Stateside movie mavens know what to expect from an Ealing Comedy or a Hammer Horror pic; not so much with the Romantic Melodramas of Gainsborough Pictures. Best close your eyes and think of England . . . as imagined by Barbara Cartland. (723 ‘romance novels’ and not a one remembered.) This crazy number, from a Margary Lawrence novel, must be one of the oddest. (Even odder in the States where its running time originally got whittled down from 100 to 88 minutes.) Phyllis Calvert stars as the mentally unstable mom of the terminally perky Patricia Roc. The daughter, terribly up-to-date & independent, has just come home to the Italian manse from school in England and finds Mom distant & Dad worried. Sure enough, come the morn, Mom’s flown the coop! Run off with her own jewels and returned to her alternate identity as an Italian wench, in thrall to a slicked up Stewart Granger, with a curl in his dyed black hair and his manly chest exposed. It’s hard to know how seriously the film makers want us to take this. The plot is blatantly contrived and the all-British cast make for the least convincing extended Italian family ever. (For that matter, the willowy Brit youths are just as unprepossessing. Can a fella with a concave chest have your back?) Best of all are the goofy ‘Italian’ sets, especially the exteriors, which look ready for a Fred & Ginger routine. No doubt, the long war years and the punishing post-war restrictions on consumer goods made these dark fantasies extra enjoyable, but the films haven’t the necessary sense of style to turn dross into gold. It all looks like pasteboard applique. Only once, when Calvert breaks down as a religious procession crosses in front of her, do we see the sort of wild inventive passionate thing the film would like to be. There’s some fun in watching future prestige director Peter Glenville (BECKET’64; THE COMEDIANS/67) play a slick Italian society leech in one of his larger acting roles as the villainous Sandro, but otherwise . . . it’s an acquired taste.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: A qualified nod toward THE WICKED LADY with James Mason & Margaret Lockwood. Probably the best known of the Gainsborough romancers, but not seen here. Hopefully, another Mason pic from ‘45, the dark & brooding THE SEVENTH VEIL (not a Gainsborough pic) will soon show on a Stateside DVD.