TopBilled

TopBilled’s Essentials

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5 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Just speaking about an 'ideal case' I reckon...the flick does hold all these avenues open for the reviewer. Few other movies I can name, do. Maybe 'M' by Lang...but there's no romance in that. Maybe 'Sunset Blvd' ...but that's not a normal story about normal people.

The people in SUNSET BOULEVARD are "normal" within their milieu, which is an abnormal segment of society.

In BRIEF ENCOUNTER, they are normal people, I agree, but their situation is not normal. In fact they are defying how love is normally expressed in their society.

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Sure, but they're not performers in a carnival sideshow or anything. They weren't Apollo and Hyacinth; affairs occur among boring married people in every decade. This just happens to be one which came out of the pen of an astute dramatist. Its always a common enough phenomenon.

By the way Nichols & May lampoon the flick in one of their comedy skits; the audio is probably available. Give it an ear sometime!

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Essential: BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945)

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The relationship that develops between a British housewife (Celia Johnson) and a doctor (Trevor Howard) happens quickly and lasts briefly. Writer Noel Coward and director David Lean present two people who are needy at the same point in their lives, falling into something sudden and deep. The story takes place over the course of four Thursdays.

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They meet casually on the first Thursday, when Laura Jesson gets grit in her eye on a train platform. Dr. Alec Harvey, a man she just met in the refreshment room, helps clean it out. Initially their interaction is quite minimal. Hardly romantic. Later they end up seeing each other again outside a store. It's another platonic run-in. He takes the afternoon off from his medical practice, and they go to the cinema together.

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Laura and Alec have such an enjoyable time, they decide to do it again the following Thursday. During the six and a half days that follow, Laura considers not seeing Alec again but does end up going. He has a medical emergency and doesn't make it to the restaurant where they planned to dine. However, he finds her later at the train station when she's heading home. He explains what happened and they agree to try again the following week.

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The third Thursday it become more serious. They take in another movie then enjoy a lovely drive together. Alec kisses Laura at the station before they go their separate ways. The fourth Thursday they want more. Alec's staying at a friend's apartment downtown and asks Laura to head over with him. She declines, then changes her mind at the last moment. Alone in the apartment, it seems as if they will consummate the relationship. But all of a sudden Alec's friend returns, so Laura has to hurry out a back door. She feels ashamed. Yet all they've done is kissed, nothing else.

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Laura phones her husband and fibs about why she's spending so much time downtown and why she can't get home to fix dinner. She is not owning up to what's been happening with Alec. Though, ultimately, Laura realizes it has to end. This is when Alec says he's been offered a job in South Africa which he will take to make things easier on both of them. Neither one will leave their spouses or children to be with each other. They're just romantic friends is all. 

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It can't be anything more, because BRIEF ENCOUNTER is restrained by the production code. It is bound by a strong sensibility and morality. Laura and Alec's story, which is quite simple, allows us to feel powerful emotions. There is light comic relief with minor characters in the refreshment room of the train station to offset the heavier moments. And there are also scenes set in the present, where she's at home with her husband and children, remembering the events of the past four Thursdays. And what a special time it was.

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Perhaps the most engaging part is Laura's continual voice-over narration. We are privy to her innermost thoughts and feelings. She is telling her husband everything in her mind, but we are the ones she's really telling. She's a lonely soul, trying to maintain a sense of propriety but needing to reach out and connect with someone in a meaningful way.  She thinks a lot of the people she meets are idiots; she even calls herself an idiot at one point. But she doesn't consider Alec idiotic at all.

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In one interesting sequence, Laura's on the train home and looks out the window. She glimpses herself dancing with Alec, driving with him in the countryside again and traveling abroad with him. It's presented as a montage, but it's a fantasy montage. At one point the camera switches to the reverse angle of the fantasy figures dancing. Suddenly from their vantage point we see Laura on the other side of the train window. It's a skillfully made, imaginatively conceived film. The primary setting is the train station. But it really takes place in another realm. Two hearts have been derailed but are now back on track.

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BRIEF ENCOUNTER will air on TCM the 14th of February.

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You did capture this film quite well in your summary. I really don't need to add any further comments, but I did prepare some stuff ahead of time. I will even post a second, lengthier one after this one that is quite stupid and pointless, but I could not resist. Hope you don't mind.

 

A lot of this film's appeal is due to nostalgia for the times in which it was made, being a 1945 film with a setting in the '30s just before the war. (The movie within a movie, Flames Of Passion, sports a 1938 copyright date and there are no wartime references on screen.) It has all of the hallmarks one expects from British Hollywood competing feverishly with California's Hollywood: a slushy orchestra score, atmospheric and sometimes noir-ish cinematography with climactic close-up shots of faces, incidental character actors and actresses hamming it up in the background (Stanley Holloway and Joyce Carey are a lot of fun to watch) and plenty of weeping narration by Celia Johnson's Laura done in the style of many women's melodramas of the era.

Come to think of it, Laura does talk a lot. As you point out, she is presenting us so much that is on her mind and, also, what she wishes she could tell her husband but can't.

