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In the linen cupboard with Moira Shearer.
on 15 November 2015
I bought this on the strength of Moira Shearer and Terence Rattigan, but this is very far from their best work.
I was also drawn to the theme of male obsession with a particular visual type, but it was so well explored in the sublime love theme, involving multiple Deborah Kerr’s, in Powell and Pressburger’s ‘Colonel Blimp’, that this seems coarse and redundant in comparison.
Rattigan adds a diplomatic hero who sets up a London flat as a ‘love nest’ and a false identity to service his obsession. In ‘Brief Encounter’ Trevor Howard’s friend is appalled at the thought of his flat being used for an illicit romantic tryst, but here it is openly encouraged, with much nudging and winking.
It clearly aspires to be ‘The Importance of being Earnest’ but is a limp failure, as all such attempts are. Wilde is unique and, by definition, cannot be copied.
The play it is based on, ‘Who is Sylvia’, flopped in 1950, with one critic judging, “This Will Not Do, Mr Rattigan” but nevertheless still saw fit to pass it on the cinema going public, like a dodgy five pond note, five years later.
This, being a fifties British film, the message is wheeled on at the end with all the subtlety of a placard on a march.
Ridiculously overlong, at 100 minutes and plodding, padded out with an unexceptional and dull dance sequence, but that was inevitable, given Shearer’s presence. This sort of light souffle of a piece needs pace and a lightness of touch to succeed, and should have been done and dusted in 75 minutes.
Moira Shearer was a luminously attractive dancer, with a very limited range as an actress and probably needed Michael Powell’s inspired and firm direction. Here she is given the hopeless task of multiple roles, but it comes as no real surprise to discover that she is no Alec Guinness. Instead of showcasing her talents, it merely exposes her limitations.
The 29 year old’s first part, as an 11 year old child, is ludicrously ill-advised and even slightly creepy (but as they saw fit to film it, I will exercise my right to enjoy it).
Her second role, as an Eliza Doolittle-type character, is just about passable, in a Rank starlet caricature of the working classes sort of way.
She is obviously on much firmer ground as the Russian ballerina and enjoys herself lampooning the vamp.
She is the most successful in her final role, as an haute couture model, probably as it was closest to her real personality.
It has extraordinary Eastmancolor photography, courtesy of Georges Perinel, like tinted old postcards.
There is an inept attempt to hold the whole thing together with a redundant and irritating third-person narration from Kenneth More who, occasionally talks to the characters and regularly talks down to the audience.
Harold French, a ‘journeyman’ (polite for lacking talent) director, gets us from A to B, with the actors speaking their lines clearly and not bumping into the furniture, but nothing more. He may well have shined in the theatre but he’s certainly no film man, an all too common failing with many moribund British productions.
Gladys Cooper arrives at the end, like the cavalry, and steals the show, not that there was much to steal.
John Justin, a theatre actor, later saw his film career as a mistake, which might well apply to this film.
A young Denham Elliott appears as a young man, but he was no matinee idol and would have to wait for middle age to come into his own as a superb actor.
Perverse as it might seem, sometimes failures are more interesting than successes, and this might be an example of this, so I would not wish to deter anyone from seeing this, especially if you are admirers of Shearer and Rattigan (and who isn’t?), merely to “manage your expectations”.
All right, I’ll come clean. I was desperately trying to avoid resorting to that hoary old cliche but I’m afraid it’s impossible. You see, it really is ‘The Curate’s Egg.’