desperate act.

This romantic melodrama from David Lean sounds routine, but the performances, some location shooting, and lovely black & white cinematography bring it up a notch, making it compelling viewing. The tricky flashback structure keeps you on your toes for the first half of the film. Todd and Howard seem very natural as the illicit lovers; Rains' character is mostly unlikable but complex enough that he never comes off as a villain. The marriage between Rains and Todd is basically a marriage of convenience and neither one kids themselves about that (at one point, he even says that he knows she likes, not loves, him). That fact makes it a bit difficult to accept Rains' furor when he thinks she fooling around—he says on the one hand that he knows she likes her independence, yet he is unwilling to give her too much of it. The ending is a tad far-fetched but satisfying. By the end, I was unsure to whom the title referred: Todd and Howard? Or Todd and Rains? Pictured are Todd and Howard, with Rains in the middle (and out of focus). [TCM]

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