TopBilled

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That's what I'm sifting back through, your earlier chat...

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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..."

I can't myself quite extrapolate that this makes him a 'cad'. Little moments of selfishness are the norm in any relationship, aren't they?

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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. 

Thanks. What a nice comment. 

I agree, the film oozes charm. But I still think Laura's being misled (and the audience is too, in the way that Noel Coward is able to mislead an audience). Alec's motives are possibly quite false and self-serving.

The movie as a whole seems rather deceptive. I don't think it's a real love story, which Jlewis and I discussed earlier in a private message. I see it as a tragicomic farce.

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25 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

That's what I'm sifting back through, your earlier chat...

I can't myself quite extrapolate that this makes him a 'cad'. Little moments of selfishness are the norm in any relationship, aren't they?

I don't think he is, but I can easily see why he comes off as one to some of us viewing. He is the chaser in this relationship.

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Fair enough; but it also could be that for the sake of that stage in the story, either Coward (or whoever adapted) had to put a little 'insistence' into the proceedings. A movie often has to compress and condense activity in order to get to the next phase in the narrative. Running time and page count dominate in ways the audience doesn't always cotton.

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46 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

(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")

The lines of dialogue are quite fascinating here. Most husbands don't discuss their wives as "dark" unless there is quite of bit of intensity in their relationship that they dislike. Maybe he indicates "dark" in regards to her hair color or complexion, but I suspect that Noel Coward is insinuating "dark" in terms of "intense" in personality. Yes, Laura's use of "fair" may indicate "fair complexion" but it may also suggest a wife who is "fair" with her husband. Note that Laura is specific about hair color when discussing Fred, but then uses "unemotional" and "not delicate at all" as if they imply opposite meanings. His comment of her saying it "proudly" is also interesting.

My impression here is that Madeline maintains a very tight choke collar on her husband and may question what he is up to quite often. We see and hear Laura making up "domestic lies" and being all upset about it because Fred, as she puts it, TRUSTS her completely. Yet Alec may be doing this more often than she does.

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No wonder Alec feels relaxed watching Donald Duck go ballistic on screen.

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I would have taken the first expression to refer to either skin, hair, or ethnicity; (Brits being a fair-skinned island, traditionally). There's some leeway for what you suggest, yes...but just going from years of listening to British radio drama from the timeframe of the Lean release...I'd opt for a conservative interpretation. It doesn't stop us from considering the 'state' of the two marriages if we wish to; which may very well be what you describe.

Even if Alec is a bit 'footloose' (like his flatmate) rather than a 'meek' husband of the kind Laura enjoys...hmm, I have to scroll up in the thread to see what you'd make of it. Let's imagine that he is a rascal, would you then say that his heart wasn't in the romance? Would you say that we want to 'believe' he is good? And from then, what? There must be an umbrella statement this nests under, probably in TB's original review? (I have yet to get that far).

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Just to be clear, I was not the one thinking Alec is a "cad" although I understand why he can be seen that way.

I do feel that his dates with Laura are a form of escape, either from the stress of work or the stress of home. This brings up "Flames of Passion". There are so many ways to interpret that movie within a movie. The trailer shows a woman tied up in some African jungle adventure. Maybe Laura sees herself tied up among "flames of passion" and hoping she will be rescued. She tells Alec later that she is not happy being in love with him and we see how stressed out she is trying to maintain a low profile without others seeing and gossiping. Maybe Alec considers "flames of passion" something he wants to leave at home with his wife while he relaxes with Laura?

Regardless, BOTH decide to walk out of that movie before it finishes because it made them feel very uncomfortable.

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1 hour ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

I would have taken the first expression to refer to either skin, hair, or ethnicity; (Brits being a fair-skinned island, traditionally). There's some leeway for what you suggest, yes...but just going from years of listening to British radio drama from the timeframe of the Lean release...I'd opt for a conservative interpretation. It doesn't stop us from considering the 'state' of the two marriages if we wish to; which may very well be what you describe.

Even if Alec is a bit 'footloose' (like his flatmate) rather than a 'meek' husband of the kind Laura enjoys...hmm, I have to scroll up in the thread to see what you'd make of it. Let's imagine that he is a rascal, would you then say that his heart wasn't in the romance? Would you say that we want to 'believe' he is good? And from then, what? There must be an umbrella statement this nests under, probably in TB's original review? (I have yet to get that far).

