Thursday, September 5, 2013

I'll Never Forget You (1951) and Berkeley Square (1933)

I’ll Never Forget You (1951) is one of those quiet movies that if you catch it on a rainy day, the gentle memory of it will stay with you for a long, long time.  It’s a time-travel romance, and like all time-travel stories, from Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: 2000-1887, which was published in 1887 and has never been made into a movie, to Portrait of Jennie, to Somewhere in Time, the “present” depicted as the point from which the story is launched is as integral to the adventure as the final destination.  The “present” is the locale—or state of mind—from which the protagonist is trying to escape, and interestingly, because the past is fixed for us, the “present” is the part of the story that inevitably becomes dated. 
Long post.   Best to make some toast and let the dog out now.  Also a few well-meaning spoilers, for which I beg your pardon.
The “present” for I’ll Never Forget You is post-World War II, and the protagonist is a nuclear physicist.  The movie is a remake of Berkeley Square (1933), the “present” for which was 1933.  It was based on a play of the same name that was produced in London in 1926, and on Broadway in 1928, so the “present” from which to escape was one of Jazz Age frenzy, of motor cars and shallow society, and the memory of the Great War. 
The Broadway version of John L. Balderston’s play was co-directed by Leslie Howard who also starred.  It was a hit, and Mr. Howard reprised his role in the 1933 movie, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.  I’ll Never Forget You is one of those times where the remake is better than the original, partly because of technological advances in filmmaking, and partly because I think the story benefitted, was really fleshed out, when launched from a more somber and mature “present”.  The 1933 version shows a fitful, restless dissatisfaction with the “modern age,” but the 1951 version has nuclear annihilation as its “present,” with the prospect of no future at all.  Curiously, I’ll Never Forget You is a brighter, more hopeful movie despite this.
Tyrone Power plays Peter Standish, the atomic scientist burdened with guilt and despair over the enormous ethical and moral consequences of his work.  The story is set in London.  He is an American helping with the British nuclear program, and he lives in an 18th century townhouse in Berkeley Square, a home he inherited from a distant cousin.  The furnishings of the house are original, and with the exception of modern plumbing and electricity, the rooms look pretty much as they did in the late 1700s.
On the wall above the fireplace is a large painting of his distant relative, painted in 1784, a man also called Peter Standish.  He looks exactly like Tyrone Power.
One of the intriguing aspects to the movie is that we never really slip off into a ghost story, though it feels like this could happen any moment.  However, Tyrone Power finds reality far more haunting than any supernatural elements of the story.  Tyrone orchestrates his trip to the past as carefully as he would conduct an experiment in the lab—or nearly so; he does make mistakes, and they cost him. 

Along with the furnishings, he has discovered this 18th century Peter Standish’s diary, which tells of his life in this house.  He was an American, too, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.  In 1784, the war over, he traveled to Britain to meet his cousin, Kate Pettigrew to complete an arranged marriage with her.  It was through his marriage to her that he came to live in this, her family home.
The last few entries of the diary are strange, as this Peter Standish fancies he has seen into the future, experienced life in the 20th century. 
Tyrone Power, so absorbed by the past of this house, and armed with the diary of Peter Standish, concludes that he and Standish will switch places, that it is inevitable that they do so, for a limited time.  Then, as noted in Standish’s diary, Standish will return to his own time and marry Kate, have children, and live his life here.  Tyrone Power therefore believes that he, too, will return to his own time, but not before he enjoys one heck of an adventure.
He needs some time off, anyway.  He’s been working too hard.
We begin at the lab, with concrete walls and eerie glowing dials, an experiment in some reaction of two substances that cast off a white glare, gauges that measure in Röntgens, and serious men doing unfathomable science.  It’s a slow start to the movie, but curiously intense.  At one point, Tyrone pushes an experiment to the danger zone, and his boss has to remind him not to take chances.  He thinks Tyrone needs some downtime.
Handsome Michael Rennie is his co-worker and the closest thing Tyrone has to a friend.  Mr. Power is a loner, and his socially awkward manner with Rennie, who has also been trying to introduce him to his sister, is a really good fit for the character.  (In Berkeley Square, Leslie Howard just seems like a boyish eccentric with too much nervous energy.  Tyrone Power’s brooding introspection is more appealing.)

