This is an amAzingly moving film. It’s built on ideas that groan beneath the incredibly awkward weight of
- battle-induced amnesia,
- lives that reboot in fugue-states, and
- utterly unbelievably convenient conversations and coincidences that bear no relation anything other than plot devices.
Despite these fatal flaws (and hosts of extremely idiosyncratic characters who advance the story one or two ticks and promptly disappear) this movie really rocks with relentless pace as it lunges through innumerble series of powerful emotional states…to leave me on one ear.
Greer Garson and Ronald Colman were exceptionally adept at spoken English, but far more importantly, each of them brought an invisible and tenacious grip to the clunky material that inflected their lines precisely to render completely authentic moments in synchronous concert. They impart affective english that communicates spin to the bone. This film is a wonderful, profoundly engaging testament to movie stars and radiant acting.
I have a quibble. Colman’s shell-shocked amnesiac character appears a few moments into the film. In light of more recent films I’ve seen lately, I wish he’d played Smith as though he were a consummate gentleman slowly recovering his lifelong composure from the inexpressible monster he’d discovered in himself at war. Smith is played, instead, as the victim of external forces beyond his control and not as the author and audience of inescapable actions witnessed and perpetrated in the ungentlemanly theater of war.
It’s a slight, but significant difference that would lend weight to the unintended violence he metes out to the women who will penetrate the fog of him later and repeatedly throughout the breadth of the film. His fuzzy impressions of inestimable damage he’s done to those he’s loved are precisely correct, and the distance he preserves from everyone is neatly cloaked in the guise of an elegant, capable, kindly English gentleman. Jekkyl/Hyde sans fantasy bullshit.
The film is laden with rich and insightful opportunities for Colman to have made the beast more recognizable within the scope of his character. Lydia’s bad penny remark at the homecoming breakfast table, delivered exactly one hour into the film, is an ideal opportunity for Colman to have demonstrated the kind of rapier-like sardonic wit for which British intellectual aristocrats are very justly infamous. Her self-interested, arrogant ignorance of the toll exacted of war veterans makes this moment eminently suited to the complex demonstration of Charles’ merely physical resemblance to the man who went to war and the enormity of experiential difference between the original and the returning prodigal. Still, it’s only a quibble.
Kitty’s profound maturation is performed by an actress I don’t yet recognize, but the strained plausibility of her transformation from adolescent to knowing woman is remarkably exemplary of that self-same wonderful grasp of material exhibited by the leads. The entire tale hinges on underspoken communications, like kilted Paula in her music hall dressing room exuberently inching her chair (and her super-abundance of LIFE) closer to the damaged Smith while flying past emotional stops that range across vast continuua. It’s an unbelievably satisfying adventure, just watching these actors work far beyond the confinements of a groan-inducing, yet fascinating script.
I enjoyed the daylights out of this one!
Don’t google Susan Peters if your heart is even a little bit brittle. She’ll wreck you.