Re: a conservative interpretation. I think Lean is a conservative. His interpretation is conservative. But Coward was extremely liberal, so the original source material is not going to be so rigidly confined. Plus I think Lean and the studio are over romanticizing the plot, and giving the audience a nostalgic rosy view of London before the war, in order to up its box office value. Things that Coward doesn't need to do on stage. And doesn't want to do.

Lean can't let Alec be too much of a cad, at least not explicitly, because that will hurt the "love story" and hurt the box office. This means he can't allow Alec to have sex with a married woman in this picture. Though it's obvious Alec's main goal interacting with Laura is to have sex. Or else he'd be finding companionship with a less attractive woman; having tea with old ladies at a convalescent home, adopting a puppy, anything but this. He sees a vulnerable woman in Laura. He's using her need for love to accommodate his need for sex.

Furthermore, attraction and "romance" in this picture do not equal real love. They are corrupting elements. Love can only be correctly expressed in Laura's marriage to her husband, that is what Lean's telling us at the end. So when we reach the coda in the last moments, Laura's relationship with Alec is damned to hell.

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15 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Even if Alec is a bit 'footloose' (like his flatmate) rather than a 'meek' husband of the kind Laura enjoys...hmm, I have to scroll up in the thread to see what you'd make of it. Let's imagine that he is a rascal, would you then say that his heart wasn't in the romance? Would you say that we want to 'believe' he is good? And from then, what? There must be an umbrella statement this nests under, probably in TB's original review? (I have yet to get that far).

I am just tossing possible ideas out there with no certainties. What we are doing here is scraping off the multiple layers of this movie. It is interesting to note that Blithe Spirit precedes this one and that involves a jealous wife clinging onto Rex Harrison as a ghost, so... um... maybe "dark" isn't just a physical description for Madeline?

My overall take here is that Alec and Laura both see something in each other that they probably don't see in their own spouses and their dates start out initially as a breath of fresh air and relaxation. After they say they are falling in love with each other (Alec being the initiator and Laura just responding), that is when all of the trouble starts. In Laura's case, much of it involves what-others-may-think and trying to lay low.

When upset at the train station and leaving annoying Dolly in the refreshment shop, she even contemplates suicide and claims it is NOT the thought of Fred and the kids that prevents her. I guess the attempted suicide scene is quite a bit here. If the end of it prompts her to think about death, then it wasn't a happy "dream" after all. She also wishes Dolly was dead for breaking them up and then apologizes in her mind for thinking that.

Again, "flames of passion" that needed to be controlled here.

 

15 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Re: a conservative interpretation. I think Lean is a conservative. His interpretation is conservative. But Coward was extremely liberal, so the original source material is not going to be so rigidly confined. Plus I think Lean and the studio are over romanticizing the plot, and giving the audience a nostalgic rosy view of London before the war, in order to up its box office value. Things that Coward doesn't need to do on stage. And doesn't want to do.

 

Well... to be more specific, David Lean was conservative because of the censorship restrictions. He certainly was not afraid of spicing things up and was not judgmental of relationships going beyond "traditional" marriage. We are not supposed to agree with Rod Steiger's Komarovsky slapping Julie Christie's Lara (instead of "Laura") and labeling her the "s" word in Dr. Zhivago. He wants us to be understanding of Sarah Miles needing her romp with Christopher Jones after too-clean-and-respectable Robert Mitchum in Ryan's Daughter. His version of Oliver Twist covered the plight of his unwed mother unlike Carol Reed's musical update two decades later. Lawrence Of Arabia may be notorious for Peter O'Toole getting "surrounded" shirtless but it also had that interesting bro-bonding with a young teenage boy through the Sahara as well. A Passage To India tackled interracial relations. Don't know of Lean's specific politics, but he wasn't too-too further towards the right on social issues than Coward.

Could Alec have been after sex? Maybe... maybe not. I don't know. I think of him as a care giver who first noticed Laura suffering with stuff in her eyes. Their first meetings were casual enough. More questionable would be Renato in Summertime (also Lean, of course) eyeing Jane's legs before he speaks to her.

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I've been enjoying the discussion about BRIEF ENCOUNTER. Incidentally BRIEF ENCOUNTER airs on TCM this afternoon.

***

On Saturday I will post my review for

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It is currently available on YouTube.

