Sunday, May 21, 2017
2017 Cannes Marathon: The Passionate Friends
(Played in Competition for the Palme d’Or at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival)
Based on the novel by H.G. Wells, The Passionate Friends is the story of a love triangle involving a woman with another man as she reflects on the affair as she sees him for the first time in nine years. Directed by David Lean and screenplay by Lean, Eric Ambler, and Stanley Haynes, the film is an exploration of love affairs told through a series of episodic flashbacks. Starring Ann Todd, Claude Rains, and Trevor Howard. The Passionate Friends is an extraordinary yet mesmerizing film from David Lean.
The film follows a woman who arrives to Switzerland for a holiday as she hears the familiar voice of a former lover as she then reflects on the affair she had with this man she was in love with while being married to a powerful banker. It’s a film that explores the idea of affairs and longing as a woman find herself torn for her love for this man and her devotion to her husband. The film’s screenplay begins with Mary Justin (Ann Todd) arriving to Switzerland with her husband’s secretary Miss Layton (Betty Ann Davies) as hearing the voice of her former lover in Professor Steven Stratton (Trevor Howard) forces her to look back nine years earlier when they rekindled their affair as she is married to the powerful banker Howard Justin (Claude Rains). The first half is about the affair that is just innocent as Mary and Steven knew each other years ago but Howard’s discovery of it would end it. The film’s second half begins in Switzerland due to a chance meeting as the two don’t just cope with missing each other but also talking about what happened to them since.
David Lean’s direction is enthralling in terms of the compositions he creates in some of the locations in Switzerland including the Alps as well as some of the more simplistic scenes set in London. While there are some unique wide shots that would Lean would create including a New Year’s Eve party in the film’s flashbacks. Lean goes for something that is more intimate with the usage of close-ups and medium shots to play into the attraction between Mary and Steven as he would create images that are astonishing for the scenes in the second half of the film set in the Alps. Lean would also create moments of fantasy as it relates to the things that Mary and Steven want but it would often collide with reality. Especially in the third act where the story returns to London as it is about the reality of Mary’s encounter with Steven and what she faces due to the anger and heartbreak from her husband. Overall, Lean crafts a compelling yet evocative film about a married woman dealing with the presence of her former lover.
Cinematographer Guy Green does amazing work with the film’s black-and-white photography from the look of the interiors including the scenes at night at the London underground train stations as well as some of the gorgeous exterior scenes in the Alps during the day. Editors Geoffrey Foot, Clive Donner, and Jack Harris do excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with some dissolves and rhythmic cutting to play into the drama. Costume designer Margaret Furse does nice work with the costumes as it play into the posh look of the characters to play into the world they live in. Sound recorders Stanley Lambourne and Gordon K. McCallum do terrific work with the sound in capturing the sounds of boat and train engines heard from afar that add to some of the drama in some scenes. The film’s music by Richard Addinsell is wonderful for its sumptuous orchestral score that play into some of the happier moments as well as using some heavy orchestration for the dramatic moments.
The film’s marvelous cast include a couple of fantastic performances from Betty Ann Davies as Howard’s secretary Miss Layton and Isabel Dean as Steven’s date at the New Year’s Eve party in Pat. Claude Rains is incredible as Howard Justin as a banker that is trying to be a good husband but feels threatened by the presence of Professor Steven Stratton as he tries to hold on to his love for Mary. Trevor Howard is remarkable as Professor Steven Stratton as a man who is in love with Mary as he is eager to give her a nice life but also is aware what he’s doing to Howard. Finally, there’s Ann Todd in a radiant performance as Mary Justin as a married woman who is forced to recall events of her affair with Professor Stratton as she copes with wanting to be with him but also be loyal to her husband as the sense of anguish and torment gives Todd a performance that has to be seen.
The Passionate Friends is a sensational film from David Lean. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous cinematography, a dazzling film score, and a riveting story on longing and affairs. The film is certainly one of Lean’s more intimate yet character-driven stories filled with amazing imagery as well as intriguing characters. In the end, The Passionate Friends is a rapturous film from David Lean.
David Lean Films: In Which We Serve – This Happy Breed – Blithe Spirit - Brief Encounter - Great Expectations (1946 film) – Oliver Twist (1948 film) – Madeleine (1950 film) – The Sound Barrier - Hobson's Choice -(Summertime (1955 film)) – The Bridge on the River Kwai - Lawrence of Arabia - Doctor Zhivago - Ryan's Daughter - (Lost and Found: The Story of Cook’s Anchor) – A Passage to India - (The Auteurs #75: David Lean)
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