She is also very fussy about everything. At one point, she calls a woman she hasn't socialized with in months to cover her in a “domestic lie” that isn't much of anything.

Celia Johnson earlier played a mother disapproving of her daughter's relationship in another Lean & Coward collaboration, the Technicolor This Happy Breed, so it is an interesting switch for her being the one having an affair. Since it is not “consummated”, modern viewers would not consider it as much of an affair. Yet both Laura and Dr. Alec (Trevor Howard) do declare their love for each other while still married to others and this still made the material quite potent for its times. Aside from two kissing scenes, the only potential trouble comes when she goes to the apartment that he is borrowing from his (gay coded?) friend and he requests that she stay. Then they are interrupted by the friend's return. From what I recently learned, the original stage version of Still Life left this scene open ended with a “maybe they did it or maybe they didn't” before the friend arrives.

The characters of Laura and husband Fred (Cyril Raymond) are humorously mismatched. She is very truthful with him in the beginning, but he never quite understands her. She mentions spending time with a “stranger” who is a doctor and his response is “a noble profession”. When she laughs about being upset about nothing because she was worried about how he would respond to her being with another man without his knowledge, he insists that there was nothing to worry about because he is thinking of little Bobby's accident earlier. Even in the final scenes when he is happy she “came back”, he is still clueless that she is suffering heartbreak over somebody other than him. Needless to say, they aren't exactly a poster couple for total marital honesty. Laura is well aware of this and feels mighty low about not being honest to a husband who trusts her with no hesitation, but he is a bit of a nerd who is in his own little world of crossword puzzles rather than wooing her with “flames of passion” like Dr. Alec.

I have yet to see the unsuccessful 1974 TV version with Richard Burton and Sophia Loren. It supposedly failed because the stars were too famous and fixed in their personalities to play everyday common-folk like Johnson and Howard. Also by that time, the sexual revolution had already stormed through and what the character of Laura is worried about (regardless if anything happens or not) may have been viewed as this big “yeah, whatever”.

So many movies borrow aspects of its plot, but the two that keep me most intrigued are Summertime, also directed by David Lean but adapting Arthur Laurents' The Time of the Cuckoo, and Andrew Haigh's Weekend, which was likely unintentional in its eerily similar plot points. Both are doomed love stories that end at train stations: the one in Weekend is nice and quiet as it leaves poor Russell wiping his tears, but David Lean wants his train whistles to deafen his audiences (as they also do in all of his post-Summertime pics except Ryan's Daughter). This BFI review also makes a connection with a more recent lesbian film set in the '50s titled Carol, but disappointingly doesn't go further as to “why”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EL6Ev0H68rI

Although The Bridges Of Madison County lacks any trains, it belongs in the same soup. I consider that one as Brief Encounter with an added twist: what if little Bobbie and Margaret Jesson grew up and suddenly discovered what all mommy Laura was up to behind daddy Fred's back?

I will cover four of the movies, not Carol, in a moment.

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18 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

You did capture this film quite well in your summary. I really don't need to add any further comments, but I did prepare some stuff ahead of time. I will even post a second, lengthier one after this one that is quite stupid and pointless, but I could not resist. Hope you don't mind.

 

A lot of this film's appeal is due to nostalgia for the times in which it was made, being a 1945 film with a setting in the '30s just before the war. (The movie within a movie, Flames Of Passion, sports a 1938 copyright date and there are no wartime references on screen.) It has all of the hallmarks one expects from British Hollywood competing feverishly with California's Hollywood: a slushy orchestra score, atmospheric and sometimes noir-ish cinematography with climactic close-up shots of faces, incidental character actors and actresses hamming it up in the background (Stanley Holloway and Joyce Carey are a lot of fun to watch) and plenty of weeping narration by Celia Johnson's Laura done in the style of many women's melodramas of the era.

Come to think of it, Laura does talk a lot. As you point out, she is presenting us so much that is on her mind and, also, what she wishes she could tell her husband but can't.

She is also very fussy about everything. At one point, she calls a woman she hasn't socialized with in months to cover her in a “domestic lie” that isn't much of anything.

Celia Johnson earlier played a mother disapproving of her daughter's relationship in another Lean & Coward collaboration, the Technicolor This Happy Breed, so it is an interesting switch for her being the one having an affair. Since it is not “consummated”, modern viewers would not consider it as much of an affair. Yet both Laura and Dr. Alec (Trevor Howard) do declare their love for each other while still married to others and this still made the material quite potent for its times. Aside from two kissing scenes, the only potential trouble comes when she goes to the apartment that he is borrowing from his (gay coded?) friend and he requests that she stay. Then they are interrupted by the friend's return. From what I recently learned, the original stage version of Still Life left this scene open ended with a “maybe they did it or maybe they didn't” before the friend arrives.

