on 4 June 2000
Hate to see a good moview unreviewed. "The 7th Veil" refers to a phrase mentioned by a psychiatrist (Herbert Lom) in reference to the various depths of a psychiatrically ill pianist's mind (played by Ann Todd). The movie is told largely through flashback, and has echoes of "Intermezzo" or "The Red Shoes" in its British-sensitive handling of artists. James Mason acts brilliantly (as I believe he often did) as the pianist's (arguably) sadistic, inwardly tormented "Uncle Nicholas" who is responsible both for the pianist's talent and for her mental breakdown. If you're not hooked by this plot review, check your pulse.
Excellent movie, excellent ending. You hooked now, right?
on 7 March 2009
"The Seventh Veil" is the zenith of the type of psychological melodramas that hit their stride in both Britain and America at the end of WW II. Less pretentious and certainly less overwrought than Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound," the film takes full advantage of the eccentricities of its cast and succeeds in being a worthy watch despite its outdated psycho-babble. Ann Todd seemed to specialize in highly-strung and tightly-wrapped English roses at this point in her career, and this is the movie where the string snaps and the wrap comes undone; despite a more florid acting style than a modern audience is used to, it is to Ms. Todd's credit that she convincingly starts as a teenager and progresses to troubled adult without tricks of makeup and lighting. James Mason brings a cartload of his famous brooding to his character, and handles the role with such skill that he is both deeply attractive and repellant at the same time. Herbert Lom makes the most of his part as the psychiatrist, with a manner suggesting that even he doesn't believe half of what he says to explain his psychotherapy. Albert Lieven and Hugh McDermott both excel as bohemian love interests. Whether from financial necessity or personal taste, director Compton Bennett steered clear of many of the "twisted psyche" visual effects often used in this kind of film (which soon became terrible cliches), and as a result, the film has aged much better than its competitors. While there are certain aspects that are dated and produce unintentional humor from our current viewpoint, there are more things which feel quite up-to-date: the core story of a performer's meltdown; a woman believing her talent is keeping her from love; the search for her romantic hero amongst a group of self-absorbed, sometimes cruel, and decidedly unheroic men; and a happy ending which upon consideration may not be either happy or permanent, leaving the viewer to think of it as he or she likes. If you are willing to travel back to the mood of the immediate post-war era and settle in to watch without bringing along a bag of new millenium cynicism, you will find this a fascinating gem from a time when war-weary people were waiting for the social rug to be pulled out from under their feet--a feeling beautifully captured by "The Seventh Veil."
on 9 October 2009
Many people won't have heard of the Seventh Veil, despite its huge success on release, and in deed many younger viewers may not even be well acquainted with James Mason of Herbert Lom; partly because their style of acting has to some extent fallen out of fashion. This is a great pity. The film itself is a powerful portrayal of psychological distress and imperfect relationships of flawed people and as such as the potential to resonate with many of us. The darkness of the production is superbly achieved throughout in a stylised theatrical fashion. Lom and Mason put in superb performances. If you are only familiar with Lom through the Pink Panther films it may take you a little while to appreciate him as the insightful, clinical but caring psychiatrist and he treads the line of caring professionalism and emotional entanglement so elegantly that you are always uncertain where his path may lead. This must be one of Mason finest performances and for that reason alone makes the film worth watching. His own psychological scars are writ large and in deed perhaps a little clumsily so, but his role as a damaged character who despite his wealth struggles for happiness are beautifully portrayed.