But having said that, I love the comic moment when Leslie Howard delightedly discovers his pony tail.
“What about going away for a while?”  Rennie asks companionably.  Power replies, “I am.”  It’s a long shot with the room, cavernous, foreshadowing his portal to the past.  He confesses his theory about his upcoming time travel to 1784.  He explains, much as other writers have sought to explain, that time is not a straight line, the way we might draw a chronology of events.  It co-exists in another dimension.
“I believe the 18th century still exists.  It’s all around us if only we could find it.”  What particularly appeals to him is the break from nuclear annihilation, although, despite the scary lab at the beginning, this is never spoken, only implied, as are the horrors of World War II, and the Holocaust.  The director knows the audience doesn't need reminding.  Indeed, they've come to the movie theater to forget the front page.  Similarly, Tyrone Power looks forward to returning to “The age of reason, of dignity and grace, of quietness and peace.”

A thunderstorm is brewing outside, and the lights go out.  Tyrone lights a candelabra and takes Mr. Rennie upstairs to see the diary.  Creepy music as they climb the stairs—shades of a ghost story, but not quite.
Michael Rennie thinks he’s nuts, but he’s a tactful guy and worried.  He implores Tyrone to leave the house, as it seems to have cast a spell on him.  Tyrone sees him to the door, and stands outside a moment on the steps as a thunderstorm moves in.  Time travel in this story is done by thunderstorm. 
A clap of thunder, a bolt of lightning, and Tyrone falls, collapsing on the landing.
The camera draws our attention to the door of the house, as the metal mail slot begins to disappear.  Then an arm reaches up from the landing—Tyrone’s arm, grasping for the knob to pull himself up.
A tuft of lace protrudes from the sleeve of his coat, a striped pattern—and it's--in color!  Upon opening the door of his own home, he sees Kate, his intended, here played by Beatrice Campbell, lowering herself to a deep curtsey in a hall of soft colors and the muted gentle sound of a harp playing a light air (or ayre, we are in London).  Tyrone’s in 1784.  (Oooh!  Pretty!)
This Wizard of Oz-style use of a dreary black-and-white existence and escape into a Technicolor world is only one of the technological improvements on the original Berkeley Square of 1933, though to be sure, it is the most spectacular. 
Counting the original stage play, these three incarnations of the story are interesting for what their medium allows them to convey.  The original stage script is tight and very witty, with one character, Kate’s brother Tom, who is a rogue, getting a crack at some risqué dialogue.  One can sense the inventive use of present/past on a fixed set.  I don’t know if this old chestnut is staged anymore, but I’d love to see it.  I enjoyed reading the lively script very much.  (By the way, I understand there was a TV version in March 1949 with Richard Greene and Grace Kelly in the lead roles.  Wish I could see this.)
Berkeley Square the movie is toned down both in language (less saucy) and action, and has a somewhat confusing beginning showing Leslie Howard as the original Peter Standish enjoying the fellowship of his new friends in a pub.  Then we must work to accept him as the 20th century version.  The movie attempts to follow the play, with only a few scenes out of the house, but what might be called stagey I think is really just downright static.  There is very little movement, and we could attribute probably a lot of that to early sound camera issues which kept the actors practically bolted to where the mic was.  As it is, the sound is scratchy and the film quality is somewhat poor.
I’ll Never Forget You takes up the script from the previous movie and the stage play and to a much farther place, a poignant, dreamlike scenario that is continually punctuated, as all time-travelers find out, with the ultimate knowledge that the past wasn’t such a great place.
Tyrone Power meets the family he’s pretending, as the 1784 Peter Standish, to marry into, and we can see his interest, his sense of adventure, even his latent sense of humor warming to the occasion.  He has trouble relating to people in his own time, but here he is allowed to be a different man, and he bravely attempts sociability like a shy boy eager for friends at a party.
Irene Browne plays Lady Anne, Kate’s mother, who, like any good mother in a Jane Austen novel of the period is desperately trying to marry off her daughters.  Her husband is deceased and left them with debts.  Her rascal son, the indolent gambler, drinker, and chaser of servant girls, Tom, is played with irresistible panache by Colin-Keith Johnson. 
