Archive for The Astonished Heart

Heart Attacks

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , on April 6, 2014 by dcairns

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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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Exposition

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2009 by dcairns

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Looking at Hitchcock’s THE LADY VANISHES reminded me that there was another version of the story idea — SO LONG AT THE FAIR, directed by Antony Darnorough and Terence Fisher.

Terrific thriller! It’s based on a sort of urban legend, about a couple (in the story it’s a mother and daughter, in the film it’s a brother and sister) who travel to the World’s Fair (but which one? the filmmakers wisely plump for the Paris Explosition of 1896, with the Eiffel Tower), where one of them promptly vanishes. Everybody at the hotel denies that the vanished relative ever existed.

This is one case where I’m not going to get into spoilers, although if you’ve read Hitchcock-Truffaut, you’ve read the solution. It works pretty well in the movie, and Hitchcock later recycled it for a TV episode.

Two things are striking about the film —

1) It’s successfully starry: Jean Simmons as the frightened heroine, who feels she’s losing her mind as reality is rewritten by conspiracy around her; Dirk Bogarde as the artist/swain who eventually comes to her aid; also, as if that weren’t enough, Honor Blackman; and David Tomlinson as the vanishee.

2) It’s from that period where British cinema was apparently bent on suicide, eradicating anything of interest domestically (Powell & Pressburger), while hemorrhaging talent abroad, and yet it’s a convincing film, compelling and exciting and stylish — but the talents were instantly dispersed to prevent the experiment being repeated.

Fisher of course boomeranged off to Hammer films, where he was productive and successful within that niche/ghetto of the genre sausage-factory. Darnorough, who had just collaborated with Fisher on a Noel Coward adaptation, THE ASTONISHED HEART, plunged into producing for a few years, before abandoning the industry. Jean fled to America and the waiting fingernails of Howard Hughes, Dirk fled to Europe and an amazing reinvention as art-house star. Honor became the first woman to do King-Fu in leather on telly in The Avengers, and Tomlinson was scooped up by Disney. And the writers, Hugh Mills and Anthony Thorne, who did an incredible job escalating the suspense and creating endearing protags, were allowed to slip out of the industry, despite a collaboration with Rene Clement on MONSIEUR RIPOIS for Mills.

For this one brief moment, they’re all together, producing a great entertainment. Simmons and Bogarde are great together. When he volunteers to rob a hotel safe to verify her story, she gasps, “Will it be dangerous?” “Goodness, I hope not, why?” asks Dirk, genuinely surprised. What a lovable chap!

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I don’t know how the co-directing worked. Fisher had already helmed a few little movies at this point, so presumably didn’t need help. A few suspense sequences have real panache, popping out from the rest — Fisher’s work? The production design is impressive, with flags waving from special-effects towers at the Exposition, and a fatal balloon ascension, and madly cluttered Victorian rooms. Cathleen Nesbitt (THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK begins to seem like a central hub of British film), as the steely hotel-keeper, is so convincingly French she convinced the French. The wrapping-up at the end is satisfactory, especially as the film is a new romance, weaving an elaborate thriller plot just to bring together a charming young couple.

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