Thursday, October 14, 2010
"That Forsyte Woman" - 1949
He plays Soames Forsyte in this dramatization of the John Galsworthy classic stories. Greer Garson is a lady of no particular age, whose loveliness in this role is tempered by her wretchedness, and a sordid realization that she has compromised on many levels the integrity we are meant to believe in her, hurting herself and others.
But we are told time and again in this movie that what Errol wants, Errol gets, through shear willpower and determination.
It probably does not need to be said, but one is compelled to note again how mind-blowingly handsome this man was.
Right, then. Continuing…
Though he beams with the triumph of ownership when she becomes his bride, Errol soon realizes with bitterness that a woman is not a piece of furniture or an object of art, or any pretty bauble that one buys and owns, because he cannot own all of her. He does not have her heart.
Walter Pidgeon is on board as Errol’s cousin and Greer’s sympathetic friend, and eventual soul mate. This is only right and proper; he is, after all, Walter Pidgeon.
Set in London in the 1880s, the film is rich with Victorian set dressing, lush costuming, gaslight, and impenetrable fog. We find ourselves in elegant drawing rooms, art galleries, and cold, stark artists’ studios.
The Forsytes are only a couple generations removed from working class people, but now they are the newly wealthy, and as stuck up as possible, regarding every privilege as a birthright and every non-family member as an underling.
There is so much to look at in this film, but one is always distracted by the elegant Errol Flynn, who wears his impatient pomposity like a monarch’s robe; something he has been born to, deserves, and never fails to parade. What finally induces Greer to marry him is possibly his enormous self confidence. For many women, this is as much a lure of security as a healthy bank book.
This quality may be what Mr. Flynn understands most about the character and why he plays it so well. He was himself a man of prodigious self confidence, a person for whom perhaps everything came easy. Boredom and restlessness result from this trait as much as does success. It can be a double-edged sword. It probably was in Flynn’s case.
What strikes the viewer is the playfulness, even more than the understanding, that he brings to this character. He seems to enjoy wearing a pince-nez. In one scene, he enters the dim hall of Greer’s boarding house, and his top hat smacks against the chandelier. He gives it a glance of longsuffering loathing, refusing to surrender his dignity. It is moment of comedy, and a glimpse into Flynn’s ability to be self-effacing even if Soames Forsyte is not.
Until then, he only displays irritability as a mask for his hurt feelings. At one point during the course of his brittle dinner conversation, a scene that shows marvelous restraint, he accuses her of forgetting their anniversary. When at last he discovers under a napkin the gift she has left on his plate, he is contrite and vulnerable. Flynn does excellent work in this tense scene.
Obviously, for purposes of the film, the Galsworthy stories are condensed and somewhat altered, but the movie is a good introduction to the troubled and tragic Forsyte family.
“Executive Suite” (1954) - see previous post here.
That is perhaps another fun thing about this movie, the great romantic intrigue, the jealously and passion are all played out by middle-aged characters. By contrast, the young Janet Leigh, groomed by MGM and kept busy in a number of films at this point in her career, seems callow and less interesting.