The characters of Laura and husband Fred (Cyril Raymond) are humorously mismatched. She is very truthful with him in the beginning, but he never quite understands her. She mentions spending time with a “stranger” who is a doctor and his response is “a noble profession”. When she laughs about being upset about nothing because she was worried about how he would respond to her being with another man without his knowledge, he insists that there was nothing to worry about because he is thinking of little Bobby's accident earlier. Even in the final scenes when he is happy she “came back”, he is still clueless that she is suffering heartbreak over somebody other than him. Needless to say, they aren't exactly a poster couple for total marital honesty. Laura is well aware of this and feels mighty low about not being honest to a husband who trusts her with no hesitation, but he is a bit of a nerd who is in his own little world of crossword puzzles rather than wooing her with “flames of passion” like Dr. Alec.

I have yet to see the unsuccessful 1974 TV version with Richard Burton and Sophia Loren. It supposedly failed because the stars were too famous and fixed in their personalities to play everyday common-folk like Johnson and Howard. Also by that time, the sexual revolution had already stormed through and what the character of Laura is worried about (regardless if anything happens or not) may have been viewed as this big “yeah, whatever”.

So many movies borrow aspects of its plot, but the two that keep me most intrigued are Summertime, also directed by David Lean but adapting Arthur Laurents' The Time of the Cuckoo, and Andrew Haigh's Weekend, which was likely unintentional in its eerily similar plot points. Both are doomed love stories that end at train stations: the one in Weekend is nice and quiet as it leaves poor Russell wiping his tears, but David Lean wants his train whistles to deafen his audiences (as they also do in all of his post-Summertime pics except Ryan's Daughter). This BFI review also makes a connection with a more recent lesbian film set in the '50s titled Carol, but disappointingly doesn't go further as to “why”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EL6Ev0H68rI

Although The Bridges Of Madison County lacks any trains, it belongs in the same soup. I consider that one as Brief Encounter with an added twist: what if little Bobbie and Margaret Jesson grew up and suddenly discovered what all mommy Laura was up to behind daddy Fred's back?

I will cover four of the movies, not Carol, in a moment.

Great comments. I'm glad you brought up her calling the girlfriend for an alibi. Only the girlfriend is more of a casual acquaintance she hadn't spoken to or seen in quite a while. Interestingly, she bumps into the girlfriend during another date with Alec; and that time the girlfriend seems rather catty, like she might not be so trustworthy. It's clear that Alec is Laura's closest confidante.

I also think Alec's friend is probably gay but it's very subtle and may down to the casting, not what was really in the dialogue.

I like how you contrasted the nerdy behavior of Laura's husband with Alec's more worldly grander personality. At one point the husband seems open to her inviting this new doctor friend over for dinner, which is patently absurd and indicates how out of touch he is with his wife's extra-marital dalliances.

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There are a lot of trivial, but interesting to lil' ol' me, comparisons between these four movies. Figured I might as well present them in a systematic way for easier reading.
 

Basic set-up:

Brief Encounter: bored housewife (Celia Johnson's Laura) with a son and daughter and one who reads library books and sees too many movies for escape & married doctor (Trevor Howard's Alec) with two sons who travels a lot. Both travel by multiple trains. At one point riding a train, Laura fantasizes her and Alec on a gondola in Venice.

Summertime: unmarried woman (Katharine Hepburn's Jane Hudson) who travels to Venice, Italy as an escape from boring Akron, Ohio & bored married stuck-in-Italy shop owner (Rossano Brazzi's Renato) claiming he and his wife lead separate lives

The Bridges Of Madison County: bored farm wife (Meryl Streep's Francesca) with a son and daughter and who used to live in boring Italy but now lives in boring Iowa & unmarried and non committing photographer (Clint Eastwood's Robert) working for the most famous travel magazine National Geographic and has been everywhere in Italy including her home town (not Venice)

Weekend: introverted gay lifeguard who works at a small town pool (Tom Cullen's Russell), feels so alone in a heterosexual world and has an apartment full of travel posters, including Italian postcards (including Venice) in his kitchen & extroverted gay artist (Chris New's Glen) who has too many “issues” to commit to anybody

 

Who is shown alone a lot and, therefore, this is THEIR romantic story:

Brief Encounter: Laura and she keeps telling us this in her narration. Good grief, we even see her on a park bench smoking like a chimney so the policeman has to question her like she is homeless or something.

Summertime: Jane, but she has her trusty movie camera to keep her company. Although Mauro spares it when she falls into the canal, she doesn't need it again once she is “drowning” in romance with Renato.

The Bridges Of Madison County: Francesca, but it is her own damned fault for not going to the state fair

Weekend: Russell and there are a LOT of shots of him brooding, fussing with mirrors much like Laura in Brief Encounter, looking lonely when he hangs out with his foster brother and his wife and children (the settled long-term companionship he wishes he had), listening to dirty talk by heterosexual guys at his job who are just as annoying as the two bothering Myrtle in Brief Encounter so much that she must get Albert to “op” them “out”

 

Who just comes and goes and is rarely seen alone:

Brief Encounter: Alec... and he is often running up to Laura

Summertime: Renato... interesting opening scenes of him observing Jane in the piazza. Unlike Alec, he does an awful lot of... sitting. Except when chasing a train later.

The Bridges Of Madison County: Robert, of course. He is a traveling man, makes a lot of stops... all over the world. There is one key scene of him hearing gossip on another woman in town and then reporting back to Francesca.