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Mulling over what you guys have been saying (I could talk about this flick potentially, for weeks) and I'm trying to make my initial determination as to how I characterize them. In my own mind only--in what terms do I frame them? There's much to sift through, in these other posted opinions. But for instance:

First, I can't quite go along with the notion that they are 'daring' in their love; that they 'fought against convention' or 'defied social norms' (for the sake of their love) in the way that Rome /Juliet could be said to have done. I spoke out against this when it was first raised last week. Now, I'm not denying that someone might see it that way, but I personally do not. (Live and let live)

Secondly. I also can't ascribe to the idea, that either (or both) of the duo are simply indulging in a bit of carnal wantonness; that they have a 'corruption' or 'selfishness' about them as they pursue the affair. I can not detect 'deliberateness', 'pursuit of raw self-interest' or 'hand-in-the-cookie-jar' mentality. (Yes, you can see faint flashes of gluttonous lust in certain scenes and certain line-deliveries, but I don't think one can sum up the pair that way).

Ultimately: I am leaning more towards an Evelyn Waugh-type of adulterous couple here, even though they come from the outrageous pen of the fearless Noel Coward. In Evelyn Waugh's fiction (and I believe as we see in this movie), mid-century Britons shuffle, topple, and tumble headlong into their romantic liaisons in an almost schizoid manner. It's as if British society instills such a reticence towards sex in the Queen's subjects, that they can only move towards it accidentally, unconsciously, almost like wind-up automatons blindly bumping into furniture. Never deliberately or with forethought or planning; never with gusto or recklessness either.

Waugh always deftly shows how programmed Britain is; that program being bourgeois suburban family, long-term domestic marriages. A character like Laura simply can't recognize any other urges in herself, except towards this Olympian ideal. This is what I mean by schizoid.

So. Her body sends her sexual signals and she interprets them in other terms like 'wanting to go to the movies' or 'wanting to see a flower show' or 'wanting tea in the city' and these become the excuses which send her out among the crowd, encountering stranger's bodies; coming under men's gazes; being bumped and jostled and whatnot. She's helpless to fight off these impulses --her body is ripe and ready for lovers--but her very nature, refuses absolutely to allow her to see herself as being eager, compliant, or receptive to what they imply. More paramount ever than the sexual urge will ever be, is her urge to negate it mentally. If not, she would fall apart. It's not that she personally is a prude, either --but that Britons as a culture, are ingrained with prudery.

Alec too--there's certain 'low-class' behaviors which he simply cannot ever come to view --much less embrace--in himself. The 'blunt' attitude of his flatmate, disgusts him. Psychology and class issues, go hand-in-glove, with this Noel Coward narrative.

So its not that this couple is daring --the way I see it, they are the opposite. As Nichols & May lampoon them (with the germ of truth), Alec & Laura are helpless in their conventionality. Weak, rather than daring. This doesn't diminish their romance, or the romance told to us as a story. If anything it makes the story more touching, more complex. More than just a romance. The story becomes a snapshot of English society at the time in question.

In a sense, the daring-ness of Alec & Laura is not turned outward, not against the society around them, but always turned inward. The 'heroism' of their passion, is in each of them overcoming their own social squeamishness to rendezvous and skulk around. But outwardly the whole thing is never to be revealed to anyone --not at any cost--and especially not to themselves.

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And I think the tell-tale speculation to raise about these two adulters --the question which speaks volumes because it has no answer--is not "how did they get together in the first place?" But "what will happen to them now?" 

We know certainly that they are not going to each leave their respective spouses. We know they're not going to endure the public humiliation of a divorce. Why would they? If they divorce their current partners, and if they can weather the shame--it would only be for the sake of ...winding up in another marriage, with each other, exactly the same condition as they are in now. They'd be like Hammett's character Flitcraft.

These lovers have nowhere to go. In order to love, they can only be illicit no matter what they do. So this is ultimately the point of the story: unlike any other culture in history where hot-blooded lovers consummate their union and ride off on horseback and enjoy lives of passion and adventure... in England true love must remain something 'on-the-sly' and unacknowledged. Bourgeois married life --the national program--is the deadly enemy of true love.

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p.s. I just did a quick check. Evelyn Waugh's scathing dissection of married life, 'A Handful of Dust' published 1934; Noel Coward's stage play 'Still Life' (the basis of 'Brief Encounter') produced 1936.