“What do you call the colonies now?” he asks Tyrone.
“The United States of America.”
“Trifle pompous, don’t you think?  But after all, it’s only temporary.”  He refers to constantly putting his boot-in-mouth, but we sense that saying the wrong thing at the wrong time is Tom’s favorite hobby.  He is particularly pleased to have Tyrone marry his sister, because Peter Standish is said to have 10,000 pounds a year income.  Tom wants to mooch off him.
Then Tyrone is introduced to the younger sister, Helen, about whom he knew nothing, as the original Peter Standish did not write of her in his diary.  She is played here by Ann Blyth, who becomes an ally of Tyrone’s when she generously covers for him as he blunders about knowing something he really can’t have known.  Before long their curiosity for each other turns to love.  At first she resists, because he is to marry her sister, but when she learns from him—and more importantly, believes—that he is a different Peter Standish from the future—she allows herself to enjoy a sweet, passionate, and ultimately hopeless love for him.
Miss Blyth is fascinating to watch—all the cast are excellent—but she has a lot to convey and make us believe and she has to do this under acting restrictions that the other more emotional and physically expressive characters don’t have.  Her character is sheltered, demure, gentle, all qualities which can only be indicated by her posture, her voice, and disciplined economy of movement.  She walks softly, sits and stands with a ramrod-straight back, lowers her eyes at moments of mature discretion, a minimalist way of telling us who she is and what her world is like.  Her lovely face melts into a smirk at one of Tyrone’s naïve attempts to “catch on” to this old way of life.  She also has intelligence, and a sense of humor, making her the most reasonable and capable member of her family.  In trusting Tyrone and his tales of a future world, she is also the most courageous.  Like Tyrone, she silently carries burdens, the chief of which is the pressure by her mother to marry a much older man who is also a self-important jerk.
He is played by Raymond Huntley.  Something about the voice was tantalizingly familiar, and then I remembered him from the BBC series Upstairs/Downstairs.  You’ll recall he was the family solicitor, Sir Geoffrey.  Here he is a man always clinging to this family, trying to work his way in, and becomes jealous of Tyrone’s easy friendship with the beautiful young woman he had culled out of herd for himself.  His resentment will lead to revenge.
By the way, the role of Helen was played on Broadway with Leslie Howard in 1928 by Margalo Gillmore, who we met here as the superior officer in Skirts Ahoy from 1952, the year after I’ll Never Forget You was released.
Tyrone navigates through parties where he meets the greats of the age, including James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, and sees enough of the wretched filthy streets of London, including a glimpse of children being abused in a workhouse, to understand that life in the 18th century was not without its misery.  He becomes disillusioned. 
He also makes more and more blunders, and people begin to pull away from him in fear of his seeming ability to predict events.  He becomes just as isolated as he was in his lab (feeling comfortable in the lab environment, he even attempts to recreate it by performing simple experiments in a rented basement).
The date in Peter Standish’s diary that marks the end of the adventure is drawing near, but Tyrone does not want to leave Ann.  The authorities, when he has been accused of sorcery, will have the ultimate power over him.
Director Roy Ward Baker tells the story with exquisite cinematography and actors that are beautifully choreographed, not just the requisite Austen-like ball scene, but in ordinary circumstances.  When Tyrone Power hands Ann Blyth out of a coach, her long dress ripples to the ground, dripping down the metal fold-out coach steps. 
Shots of the rooms in the house, the stairway, the halls, convey mood and the house becomes like another character in the story.  The muted colors are lovely.  A bowl of colorful flowers catches our eye in the foreground as the actors stand behind, held together by the pastoral scenes on the wallpapered panels in the background.  The outdoor shots of London streets, of the quiet square, of the peaceful countryside, of Tyrone Power gazing out the window at night with satisfaction on his first day in the Age of Reason.
I like how Tyrone and the other men have a slight five-o’clock shadow in the color sequences that looks very much like men in the 18th century oil paintings.  This is a really nice piece of detail.  I don’t think this would have shown up well in black and white.