Weekend: Glen... interesting opening scenes of him observing Russell in the pub similar to Renato observing Jane in Summertime. Also we get three shots of him overhead leaving Russell's place on a zig-zag sidewalk that is shot from different angles each time, representing his hesitancy with this relationship. In the third and final shot, we see him stop and look up like he is still not sure...


Scenery:

Brief Encounter: grimy noir-ish train stations with plenty of shadows, a homey little coffee spot, mammoth movie theaters with organs playing... it isn't all that bad of a terrain for Laura to feel lonely in and fans of the Late Late Show to watch her on TV over the years comfy under the blankets

Summertime: glossy colorful Venice, lovely until Jane observes garbage being dumped outside her window suggesting her awareness of all things “dirty”

The Bridges Of Madison County: Iowa and the summer locusts... and the big bad dawg down the road... and Meryl Streep forgetting to wear a bra under her blouse as she shows Robert around the bridge

Weekend: Nottingham working class town, same location used for Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, a 1960 film with the recently passed Albert Finney that is referenced on one of Glen's shirts

 

Sex scenes:

Brief Encounter: none, although the original play Still Life suggested the possibilities

Summertime: like the contemporary (also filmed in 1954) To Catch A Thief, we get fireworks as Jane and Renato retreat from the balcony, leaving behind her “scarlet” shoe. Ooooh... the shock of it all!!!!

The Bridges Of Madison County: Yup. Sonny boy is just as shocked about it later as he is about the Easter Bunny not being real.

Weekend: not much is left to the imagination (although the action is still “simulated” since one of the leads is heterosexual off screen and a woman filmed the intimate scenes). This film is no more graphic than a number of other R-rated films of the past four or more decades like Don't Look Now (that golden oldie with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland), Coming Home, Body Heat, 9 1/2 Weeks, Basic Instinct, The Piano, The English Patient, The Reader and Fifty Shades Of Grey. Of course, these titles involved male/female scenes.

 

Train break up scenes:

Brief Encounter: very loud trains, plus horrible but well meaning Dolly Messiter interfering with their final moments, demanding that Alec get her something to drink!

Summertime: a very loud and fast one, but Renato tries hard to chase it. Intriguingly, both this film and Brief Encounter open with a loud train shot, just after or during the main titles.

The Bridges Of Madison County: none, but there are plenty of pick-up trucks. Significant scene has Francesca and her hubbie following Robert's at a stop light.

Weekend: nice quiet one in Nottingham, but shown hauntingly leaving as Russell fights away his tears. Earlier the guys are disturbed by loud whistles and taunts by those observing their “ewww” final embrace.

 

Excuses for the break-up:

Brief Encounter: Alec gets a new job in South Africa and is moving the wife and sons with him. Both he and Laura realize this is what is best for them.

Summertime: Jane decides her holiday should end now since something still doesn't feel “right” to her. She is from Ohio, after all, and is more like the boring Lloyd and Edith McIlhenny (focused on the sites and shopping) than she realizes at first, especially given what all unfaithful artist Eddie Yeager is doing behind Phyl's back with the pensione owner.

The Bridges Of Madison County: her hubbie and kids will be back with the Holstein soon.

Weekend: Glen leaves for Portland, Oregon for an art education program. He makes it clear that he does not want a boyfriend. There was a previous partner who was beaten in a park (and somebody Glen thinks both had a connection with in the past when he reads Russell's diary accounts of past experiences, yet we aren't totally certain). Bottom line, he is not the idealistic romantic Russell is.
 

Outfits of importance:

Brief Encounter: pretty drab outfits here, but she is a doughty housewife after all. She does look glamorous in her dream sequences aboard the train though. Lots of hats, as typical of the era.

Summertime: Jane gets a full make over with ruby shoes to match. Perhaps her black and white dress represents her black and white views of certain things? Kate still looks very sexy. No doubt about it.

The Bridges Of Madison County: the dress Francesca would not allow her daughter to wear later

Weekend: Russell is constantly unpacking and repacking his Nike shoes, not sure if he should wear them... but he does wear them. Love all of Glen's changing shirts.

 

Aquatic scenes:

Brief Encounter: after falling in the pond from the row boat, Alec and Laura dry off and declare their luv for each other

Summertime: Jane falls into the canal while trying to shoot pictures of Renato's shop. Already she is drowning with attraction for him despite his not being there.

The Bridges Of Madison County: Robert borrows her shower and she uses it herself, getting all “hot” with excitement

Weekend: Russell is a lifeguard but we never see him swim. Instead he takes three baths. Everything in this movie happens three times. Go figure!


Drinking vessels:

Brief Encounter: so many in so many scenes that I have lost count. Most often they have coffee or brandy in them. Alec makes sure the sugar is left on the spoon for the annoying Dolly Messiter. Myrtle blows her glassware dry and rubs them a lot.

Summertime: the all important red goblet that Jane is told is rather unique until annoying Edith buys a whole box full of them

The Bridges Of Madison County: I have to re-watch this one... I never could remember what was in her kitchen. She and Russell in the other movie spend an awful lot of time in their kitchens

Weekend: Lots of tender and touching cup deliveries between the guys. Russell has a unique mug that might have once belonged to a little old lady with a mustache and it was passed down to other owners who might have sold it and used the money to buy an X-box or something. Glen doesn't believe his story.