H'mmm! H'mmm! Perhaps a little cross-pollination of themes from one to the other. Curious coincidence too, that at the end of each tale, the male in each scenario must leave Britain entirely and set off for some third-world backwater on some fool's errand to break the romantic stalemate.

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5 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

These lovers have nowhere to go. In order to love, they can only be illicit no matter what they do. So this is ultimately the point of the story: unlike any other culture in history where hot-blooded lovers consummate their union and ride off on horseback and enjoy lives of passion and adventure... in England true love must remain something 'on-the-sly' and unacknowledged. Bourgeois married life --the national program--is the deadly enemy of true love.

Do you really think it's an 'English' thing, or maybe just the time the story took place? I know much of Europe didn't seem to be too judgemental about extra marital affairs during the decades of the 1930's- 1940's, but wasn't most of the rest of the world at that time?

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Yes, Sage. Sure. Could be. I was leveling all my remarks against Great Britain in my posts but that was just for the sake of keeping things coherent, focused, and succinct. Anything I stated, might certainly be expanded in different directions and tested for soundness. After all, its all built upon 'assumptions' anyway.

We're familiar with English culture problems here among ourselves, we're close-cousins to the Brits. But what if a Frenchman or an Italian suddenly created an account here and provided some evidence that France or Italy was not actually as libidinous as we imagine at that time? Well, we'd have to take that into account. For now though, just addressing Britain, I think what I said is reasonably flexible; even if over-simplified.

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A really great movie to watch in context with this one is This Happy Breed. It was filmed in Technicolor two years earlier (in 1943, but released '44) with Noel Coward, David Lean and Celia Johnson all involved as with this one. Celia essentially plays the opposite role to her Laura in that one, being a scornful mother upset that her daughter "ran away" with a married man. Key line: "She's no child of mine." Her husband (Robert Newton) tries to talk sense: "If she loves that man so much, maybe it was too strong for her. Maybe she couldn't help herself." Eventually she accepts her back, but it takes a while. I am sure Celia was thrilled to play a role where the shoe was on the other foot, so to speak.

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11 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

A really great movie to watch in context with this one is This Happy Breed. It was filmed in Technicolor two years earlier (in 1943, but released '44) with Noel Coward, David Lean and Celia Johnson all involved as with this one. Celia essentially plays the opposite role to her Laura in that one, being a scornful mother upset that her daughter "ran away" with a married man. Key line: "She's no child of mine." Her husband (Robert Newton) tries to talk sense: "If she loves that man so much, maybe it was too strong for her. Maybe she couldn't help herself." Eventually she accepts her back, but it takes a while. I am sure Celia was thrilled to play a role where the shoe was on the other foot, so to speak.

Another film to check out, though it was far less successful and did not involve Lean, is THE ASTONISHED HEART (1950). This time Celia Johnson plays wife to a doctor (Noel Coward) who has an affair with a young patient (Margaret Leighton). The script was written by Coward, based on one of his plays.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Astonished_Heart_(film) 

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Interesting... now we have four films involving Johnson and Coward and still counting. I have not done all of my homework on those two and, no, I haven't seen that one. She had a smaller role in In Which We Serve, also with Lean involved.

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Essential: ABOUT MRS. LESLIE (1954)

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Producer Hal Wallis had a multi-picture deal with Shirley Booth at Paramount. When she wasn't working on Broadway and earning more Tony awards, she found time to appear in this production for Wallis. They only made four feature films together in the 1950s. One assumes they would wait until the actress became available; and for just the right sort of script to come along that would suit her unique talents.

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In ABOUT MRS. LESLIE, Booth is cast as Vivien Leslie, a lonely but well-intentioned boarding house owner. Her home, left to her by the late George Leslie (Robert Ryan), is located in Beverly Hills. Vivien Leslie is past her prime and has no children, but often looks after a neighbor's teenaged daughter. Also, she has more than a passing interest in the blossoming relationship of two young boarders who work in Hollywood (Alex Nicol and Marjie Millar). It shouldn't be said that Mrs. Leslie is an interfering busybody. She's more of a mother hen landlady who's genuinely fond of those that are entrusted to her care.

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While there are subplots involving Mrs. Leslie and her renters in the present day, these bits of action function more as a framing device. They allow us a deeper understanding of the title character, but the bulk of the narrative takes place in the past. We learn how she met Mr. Leslie when she was singing in a New York City nightclub. And we see, during several lengthy sequences, the lasting relationship they shared.