There are some major scenes that are handled differently in I’ll Never Forget You than they were in Berkeley Square, with very good effect, and turn the ending from a flat tragedy to a more hopeful, romantic, if equally gut-wrenching ending.
First, the crux ansata (more commonly known as an ankh) is a symbol of eternal life and was a trinket brought back from Egypt by Helen’s deceased father.  In Berkeley Square, Leslie Howard has this item from the beginning of the story as something he found in the house and wonders what it is.  Later on in the story, when he is in 1784, the Helen character shows it to him, and says she will leave it in the house as a symbol of their eternal love and connection.  At the end of the story, when he has returned to 1933, he holds it mournfully as a symbol of his lost love.
I’ll Never Forget You uses the crux ansata in a more romantic and suspenseful way, when at the point Ann Blyth realizes Tyrone Power must return to his own time, she shows him the object, tells him of its significance, and demonstrates that she will hide it in a secret compartment in a desk for him to find one day as a reminder of her.  At the end of the story, when Tyrone is back in 1951, he has a fleeting few time-travel hangover moments where he thinks his adventure was all a hallucination. 
Then—aha!  He remembers the object, and runs to the hiding place.  He fumbles a few moments, not able to locate the hidden drawer.  Will he find it?  Is it there?  Please let this not be a dream!  (If we just wasted 90 minutes of our life on a dream sequence we are not going to be happy.)  And then—bingo!  His recovery of the crux ansata is joyful.
Another scene played very differently is when the Helen character, who hints that she has envisioned Peter coming to her before they met—she had a vision of him walking down the staircase holding a lighted candelabra as we saw him in modern times—and she wants to see into the future.  She looks into his eyes and through what is, I guess, meant to be a telepathic communication between them, she sees fleeting images of his world as he thinks of them.  In Berkeley Square, Helen is played by Heather Angel (We last saw her here in Cry Havoc), who though a lovely young woman, has a bit of a deer-in-the-headlights look in this movie which I think is meant to be shorthand for her soulfulness.  Her visions are splashed on the screen as stock footage of skyscrapers, locomotives, racing cars (racing cars?) biplanes, warships, gangsters, and finally World War soldiers in gas masks, bayonets drawn, flamethrowers—and she is horrified.
“Devils!  Devils!  God, would not put us here to suffer for a race of fiends like that to come after us!”
Powerful sentiment, and the image of gas masks, that iconic, ultimate horror of World War I, lingers even today as we lately hear about the threat of chemical warfare.
I’ll Never Forget You has a drastically different take on this scene.  Instead of the horrors of World War II and the nuclear age, Ann Blyth sees only beautiful cities lit by electric lights in Tyrone Power’s dark, sad eyes.  There is no stock footage superimposed over her beatific expression, we have only the trust we have invested in her, and the trust she has invested in him, to know that her wondrous visions are real. The message here is not to pound us with our recent horrors, but to count our blessings. 
“What a beautiful dream of heaven.  Who would want to leave a world such as that?”
Tyrone returns to his own world, by force, when magistrates drag him down the staircase, off to the lunatic asylum, and we see a magnificent shot from Ann Blyth’s vantage point on the upper landing to the hall below.  The great double doors close behind Tyrone Power and his captors. 
Then more flashes of lightning, and the warm colors fade into crisp black and white.  The door slowly opens again, and Tyrone is in modern dress, his hair cropped, his arm tentatively reaching for the light switch.  As he enters the house, looking all around at these rooms that have not changed with the centuries, we hear a soft, plaintive reprise of an 18th century flute piece.  Truly, the past is alive around us if we are perceptive to it.
How we perceive our own times is the spectrum through which we judge the past.  How fascinating that the modern Peter Standish’s perspective of his own era (or rather, the filmmaker's perspective) could change so much in the eighteen years from 1933 to 1951. 
There is more to the ending that I won’t spoil for you, but it is open to our imagination, and imagination is the very essence of time travel. You can watch both Berkeley Square and I’ll Never Forget You on YouTube.  I’d love to know what you think.