 

Smoking:

Brief Encounter: Laura and Alec are pretty addicted to nicotine. Laura feels guilty because her husband does not approve of women who smoke in public.

Summertime: Plenty with various characters but not so much with Jane and Renato. Yet Jane gives cigarettes to under-ten Mauro and Renato's teenage son with little hesitation.

The Bridges Of Madison County: some, but her husband is the one addicted, which is why he dies sooner than she does. Keep in mind that 1965 was just one year after the Surgeon General warning.

Weekend: they don't smoke cigarettes, but go for the trendier stuff. In fact, pot is the only “connection” that Russell has with a "heteronormal” party gathering, being that it is passed around like a peace pipe among native Americans. Also he and Glen blow some pretty expensive goods into each other mouths although I question if it is really what we think it is, given these guys' salaries as a life guard and struggling artist. My guess is that it is nothing more than the stuff that the good Doctor Alec adds to annoying Dolly's spoon.

 

Left over tokens of affection:

Brief Encounter: none, but Rachmaninoff's “Piano Concerto No. 2” sure haunts her

Summertime: Renato tries his best to replace the gardenia that fell in the canal. Unfortunately he can't get it to Jane on the train so she leaves with... nothing. Too bad she did not shoot pictures of her and Renato on her movie camera.

The Bridges Of Madison County: plenty left in some safety deposit box after Robert passes away

Weekend: Glen leaves an audio recording of Russell discussing his first impressions of Glen, part of an intended art project. Now Russell will always remember how this particular weekend impacted him, only it is mostly his voice that he listens to rather than Glen's.

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Thanks Jlewis for your detailed analysis of those four films. It's been awhile since I've seen the Eastwood-Streep picture, so this was a good review of it. I love SUMMERTIME. Haven't seen WEEKEND.

One thing I wanted to mention about BRIEF ENCOUNTER is the way perspective shifts. We definitely see it in the fantasy montage, with how these images are photographed and presented on screen from two very different angles. But there is also a perspective shift in the last refreshment room scene. 

It is basically a replaying of the scene at the beginning, when Dolly requests tea, comments there isn't sugar in it and he says the sugar is in the spoon. When it replays at the end, we do not see anyone get Dolly's tea. The camera stays focused on Laura. Then when Dolly goes to the counter to get chocolate, we just barely hear her dialogue off-camera, somewhat muted in the background. Again the camera remains fixed on Laura. Alec re-enacts standing up and putting his hand on her shoulder, so we know it's a replay of what had been depicted at the beginning of the story. But it's now gone from a more omniscient third person point of view to Laura's first person experience of this scene.

Also when she is at home and has finished her great lengthy remembrance of Alec, the husband gets out of his easy chair, comes round to her and expresses some sympathy. So in a fleeting moment, we get a bit of his perspective, feeling some compassion and showing love, in his own way, for his wife. The filmmakers use these moments to let us see things from another vantage point, which enhances the overall view we have about what Laura's gone through.

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I think if it was done today, they would been very precise in getting the repeating scenes to match. Yet older viewers never fussed about such things like the nit picky crowd of today... and, as you indicate, it works better if the scenes do NOT match just right because this gives us different perspectives to these scenes, now that we have all of The Full Story presented in-between.

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20 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

I think if it was done today, they would been very precise in getting the repeating scenes to match. Yet older viewers never fussed about such things like the nit picky crowd of today... and, as you indicate, it works better if the scenes do NOT match just right because this gives us different perspectives to these scenes, now that we have all of The Full Story presented in-between.

In a way we do not have The Full Story. I say this because we do not see Alec in domestic scenes with his wife and children. If I remade this film today, I'd show both of them in their respective homes-- of course it would seem less like a woman's melodrama, but it would help us understand why Alec is the way he is. I actually feel he's a cad, that he's sold Laura a phony bill of goods and that he's done this sort of thing with other women before.

There's more to this. We don't have The Full Story.

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... and I even indicated this above in my overlong comparison of movies post. It is Laura’s story. Not Alec’s. Just as the other films are focused on one partner at the expense of the other.

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Will have to come back later to this, but I view Alec much as I do Glen in the male/male romance. Both are care givers first and romantics second, although they do get emotional and express love to a degree. After all, Alec is the first to say it. Yet note that he first noticed Laura when she gets stuff in her eyes and he is the good doctor with the bedside manner as his cynical “friend” puts it. Likewise Glen is often shown cleaning up Russell with a towel and bringing him stuff... not unlike Alec with Dolly’s drink as well. Alec is not too different than her own husband in that regard, except that her husband does not go to movies and car rides with her much... apparently.

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1 hour ago, Jlewis said:

... and I even indicated this above in my overlong comparison of movies post. It is Laura’s story. Not Alec’s. Just as the other films are focused on one partner at the expense of the other.