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Major spoiler. The twist in this story is that she was never really married. George Leslie (not his full name, just his first name and middle name) was not her husband at all. He was not a figment of her imagination, either. He was an industrialist she met, a real flesh and blood man she loved. Mrs. Leslie is so sympathetically portrayed by Booth that when we find out she had a pretend "marriage" with a man that already had a wife and kids, we can't dislike her. In fact we only develop more sympathy for her.

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On some level Mr. Leslie is a cad, because he never mentioned his wife. The film gets around the production code, because we are shown that George and Vivien slept in separate bedrooms when they went off on trips together. She is depicted as more of a paid companion who didn't provide sex. Also, since Vivien did not know he was married during that time, she's not presented as being immoral in any knowledgeable way. I won't reveal how she finds out she was deceived in case you haven't watched the movie yet. But that's one of Shirley Booth's best moments.

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Vivien can't un-love George Leslie, but she does go forward with the rest of her life. She opens a dress shop after leaving her job as a singer, and she becomes very successful in this new line of work. Later she inherits the home in Beverly Hills when George Leslie dies and attorneys for his estate want to buy her silence, to prevent his wife and children any future embarrassment.

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It has shades of Citizen Kane and Susan Alexander. But this version of the story is about a woman's sense of value and her self-worth. The title is ironic, because she's not really Mrs. Anyone. She's just a boarding house owner with a very interesting backstory. She's someone who wanted to be loved and to love others.

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This movie was much better than I thought it would be, since it isn't one of the critical darlings of movie books discussed much. Shirley Booth's performance sells it well. In the beginning, I wondered if her character was going to be too blunt and tell-it-like-it-is to the point of being annoying. However she was very much the opposite after the initial scenes. Her character genuinely cares about everybody and does not enter any boundaries not invited to. She allows Robert Ryan's George to only reveal to her what he wants to reveal to her. I feel, in the case with him, she should have been more inquisitive than she was. 

Then again, we would not have that “gotcha” smack in the middle, which you have already spoiled. It is a “gotcha” similar to David Lean's Summertime. I won’t reveal how she finds out, but there is a key screencap that I just had to grab online for my collection when watching this on YouTube. It involves the movie marquee reading “Selected Short Subjects”. I do discuss them thar things an awful lot on this messageboard.

It was lots of fun seeing so many familiar faces, many not billed in the credits. Movies of this vintage were plentiful when I was younger, if not so much today, and I got to know many of the character actors who were less famous than the leads and radio stars famous more for their voices than their cameos on screen. Of course, some like Ellen Corby and Harry Morgan became leading TV stars of the seventies. Even Darrin's neurotic mother in Bewitched, Mabel Albertson, has a cameo.

A few other little nuggets of interest.

The movie was filmed and set in the autumn of 1953 (although the original book was published three years earlier) after the Korean War, but we flashback her story to just before America enters WW2 when she is a nightclub singer. Great attention to detail is displayed by getting the rear projection scenes of her taxi ride with Ryan just right with only '30s cars shown, but then the taxi is seen close up and it is obviously a post-war model. Oops! However nobody going to the movies back then ever fussed about such things like today's internet viewers who have google search images at their fingertips. 

I also found the use of book pages flipping during key transition scenes both fascinating and a bit odd. Presumably they are pages of a Civil War history she is reading. As she explains to George, it helps maintain her connection with him while he is away.

Lots of nice character scenes here like Vivian's conversation with teenage “gee, I don't know” Pixie over a dinner she worked hard over. Pixie and others may treat her like dirt, but she cares enough for Pixie to prevent her from getting into trouble with the “wrong” boyfriend. Shirley Booth invites some comparison to Bette Davis in Now Voyager, taking on a big sister role in her later years as she remains a spinster with no man. She feels satisfied with her doomed romance and is conscientious of others' personalities that resemble hers, preventing them from making the same mistakes she did. 

She may be a tad control freakish, but her heart is in the right place and she successfully monitors the lives of those she cares about, being quick to shoo away Harry Morgan's sleezy character from a tenant who is a “nice girl”. Curiously, she is also perfectly OK with this “nice girl” marrying an alcoholic who claims he is “cured” by an almost-collision in a city street. Go figure.

