Heart Attacks

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Noel Coward, who once wrote a piece called Shadow Play, stars in THE ASTONISHED HEART, which he also wrote. The directors are Antony Darnborough and Terence Fisher, who also teamed to make SO LONG AT THE FAIR, a really terrific Hitchcockian mystery with Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde, which we had previously enjoyed — in fact, it’s more stylish than any of Fisher’s more celebrated Hammer horrors, perhaps because of the b&w atmosphere, perhaps because of Darnborough’s contribution (he was a successful producer, but since he didn’t continue as a solo director like his colleague, it’s hard to assess what he contributed).

THE ASTONISHED HEART isn’t as revelatory, but it is very good, if tebbly, tebbly British. Noel plays a psychiatrist (pronounced sick-iatrist) who falls in love with his the former schoolfriend (Margaret Leighton) of his wife (Celia Johnson). His inability to compete with her dead lover drives him crackers.

Everybody is tebbly civilised, with Celia refusing to make a scene and advising him to gone on a long holiday with his lover until he knows what he wants to do, when really you long for her to knock a stake through his heart or set him ablaze with a kerosene lamp, causing him to fall through a skylight into an acid bath, or something. But actually, as with BRIEF ENCOUNTER, if you can get past how posh everyone is, it has a core of emotional truth that’s effective.

Visually the strongest scene is Noel’s long dark night of the soul stroll, through an eerie deserted London — with the witty, brittle dialogue on hold, the filmmakers can concentrate on telling a story with pictures. But the scene where Noel returns to work and finds himself completely unable to function, so wrapped up in his own problems that he can’t even hear anyone else’s, is magnificently played and VERY elegantly shot, with a slow track-in and jib-down on Noel’s anguished, distracted face that builds up the pressure agonizingly until Noel’s head threatens to go all SCANNERS on us.

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8 Responses to “Heart Attacks”

  1. SCHPLOOM! It’s quite effective, the way his face sort of flops down over his short front like a wet latex bib, but I’m not convinced that’s what would really HAPPEN.

  2. Saw Bunny Lake is Missing for the first time the other week, and was amazed by Coward’s sleazy performance as the alcoholic landlord in a ratty jumper. He seems to be sending himself up, and is clearly having a whale of a time.

  3. Oh, he’s fantastic in that, isn’t he? Like Mr. Rigsby reimagined by Pinter with a dash of Sade.

  4. Also his role in OUR MAN IN HAVANA.

  5. Our Man in Havana, like The Italian Job, uses his iconic status as arch-Englishman (or VERY arch Englishmen), but the Preminger is something more startling… He exudes every kind of sexual filthiness!

  6. chris schneider Says:

    I didn’t realize that you had written about THE ASTONISHED HEART, material for which I feel a proprietary affection … because I encountered it a lot, once upon a time, on television, and because I’ve seen it on stage. The latter viewing was part of a three-evening’s-worth production of TONIGHT AT 8:30.

    My main thought, upon seeing the stage version, was that the terser Coward’s characters were, the more effective they were. In THE ASTONISHED HEART, alas, they explain themselves.

    My other two points about the film are (1) that Michael Redgrave was originally designated to play the lead, which might have suited the star of THE BROWNING VERSION; and (2) that a subsidiary verse of Coward’s song “Mad About The Boy” contains a line that suits ASTONISHED HEART rather well. A schoolgirl alludes to a romantic melodrama entitled CAN LOVE DESTROY? According to ASTONISHED HEART, at least, it seems that love can do just that.

  7. Wow, those extra verses are worth digging up, folks!

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