This is the first of what became a trilogy of portmanteau films based on short stories by W. Somerset Maugham. The author himself appears to introduce the stories. Each is around thirty minutes long and are a good mix of comedy and drama with the emphasis on character.
The first story, 'Facts of Life', features Jack Watling as a young tennis player trying to put into practice his fathers advice about avoiding gambling and women whilst playing a tournament in France (still seen as a hotbed of vice and wild living in Britain at the time). This becomes difficult when he encounters Mai Zetterling in a casino. What happens is nicely worked out - and infuriating for his father.
'Alien Corn', the next story features an early appearance by Dirk Bogarde as the scion of country gentry who share the usual pre-occupations of hunting, shooting and fishing and not much else. All except Bogarde that is, who announces that rather than becoming a solicitor or going into politics he wants to study to become a concert pianist. A mix of philistinism and confusion from his family gives way in time to the agreement that he can study for a few years. After that, if it is agreed he has no future, he must give it up. The setting of this story dates it a little bit and, in fact, the only sign of age on the source print appears here as well; some minor sound faults (a pop and crackle or two but nothing serious). The drama unfolds convincingly with the viewer left to make up their own minds about the way the story ends.
'The Kite' is perhaps the slightest story, recounting a young mans passion for the sport of kite flying and how it endangers his marriage (although I'm not sure whether this was actually a popular pastime even in the forties). George Cole stars alongside Susan Shaw. His doting parents are Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddley. On a point of trivia her sister Angela appears very briefly in the first story as Watlings mother. However Angela's main fame would come many years later on televison playing the cook Mrs Bridges in Upstairs Downstairs.
The final tale of this quartet is 'The Colonels Lady'. Traditionally in the British Army whilst other ranks and NCOs have wives, officers have 'ladies' and Cecil Parker plays a very traditional kind of officer. Happy in his daily routine he is dimly aware that his own lady has published a book of poems. Something almost like a proper book by all accounts. Such is its great success that he is even forced to sit down to read it at one point. Here Parker communicates beautifully his characters distress at reading a book that is full of passion for a lost love. A stuffy and cliched character suddenly becomes human. He attempts to make sense of this passion and confronts his wife about his rival.
Each story is well told and satisfying in the way it avoids convention and cliche. The picture quality is a little soft perhaps. One of the extras, billed as an alternative ending, is something of a letdown. The film ends with the conclusion of the final story, a short goodbye by Maugham and the credits. The alternative ending simply omits the goodbye. But these are small points. Overall this is a very entertaining set of stories told well. It good to see this film avilable on region 2 DVD at last.