Maybe this alcoholic tenant, Lan... I believe... the one played by Alex Nichol?, reminds her of George. It is never spelled out if George had alcoholic issues since we rarely see him drink. His story is told strictly from her point of view in flashback and she, herself, may be leaving out some, um, significant details. That glass smashing in the bar fireplace, which I did not find amusing at all, was an obvious sign that George's “illness” may not have just been a “heart condition”. Plus alcoholism is a recurring theme of this movie that may have gone back to her experiences with her abusive father, discussed with George in a key scene but, again, not spelled out. With Lan, whom the LA police still allow him a driving license despite so many DUI tickets (?!!!), she is very forgiving of him despite his constant running over her flower beds.

Funny thing... after all of our discussions about Alec in Brief Encounter (and my referencing Renato in Summertime), I feel I know far less about George than anybody else in any of these romantic films. We just get a quick shot of his family and learn nothing of the airplane engineering “industrial” career that he's as enthusiastic about as he is Civil War trivia. It seems curious that Viv is focused just on the latter and not the former. 

The ending is, in true “Happy Ending” fashion, rather compact and self-satisfied. Yeah... I was a trifle disappointed here. However I do understand that it was necessary for a saga about a woman who never settles with the love of her life and must operate as an ordinary, hard working boarding house owner. Overall, this is a good film with a few gaps left unresolved, but Shirley Booth is what sells it for me.

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5 hours ago, Jlewis said:

This movie was much better than I thought it would be, since it isn't one of the critical darlings of movie books discussed much. Shirley Booth's performance sells it well. In the beginning, I wondered if her character was going to be too blunt and tell-it-like-it-is to the point of being annoying. However she was very much the opposite after the initial scenes. Her character genuinely cares about everybody and does not enter any boundaries not invited to. She allows Robert Ryan's George to only reveal to her what he wants to reveal to her. I feel, in the case with him, she should have been more inquisitive than she was. 

Then again, we would not have that “gotcha” smack in the middle, which you have already spoiled. It is a “gotcha” similar to David Lean's Summertime. I won’t reveal how she finds out, but there is a key screencap that I just had to grab online for my collection when watching this on YouTube. It involves the movie marquee reading “Selected Short Subjects”. I do discuss them thar things an awful lot on this messageboard.

It was lots of fun seeing so many familiar faces, many not billed in the credits. Movies of this vintage were plentiful when I was younger, if not so much today, and I got to know many of the character actors who were less famous than the leads and radio stars famous more for their voices than their cameos on screen. Of course, some like Ellen Corby and Harry Morgan became leading TV stars of the seventies. Even Darrin's neurotic mother in Bewitched, Mabel Albertson, has a cameo.

A few other little nuggets of interest.

The movie was filmed and set in the autumn of 1953 (although the original book was published three years earlier) after the Korean War, but we flashback her story to just before America enters WW2 when she is a nightclub singer. Great attention to detail is displayed by getting the rear projection scenes of her taxi ride with Ryan just right with only '30s cars shown, but then the taxi is seen close up and it is obviously a post-war model. Oops! However nobody going to the movies back then ever fussed about such things like today's internet viewers who have google search images at their fingertips. 

I also found the use of book pages flipping during key transition scenes both fascinating and a bit odd. Presumably they are pages of a Civil War history she is reading. As she explains to George, it helps maintain her connection with him while he is away.

Lots of nice character scenes here like Vivian's conversation with teenage “gee, I don't know” Pixie over a dinner she worked hard over. Pixie and others may treat her like dirt, but she cares enough for Pixie to prevent her from getting into trouble with the “wrong” boyfriend. Shirley Booth invites some comparison to Bette Davis in Now Voyager, taking on a big sister role in her later years as she remains a spinster with no man. She feels satisfied with her doomed romance and is conscientious of others' personalities that resemble hers, preventing them from making the same mistakes she did. 

She may be a tad control freakish, but her heart is in the right place and she successfully monitors the lives of those she cares about, being quick to shoo away Harry Morgan's sleezy character from a tenant who is a “nice girl”. Curiously, she is also perfectly OK with this “nice girl” marrying an alcoholic who claims he is “cured” by an almost-collision in a city street. Go figure.

Maybe this alcoholic tenant, Lan... I believe... the one played by Alex Nichol?, reminds her of George. It is never spelled out if George had alcoholic issues since we rarely see him drink. His story is told strictly from her point of view in flashback and she, herself, may be leaving out some, um, significant details. That glass smashing in the bar fireplace, which I did not find amusing at all, was an obvious sign that George's “illness” may not have just been a “heart condition”. Plus alcoholism is a recurring theme of this movie that may have gone back to her experiences with her abusive father, discussed with George in a key scene but, again, not spelled out. With Lan, whom the LA police still allow him a driving license despite so many DUI tickets (?!!!), she is very forgiving of him despite his constant running over her flower beds.