Yes. I think BRIEF ENCOUNTER focuses on the female protagonist for marketing purposes. Lean and the producers are aiming for a large female box audience. Otherwise, it could have been told just as easily from Alec's point of view with his voice-overs and home life. 

I really do think he's a cad. He's too smooth, the way he coaxes her to meet him at the friend's apartment. He's had experience with this sort of thing before. If true, then she's quite a tragic figure, lured away from the peaceful tranquility of her home life for something with a man who's really been leading her on. Plus he admits he knew about the job in Africa for awhile before mentioning it. So he's been buying time with her, and he probably always intended on moving his wife and family. I wouldn't be surprised if he took up with another woman the minute he reached South Africa.

If we saw his home life on screen, I think it should have been that his wife was wheelchair bound, some invalid, which explained his need to seek out other women yet still remain married to a woman who did not fulfill him. As I said, there's more to this and we don't really get the whole picture.

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On 1/26/2019 at 8:11 AM, TopBilled said:

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Part 2 of 2:

Elsa Lanchester's performance in MYSTERY STREET seems to be guided by her husband Charles Laughton, instead of the film's actual director (John Sturges). This is primarily because of the Laughton-esque mannerisms she uses in her scenes. Things like additional chuckles and sideways glances, which Laughton typically employs in his characterizations. Lanchester etches a portrait of a very embittered but humorous landlady. We can tell Mrs. Smerrling is jealous of the pretty young girls who stay with her, but they provide her with a steady income. Also, we realize Mrs. Smerrling is a lot smarter than she appears.

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During a visit to the boarding house, Lieutenant Moralas looks for clues about who might have killed Vivian Heldon. He meets a shy tenant (Betsy Blair) who often talked with Vivian, and she shows Moralas a suitcase of items that were left behind. He looks at the contents and makes a few mental notes. After Moralas leaves, Mrs. Smerrling discovers the number that Vivian had scribbled on the wall. Figuring this might lead to a little windfall if someone wants to avoid being associated with a dead nightclub hostess, she dials the number and sets up a meeting.

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Soon Mrs. Smerrling has gone to see Harkley in Hyannis. She meets him at his office along a pier, and when he steps out for a moment, she starts to snoop around for things that will connect him to Vivian's untimely death. It doesn't take long for her to find a gun in a desk drawer, which she takes without Harkley's knowledge. It is, of course, the murder weapon. Later when Moralas shows up with a search warrant and does not find the weapon, Harkley realizes who took it, and he goes after it. The scene where he pays Mrs. Smerrling a visit and commits another murder is quite shocking.

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In the meantime Henry Shanway has been arrested and is about to stand trial for a crime he didn't commit. His loyal wife tries to support him, though it is not easy for her. In one scene she practically has a nervous breakdown when she realizes the lies her husband has told her and how their whole marriage has been turned upside down because of one horrible night. However, Moralas is now convinced of Shanway's innocence and with help from the professor, he will prove that Harkley is the real killer.

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The forensic evidence in the case reveals why Harkley had killed Vivian Heldon. It seems she had been pregnant, and bones from the fetus were found along with her skeletal remains. For a film that was made at the height of the production code by a studio known for frothy musicals, MYSTERY STREET is sordid and hard-hitting. It's a daring story for its time. It seems eager to assume responsibility for its adult themes and is determined to provide audiences with thoughtful and meaningful entertainment.

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MYSTERY STREET will air on TCM the 27th of February.

Elsa Lancaster was really a revelation in "Mystery Street".

As the endangered couple, Marshall Thompson and Sally Forrest were quite fine, too.

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49 minutes ago, rayban said:

Elsa Lancaster was really a revelation in "Mystery Street".

As the endangered couple, Marshall Thompson and Sally Forrest were quite fine, too.

Thanks Ray. I love that phrase, "endangered couple." It's exactly what they are in this film.

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4 hours ago, TopBilled said:

The characters of Laura and husband Fred (Cyril Raymond) are humorously mismatched. She is very truthful with him in the beginning, but he never quite understands her. She mentions spending time with a “stranger” who is a doctor and his response is “a noble profession”. When she laughs about being upset about nothing because she was worried about how he would respond to her being with another man without his knowledge, he insists that there was nothing to worry about because he is thinking of little Bobby's accident earlier. Even in the final scenes when he is happy she “came back”, he is still clueless that she is suffering heartbreak over somebody other than him. Needless to say, they aren't exactly a poster couple for total marital honesty. Laura is well aware of this and feels mighty low about not being honest to a husband who trusts her with no hesitation, but he is a bit of a nerd who is in his own little world of crossword puzzles rather than wooing her with “flames of passion” like Dr. Alec.

It's funny, but I never thought that Fred didn't realize that Laura was at the very least spending private time with another man by the time the camera gives him an extended reaction shot and he makes his comment "Laura, it wasn't a very happy dream, was it?"

I think Alec is a cad, too. I also am ashamed that Laura doesn't seem to value the treasure that her husband trusts her completely until after she and Alec have parted. Yeah, Alec has likely been in this situation before (like George Sanders' Uncle Neddy in THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR) and Laura may just as likely be in this kind of situation again too, someday.

