Arthur Bartley and Janet Willard are fairly typical 1950s teenagers. Their lives are turned upside down however when Janet becomes pregnant. Desperate to tell his parents of the predicament... See full summary »
Brandon De Wilde,
Nell Bowen, the spirited protege of rich Lord Mortimer, becomes interested in the conditions of notorious St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum (Bedlam). Encouraged by the Quaker Hannay, she tries... See full summary »
Ann Lake has recently settled in England with her daughter, Bunny. When she goes to retrieve her daughter after the girl's first day at school, no one has any record of Bunny having been registered. When even the police can find no trace that the girl ever existed, they wonder if the child was only a fantasy of Ann's. When Ann's brother backs up the police's suspicions, she appears to be a mentally-disturbed individual. Are they right?Written by
The vast range of responses to and assessments of this movie here are a tribute to what an odd film this is in many ways. And it's difficult to comment on some of its oddest features (chiefly the performances of Dullea and Lynley) without giving away aspects of the plot that it's best you don't know when seeing the movie. I guess it's safe to say that I found both of these performances underwhelming but adequate. To be fair, both of them come off better by the end of the film than they do in its first third. Your take on Lynley's character will definitely evolve as the film progresses, which must in some degree be to her credit.
But by far the most compelling reason to see the film is Olivier's rich and understated performance from the period post-Archie Rice but pre-Othello. It takes a while for his character to appear, but once he arrives, he is unquestionably the center of the film, at the true heart of what's good about it. (The last 20 minutes of the film, maligned elsewhere in these IMDB comments, would probably have benefited greatly from a little more of his presence.)
His every moment onscreen is fascinating and worthwhile, and the script gives him some fine moments of verbal eccentricity which he delivers with variety and brilliance -- we leave this film wanting to know even more about his character, because he just seems so interesting beneath the surface.
Also a plus is that occupying nearly every small part in this film is a truly fine British character actor, with the old dotty schoolmistress Miss Ford (Anna Massey, I believe) a standout. But everyone, from the various employees of the little girl's school to Olivier's sidekick to the fellow manning the shipping counter, are fabulously well-played. And then of course, there's Noel Coward....who gives a truly perverse performance in what amounts to only three scenes.
The combination of black & white photography and widescreen, while not all that uncommon, would soon be all but extinct by the time this film was made (at least until our more recent era, when it's made a conspicuous comeback), but it makes for a very effective look and feel to the movie, often dark and noirish, with somes an almost documentary-like grittiness, but always very well-composed and a large part of the film's success. On television, it's nearly impossible to see it in widescreen, and in fact the TV print isn't even pan-and-scan -- it's just stationary and incomplete, so over and over again we hear people talking whom we KNOW are on camera, but they're invisible to us. No attempt was made in the TV transfer to even bother to scan. It's definitely true that the film is less effective without the widescreen component, but it's still watchable, because you can clearly tell what you're NOT seeing, if that makes any sense at all!
One final note: I originally tracked this film down over a decade ago because of the interesting score by composer Paul Glass, totally unknown to me except for this film. Way back when, the soundtrack (on vinyl) for this film was kind of rare, and I had a copy and really loved the music. In the context of the film, the score alternates oddly between working quite well and being inappropriate or irritating. Sometimes (during the scene in the doll hospital for example) you can understand what the logic was behind the musical choice, but it's intrusive and simply not working. The score also adopts the unfortunate "in-joke" of having some variant of the main title melody (which is quite lovely and fitting for the film, featuring recorder, strings, woodwinds and what seems to be a soprano sax to good effect to create the "child's world" motive to open the first 15 minutes of the film) ALWAYS be present as source music. For example, when we see Noel Coward in his apartment, a radio or phonograph is playing some kind of muzak version of the theme. There's another scene in a bar where the main title theme is playing jazzily. This sort of thing rarely works, and it's particularly egregious in this film. (John Williams once lampooned the practice in his score for THE LONG GOODBYE). But a few blunders aside, Glass manages to do a great job balancing the really expressive simplicity of his rather pastoral tune with some really fine dissonant, percussive, atonal cues. The score sounds like nobody else in particular, yet is very distinctive, which I mean as a compliment to the mysterious Mr. Glass.
All in all, an interesting enough effort, with a really well-written screenplay. One can imagine it looked great on paper when it was offered to Olivier, though perhaps the film turned out a little less successfully than might have been hoped for. But it's definitely worth seeing.
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