Funny thing... after all of our discussions about Alec in Brief Encounter (and my referencing Renato in Summertime), I feel I know far less about George than anybody else in any of these romantic films. We just get a quick shot of his family and learn nothing of the airplane engineering “industrial” career that he's as enthusiastic about as he is Civil War trivia. It seems curious that Viv is focused just on the latter and not the former. 

The ending is, in true “Happy Ending” fashion, rather compact and self-satisfied. Yeah... I was a trifle disappointed here. However I do understand that it was necessary for a saga about a woman who never settles with the love of her life and must operate as an ordinary, hard working boarding house owner. Overall, this is a good film with a few gaps left unresolved, but Shirley Booth is what sells it for me.

A few things to comment on...

First, I do not agree that we know less about George Leslie in this film than we do about Alec the male love interest in BRIEF ENCOUNTER. The earlier film is a woman's picture that focuses almost exclusively on Laura the female protagonist. This picture, ABOUT MRS. LESLIE, is a woman's picture too, and may seem like it focuses on Vivien the female protagonist. But I think it is also about Mr. Leslie and she is an instrument through which we gain information about him.

Unlike the previous film, we have several mirror plots here. The couple played by Nicol & Millar; the teen girl and her "boyfriend;" and the elderly couple who are staying temporarily at Vivien's place. So this story covers much more ground than BRIEF ENCOUNTER does about the varieties of love demonstrated in its couples. Mrs. Leslie is not the only one we learn about.

You mentioned how they used the pages of the Civil War books to dissolve to other points in time, that it felt odd. I suppose they could have used waves along the beach, but maybe the goal was to stay away from cliched transitions. To try something different.

One thing I "fight" against in my selection of Essentials is the notion we should only consider the critical darlings as essential films. Film guides written a decade or two after these films were made were often imbued with a nostalgic view of what was classic, which directors and which stars should only be considered as important enough to remember.

But why must those "historians" of the cinema dictate what is classic to future generations? I deliberately choose films that don't abide by such narrow restrictions. In fact, I don't think I've chosen one Bette Davis movie the whole time I've been doing this. Nothing against Davis, but there are other kinds of classics and essential films that deserve a bit of advocacy and discovery. I'd never let what's in one of those film guides determine what is worth watching. 

Anyway, enough of that tangent. On to the things I agree with...

I agree that the stuff about the Civil War books in this story is interesting, and we might ask why she wasn't also reading up on aviation. But because she wasn't supposed to know very much about his career and family life, I think it made sense that she latched on to a hobby or other area of interest he had. I see her reading the Civil War books as not only a way of feeling close to him, but developing a shared passion-- probably something his wife didn't do. This showed us Vivien was being educated through him, not corrupted, and that she was probably a more ideal partner for him. So I'm glad you mentioned that in your comment above, especially since I didn't mention it in my review. It's one of the more fascinating things about their relationship.

Another thing I agree with is how the character actors add a nice flavor to this movie. They help spice up routine scenes that might have been dull with lesser players. Alex Nicol is a bit wooden, and it helps to have him interact with someone like Harry Morgan. Other notable character actors include Nana Bryant (as Nicol's mother); Philip Ober (real-life husband of Vivian Vance, playing an attorney); and Percy Helton as the proprietor of the oceanside restaurant who had to pick up all the smashed glasses.

You also commented on the possibility that Mr. Leslie was an alcoholic. Yes, I think he showed a propensity for booze, but it was a bit muted, perhaps because of the production code.

***

Some trivia: Marjie Millar only made three feature films. She was a Hal Wallis discovery whose screen career was sidelined because of an accident that affected her appearance. She should have had a much longer career. She died young, at age 35. So she and Booth do not have extensive filmographies.

Also Daniel Mann, the director of this film, had previously directed Booth in COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA. He would direct her again in HOT SPELL. 

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5 hours ago, TopBilled said:

First, I do not agree that we know less about George Leslie in this film than we do about Alec the male love interest in BRIEF ENCOUNTER. The earlier film is a woman's picture that focuses almost exclusively on Laura the female protagonist. This picture, ABOUT MRS. LESLIE, is a woman's picture too, and may seem like it focuses on Vivien the female protagonist. But I think it is also about Mr. Leslie and she is an instrument through which we gain information about him.