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24 minutes ago, sagebrush said:

It's funny, but I never thought that Fred didn't realize that Laura was at the very least spending private time with another man by the time the camera gives him an extended reaction shot and he makes his comment "Laura, it wasn't a very happy dream, was it?"

I think Alec is a cad, too. I also am ashamed that Laura doesn't seem to value the treasure that her husband trusts her completely until after she and Alec have parted. Yeah, Alec has likely been in this situation before (like George Sanders' Uncle Neddy in THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR) and Laura may just as likely be in this kind of situation again too, someday.

Nice comment.

First, your post said it quoted me, but I believe you were quoting something Jlewis wrote. So credit it where it's due.

Re: Laura...I think it's interesting how in this story she doesn't spend a lot of time in the suburbs or wherever their house is located, but she prefers to spend time running around downtown. I know she only does this on Thursdays, but I get the feeling she lives for her Thursday jaunts and lives for spending time in the refreshment room of the train station. So there's a part of her that's eager to stray from the comforts of home, which I think a guy like Alec picks up on. It's why she's an easy target for his charms.

I agree she's foolish not to appreciate what a good husband she has...a man who seems to be a decent provider, seems to trust her very much, and seems to love their children.

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9 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

First, your post said it quoted me, but I believe you were quoting something Jlewis wrote. So credit it where it's due.

Oh, you're correct! I think I quote selection-ed you're reply to his comment. Sorry, jlewis!

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9 minutes ago, sagebrush said:

Oh, you're correct! 

Thanks.

We don't even know if Alec is really a doctor, or if he even has a wife. Since none of his life away from Laura is depicted.

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5 hours ago, sagebrush said:

It's funny, but I never thought that Fred didn't realize that Laura was at the very least spending private time with another man by the time the camera gives him an extended reaction shot and he makes his comment "Laura, it wasn't a very happy dream, was it?"

I think Alec is a cad, too. I also am ashamed that Laura doesn't seem to value the treasure that her husband trusts her completely until after she and Alec have parted. Yeah, Alec has likely been in this situation before (like George Sanders' Uncle Neddy in THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR) and Laura may just as likely be in this kind of situation again too, someday.

There was a lot of discussion about this on the messageboard a while back. How much does Fred know? The movie is vague.

You may be right.

Or not.

Maybe he does not suspect anything, but just senses that she has been "off" lately. He was certainly aware that something happened and not just because she was late a few Thursdays in getting his dinner ready. He may still be clueless what that something was. That may be where the dream comment comes in.

The answer would depend on what their relationship had been like all of these years. Was Fred ever aware before about Laura being in cahoots with other men? If so, was he ever concerned? When she discusses Alec that first and only time, he certainly had no concerns at all about it. I figured that she never before showed any interest in other men besides him and this whole Alec business was totally new and unexpected... and she did not know how to handle it.

I should clarify what I meant by these two being "humorously mismatched". I am referring strictly of their personalities and vocabulary. That is, they are often speaking in different languages. Consider any discussion about Fred and Laura as a warm up for the upcoming Mr. And Mrs. Bridge, a mismatched couple if ever there was one. That does not mean they aren't compatible and unhappy with each other. In fact, Laura is very happy being married to Fred, gleefully shopping for him for his birthday regardless of how extravagant the clock is.

This whole Alec situation hit her just like one of those trains without warning. It might also be true of Alec as well. Is he a "cad" necessarily or is he struggling just like she is?

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15 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Thanks.

We don't even know if Alec is really a doctor, or if he even has a wife. Since none of his life away from Laura is depicted.

Ditto the other three movies I mentioned, which is also why I felt like discussing them with Brief Encounter: Summertime, The Bridges Of Madison County and Weekend. It is as if the directors/screenwriters/play-writes/novelists want us to care only about Laura, Jane, Francesca and Russell while Alec, Renato, Robert and Glen are not so much humans as experiences impacting their lives. We see the insides of Laura, Francesca and Russell's homes and meet their families (the women having husbands and children and Russell having a foster brother he is close to, plus the people he works with every day) but not the others apart from some girl who socializes with Glen, revealing a few significant details to Russell that Glen doesn't discuss with him, and Alec's creepy "friend" whom Laura doesn't even meet.

Jane is on vacation away from home but we still know a lot about her domestic habits and background since we are traveling with her as if we are her companions, even seeing how she reacts to her new hotel and scenic surroundings. We know far less about her Renato than we even do about Alec. Had Jane been played by an actress less strongly self reliant as Katharine Hepburn, we would be panicking about Jane romancing a stranger with so much mystery.

Consequently, Summertime is the one film of the four that ends on an upbeat note: Jane is simply happy that Renato was part of her Venice "experience". The other three leads are rather depressed and melancholy in their final moments. Francesca, in particular, carries her feelings for that one week (actually less than a week... weekend?) Robert "experience" all the way to her death and demands that her ashes upon death to be thrown from a bridge instead of sharing the same plot as her own husband. (I personally consider that film the weakest of the four because it stretches everything, including the kids getting involved, way too much for a short-term affair flick.)

