Wednesday, March 25, 2015


This remake of the 1925 silent film THE CIRCLE, which I reviewed earlier this month, makes me realize why the original film felt unsatisfying. The earlier movie changed the ending of the original Somerset Maugham play to be more conventional; this version, as the title hints, is perhaps a bit unconventional but more interesting and maybe more realistic. Elizabeth is married to the rich but stuffy Arnold; she's frustrated that he seems so obsessed with his political career, and she finds herself attracted to family friend Ted who is definitely attracted to her. On this day, Arnold's long-absent mother, Lady Catherine, is arriving for her first visit since she ran off with another man, Lord Porteous, years ago, and left young Arnold alone with his father, Clive. Elizabeth is anxious to talk to her and get her advice about running off with Ted. But throwing all plans into disarray is Arnold's father Clive who, by coincidence, also shows up that day for a visit. Actually, they all get along fairly well, but Elizabeth is disappointed to see that Catherine and Clive don't seem particularly happy after all these years, and she begins to question her plan to leave Arnold.

This plays out almost exactly like the 1925 film with the big exception of the ending [SPOILER coming]. In the silent film, the wife starts to run off with her lover, but when her passive husband finally shows some gumption—of course involving the threat of violence—and tries to stop them, she decides to stay. Here, Elizabeth and Ted do leave together, an ending that feels much more organic. When they first appear, Catherine and Clive do seem to be unhappy, sending a signal to Elizabeth that should scare her away from ending her marriage, but as the evening goes on, we see that the old couple still love each other, and Elizabeth is confident in her decision to leave Arnold to find happiness with Ted. The acting is strong across the board: Alison Skipworth and Ernest Torrence seem to be having fun in the roles of the older couple; Tyrell Davis makes a perfect Arnold, being unbearably prim and yet still retaining just enough charm that we have some limited sympathy for him; Catherine Dale Owen (pictured above with Davis) is a fine Elizabeth, and Paul Cavanagh, who tends toward blandness in his later career of supporting roles, is equally good as Ted. Lewis Stone is Clive and Mary Forbes is a family friend. I enjoyed the silent version, but this one is richer and more satisfying. [TCM]

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