One of the most delicious thrills for many British and American moviegoers in 1946 was the unexpected sight of James Mason thwacking down his cane on the fingers of Ann Todd as she played the piano. This one scene is probably better remembered than the movie itself. The Seventh Veil was one of the first British movies to deal with psychiatry; it made a lot of money in both countries; it helped propel Mason to Hollywood; and it undoubtedly is one of the great women's melodramas in movies. Surprisingly, after more than 60 years the movie still holds up reasonably well, thanks to Mason and Todd. Please note that elements of the plot are discussed
Women's melodrama? Just hear the names of the two leads...Nicholas and Francesca. If those names don't sound like characters in a steamy Regency romance, what would? But the movie actually is a modern (from the Forties) study of a severely shy young woman's repressed need for love, and her guardian's overbearing need to live his life's dream through her and her talent as a pianist. Francesca's mother had died when she was a child. Her father placed her in a boarding school. When he died, she was 15 and was sent to live with her wealthy guardian in a large London mansion. Francesca was timid, talented at the piano, so unsure of herself at times that she could barely speak. Nicholas, probably 20 years older, was her second cousin. He lived alone in his mansion with only male servants. He was lame, brooding, controlling and a misogynist. One afternoon he learns Francesca can play the piano and slowly entices her to play for him by playing himself. As he listens to her we can see that he is recognizing a rare talent that he most likely, however competent he might be, can never equal. "He was a wonderful teacher," she later says. "He used to say rather bitterly, 'Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.'" He drives her mercilessly for years to train her to excel, and he succeeds. "He never let me out of his sight for seven years," she tells us, "It was seven years of music...of Nicholas turning me into his dream."
We learn all this in a series of flashbacks because we first meet Francesca in a hospital after she has attempted to kill herself. She lies mute in bed, seemingly unaware of anything around her. When finally a psychiatrist, Dr. Larsen (Herbert Lom, wearing a scholarly pince-nez), is brought into the case, he slowly encourages her to speak and tell her story. He tells a colleague that the process is much like the removal of the seven veils, with each dropped veil revealing a bit more, and that the removal of the seventh veil will let us know the patient's truest feelings and desires. And so Francesca tells us in flashback how Nicholas drove her to become a gifted, recognized pianist, how he controlled every aspect of her life, how she thought she had fallen in love with two men and how Nicholas had reacted each time. Finally, Dr. Larsen is able to help Francesca through this. At the conclusion, as she walks down the grand staircase in Nicholas' mansion with Dr. Larsen and the three men waiting below, we know that, as Larsen has warned them, Francesca has become a new woman who will go to the man among them whom she loves and trusts. And as she goes down those stairs, smiling and confident, Nicholas knows that the man Larsen described cannot be him. He quietly limps away and closes the door to his study behind him. Care to guess what Francesca does next?
The movie still works, despite the now clunky approach to psychiatry, repressed love and inner-most feelings, because of James Mason and Ann Todd. Todd was a cool, finely-sculpted blonde who, at 36, had to convincingly play a young woman between the ages of 15 and about 24. She just about carries it off. She also has to carry the narrative weight of the movie, since all we know is largely from her flashback monologues and her scenes in the film. Mason, however, dark and handsome, dominates the movie. He isn't just glowering, brooding and tormented. There is an element of sadistic insistence in his portrayal of Nicholas that keeps us off balance. If Nicholas had ever reached the point of doing some bodice ripping, there would have been a lot of females in the audience sighing in anticipation.
The Seventh Veil was an important movie of its time. To my knowledge there is no DVD release, but old VHS tapes may still be found. Among the film's pleasures are excerpts of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata and Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto.
on 23 May 2010
A musically-talented schoolgirl (Ann Todd) becomes the ward of a brooding, even brutal, Svengali-like guardian (James Mason), who ruthlessly propels her towards a glittering career as a concert pianist. She, however, develops severe psychiatric problems, complicated by her romantic involvement with a bandleader (Hugh McDermott) and a painter (Albert Lieven). A psychiatrist (Herbert Lom) sorts her out by revealing that her guardian is the man she really wants. With its mixture of classical music, romance and cod psychiatry, not to mention echoes of Rebecca and Jane Eyre, the film was a big box-office hit at the time of its release in 1945.
It can fairly be criticised as so much tosh but the glossy Hollywood production values help to make it as guiltily enjoyable as a box of soft-centred chocolates. Mason, as ever, is a commanding presence.