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Tuesday, February 22, 2011


This first film version of the Graham Greene novel, with its swooning piano-dappled score and over-explicit narration, gets off to a weak start. But the ideas & texture of the novel start to take hold in spite of the awkward presentation. All told, the better-received 1999 version from Neil Jordan, with Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore & Stephen Rea is, surprisingly, left in the shade. The story is largely the same: toward the close of WWII, a writer has a complicated affair with the passionate wife of a highly-placed, but cold-mannered Civil Service official. When the lovers survive a bomb blitz, the wife, who has prayed for her lover’s safety, abruptly ends the affair. The kicker in the story is the wife’s budding Catholicism and, for non-believers, the demands of faith in general. Van Johnson seems somewhat lost as the writer/lover, peeved when he means to be distressed with wounded pride, but this sense of failure begins to pay off dramatically, his limitations as an actor start working for him. The Brits in the cast are all superb. John Mills adds a bit of light with one of his commonman specialties, he’s a private dick who brings his kid to work, and Peter Cushing’s cuckold doesn’t overwork his brief to earn our pity. But naturally, the film’s success falls almost entirely on Deborah Kerr’s unfaithful wife. She balances Greene’s impossible combination of duty, passion, sympathy, religious faith & personal sacrifice without working up a lather, and looks unspeakably beautiful when called for. Helmer Edward Dmytryk always did his best work on modestly-scaled projects and here, working smoothly with lenser Wilkie Cooper, he crafts fluidly staged & shot WideScreen compositions with lots of wonderfully intimate two-shots for the lovers. And if Leonore Coffee’s manageable script dooms the film to being no more than a facsimile of the novel (she even punts on the crucial miracles), it’s a surprisingly workable facsimile.

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