You also commented on the possibility that Mr. Leslie was an alcoholic. Yes, I think he showed a propensity for booze, but it was a bit muted, perhaps because of the production code.

I had a feeling you would have some issues with my comments. I actually did like the movie, but I liked it in much the same way you like Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet. Yes, I was a pulling a few hairs here and there and I should apologize if my use of "far less" regarding George might have gotten you going. Please forgive me.

No, I still don't think we learn all that much about George but, to be fair, we don't learn much about a lot of characters in these hour and a half movies.

Soooooo... I will just rephrase myself by saying, after all of our discussions about Alec in Brief Encounter (and my referencing Renato in Summertime), I don't feel we know any more about George than we do of any of the others discussed in any of these romantic films.

This movie is really about Vivian, not George, anyway. Just as the other was more about Laura than Alec.

Unfortunately I have not read the original book this was adapted from. It would be interesting to see if this movie was a faithful adaptation or one that took quite a few liberties. My thoughts on George being a possible alcoholic are purely speculative. I hope I made that clear in my wording. Like I stated, we don't see him drink much. I mentioned the glass throwing because it was pretty shocking behavior. Yet I can't confirm anything one way or another.

5 hours ago, TopBilled said:

One thing I "fight" against in my selection of Essentials is the notion we should only consider the critical darlings as essential films. Film guides written a decade or two after these films were made were often imbued with a nostalgic view of what was classic, which directors and which stars should only be considered as important enough to remember.

But why must those "historians" of the cinema dictate what is classic to future generations? I deliberately choose films that don't abide by such narrow restrictions. In fact, I don't think I've chosen one Bette Davis movie the whole time I've been doing this. Nothing against Davis, but there are other kinds of classics and essential films that deserve a bit of advocacy and discovery. I'd never let what's in one of those film guides determine what is worth watching. 

 

I quite agree. I think your response was... partly, not entirely... regarding my earlier comments about Leslie Halliwell, whom I already told you that I disagree with a lot. However I should be more specific in my use of "critical darling". I was basically indicating that this film does not get discussed much in movie books. With that in mind, very few of the "short subjects" I often discuss are "critical darlings" either.

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5 hours ago, TopBilled said:

You mentioned how they used the pages of the Civil War books to dissolve to other points in time, that it felt odd. I suppose they could have used waves along the beach, but maybe the goal was to stay away from cliched transitions. To try something different.

I also thought they could be referencing the original novel. Yet that isn't something done often in movies unless the source is very famous, as in the Disney animated features based on popular fairy tales (see the book open its pages). I think our theories about it being the Civil War books makes the most sense.

It is a fascinating gimmick. Perhaps I view it as "odd" because it wasn't repeated again in other movies. It is not something I was used to.

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14 hours ago, Jlewis said:

I don't feel we know any more about George than we do of any of the others discussed in any of these romantic films.

This movie is really about Vivian, not George, anyway. Just as the other was more about Laura than Alec.

***

I quite agree. I think your response was... partly, not entirely... regarding my earlier comments about Leslie Halliwell, whom I already told you that I disagree with a lot. However I should be more specific in my use of "critical darling". I was basically indicating that this film does not get discussed much in movie books. With that in mind, very few of the "short subjects" I often discuss are "critical darlings" either.

Re: the first two paragraphs above...I think we do know more about George. We see his wife, we see his kids, we see his home, we learn about how his career affects others. We had none of that with Alec from BRIEF ENCOUNTER. We also see where George spends his vacations, where he goes to unwind (and meets Vivien). We find out later how wealthy he is, during the scene where she meets with his estate lawyer. And of course, we have learned about the fact he's a Civil War buff. He is more developed than Alec was. This is probably because he's the "husband" figure, a bit more than just a fling or passing fancy. Vivien & George's relationship occurs over several years, whereas Laura and Alec only knew each other in the space of four Thursdays.

Re: the third paragraph...not sure why we need to point out that ABOUT MRS. LESLIE does not get discussed much in movie books. Maybe it should be. Maybe, as I said, those "historians" have been too focused on stars and directors they have a bias towards, while someone like Shirley Booth and Daniel Mann remain unfairly overlooked. That doesn't mean this film doesn't deserve greater recognition. 

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