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On 2/9/2019 at 11:37 AM, Jlewis said:

Drinking vessels:

Brief Encounter: so many in so many scenes that I have lost count. Most often they have coffee or brandy in them. Alec makes sure the sugar is left on the spoon for the annoying Dolly Messiter. Myrtle blows her glassware dry and rubs them a lot.

Summertime: the all important red goblet that Jane is told is rather unique until annoying Edith buys a whole box full of them

The Bridges Of Madison County: I have to re-watch this one... I never could remember what was in her kitchen. She and Russell in the other movie spend an awful lot of time in their kitchens

Weekend: Lots of tender and touching cup deliveries between the guys. Russell has a unique mug that might have once belonged to a little old lady with a mustache and it was passed down to other owners who might have sold it and used the money to buy an X-box or something. Glen doesn't believe his story.

 

I am so sorry but I could not resist. Please forgive me. Will be back to normal next week. I assure you all.

Laura doesn't seem to be drinking much. That last moment in the second scene is my favorite. She remembers Alec discuss "the flat" and she keeps telling herself she needs to go home. There is tremendous conflict in her mind so she makes a very hasty decision... one over the other. Hint: it is not home.

No red goblet, but I found a nice caffè scene... and Jane is TOO hesitant, unlike Laura. Of course, the No-No here involves her chair. Hepburn nicely captures a woman eager for excitement but still very restrained in her upbringing.

No coffee, but “There's a soda in the back of the truck if you want one.” 7Up does make her bubbly. Since it had been a while, I had forgotten how very, very good Meryl Streep's performance is. There are other flaws in the movie that bother me, but she is skilled in body language expression for the screen.

A very special coffee mug. This is one of those films that gets more interesting with repeated viewings, as you pick up new details each time. Russell is very, very lonely in this movie and accepts what happens to him in stoic Brit fashion, a bit like Laura keeping it bottled in. Maybe he thinks of himself as that lovely old lady with a mustache and is concerned that his grandchildren will hate his mug?

 

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One more video of interest, concerning the restoration of the train station used in Brief Encounter.

 

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On 2/9/2019 at 4:40 PM, TopBilled said:

Nice comment.

First, your post said it quoted me, but I believe you were quoting something Jlewis wrote. So credit it where it's due.

Re: Laura...I think it's interesting how in this story she doesn't spend a lot of time in the suburbs or wherever their house is located, but she prefers to spend time running around downtown. I know she only does this on Thursdays, but I get the feeling she lives for her Thursday jaunts and lives for spending time in the refreshment room of the train station. So there's a part of her that's eager to stray from the comforts of home, which I think a guy like Alec picks up on. It's why she's an easy target for his charms.

I agree she's foolish not to appreciate what a good husband she has...a man who seems to be a decent provider, seems to trust her very much, and seems to love their children.

I've enjoyed reading the commentary and your review very much. The charm of this film is that there is so much that is unexplained, as has already been pointed out.  I've seen it several times, and it never gets stale. 

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I'm working my way back through these posts in reverse order.

TB says:

Quote

We don't have The Full Story.

But its rare to find a movie given a go-ahead for production if it contains two protagonists. No creative team enjoys this. Can it occasionally work? Maybe. Does it often make for a thundering, resounding, success of a movie? Dubious. Remember Burt Reynolds and Jill Clayburgh in 'Starting Over'? Or, Jill Clayburgh and Michael Douglas in 'Its My Turn'? Perhaps just like romance itself, every romantic movie needs a hero and a villain. It's difficult to tell a story from two sides at once, and be completely fair about it. Movie plots insist on conflict.

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1 hour ago, cinemaspeak59 said:

I've enjoyed reading the commentary and your review very much. The charm of this film is that there is so much that is unexplained, as has already been pointed out.  I've seen it several times, and it never gets stale. 

 

46 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

I'm working my way back through these posts in reverse order.

TB says:

But its rare to find a movie given a go-ahead for production if it contains two protagonists. No creative team enjoys this. Can it occasionally work? Maybe. Does it often make for a thundering, resounding, success of a movie? Dubious. Remember Burt Reynolds and Jill Clayburgh in 'Starting Over'? Or, Jill Clayburgh and Michael Douglas in 'Its My Turn'? Perhaps just like romance itself, every romantic movie needs a hero and a villain. It's difficult to tell a story from two sides at once, and be completely fair about it. Movie plots insist on conflict.

There is plenty in this film that is unexplained.

TopBilled and I had a lively conversation earlier about whether or not Alec is truly a "cad". Even though the two discuss their spouses early on (Alec describes Madeline as "small, dark and rather delicate" and Laura responds "Funny, I thought she would have been fair" and Laura describes Fred as "medium height, brown hair, kindly, unemotional and not delicate at all" to which he responds "you said that proudly"), we still know far less about him than we do of her. Also Trevor Howard plays Alec rather intensely, pushing her into this relationship deeper than she is willing at first. For example, shortly after his discussion of his work and her response that he looks like a "little boy", he gets all eagle-eyed: "please, pleeeaase... next Thursday..." Also he is the first to chirp the "falling in love" line.

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