Our friend Laura at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings discusses I'll Never Forget You here.



grandoldmovies said...

I haven't seen Berkeley Square, but I'm very fond of I'll Never Forget You, especially Ann Blyth's performance, which is just as you say; gentle and restrained, but with a touch of lyricism in it.

Kevin Deany said...

Very interesting look at these two films, especially the later remake. While I enjoyed "I'll Never Forget You" the first time I saw it, my initial impression was it was was one of Power's weakest performances. For a man obsessed with the 18th century, he seemed very blase about it once he got there.

But your look here convinces me I should give it another try.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

GOM, what I particularly like about Blyth's performance is she seems real, with some depth to her personality. Sometimes in these maidenly roles we get an actress who does little more than flutter her eyelashes and there's just not much there. I admire the way Blyth does a lot with very little.

Kevin, I agree Power's not at his most lively here, but I think that's what I enjoyed most about it, especially in contrast to the way Leslie Howard played him. Power's scientist is burnt out.

Rich said...

What made Power's character think he was gonna time travel in the first place? Was it really just because his ancestor had a vision of the future?

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Because he's a physicist so he knows time travel happens during thunderstorms.

No, it's the ancestor thing. He pops into the future, looks so much like Tyrone, so Tyrone thinks he's going back

Actually, there's a lot we could quibble with, like why doesn't he know anything about Ann Blyth's character just because she wasn't mentioned in the diary. If he were researching the family, he could have discovered her existence.

And there's no way he could have made a photograph (a scene I did not mention) with the tools at hand in 1784.

Laura said...

I've yet to see BERKELEY SQUARE but loved I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU (and thank you so much for the link!). This is a lovely post on a beautiful movie. As you say, it stays with you for a long time.

I particularly want to zero in on what you write about Ann Blyth's performance. I've been watching quite a bit of Blyth's work in recent months and the more I've seen, the more impressed I've been. Her performances can be radically different, and it goes far beyond the dialogue -- her voice and body language change. You alluded here to how much she conveys with her body language -- so true, and it's something that changes from film to film. I think she must have spent a lot of time thinking about this aspect of her characters prior to filming.

Now I want to watch this movie again! Thank you so much for letting me revisit it in my mind's eye this morning.

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

You're welcome, Laura, and thanks for stopping by. Not too much has been written about this movie, so I was delighted to have stumbled upon your post.

I've always thought Ann Blyth one of those actresses who, apart from her smashing role as Veda in "Mildred Pierce," never got as much notice as she should have. I don't know why, she certainly got plenty of starring roles. It's curious. She was able to sing, do drama and comedy, but I can't recall anybody referring to her as a "triple threat" the way we commonly do Judy Garland. I don't know if her quiet personal life kept her out of the news or if it's just the consistency of her work that made the industry and audience--including audiences of today--take her for granted. It would be nice if TCM could get more of her Universal stuff.

Your comment about her thinking about the aspects of her character prior to filming is probably spot on. Her work feels very cerebral to me, and not instinctual or purely emotional.

As for your remark about how her posture changes--sometime or other I'd love to cover "Once More, My Darling" (1949). Talk about a 180-degree turn from Helen Pettigrew. It's an extremely physical role, bouncy, and she shows a tremendous gift for screwball comedy.

I think she was a last-minute replacement for "I'll Never Forget You," but they couldn't have done better.

Laura said...

Ann's role in ONCE MORE, MY DARLING is a great contrast to I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU -- her energetic "Killer" is so far from demure Helen!

I just rewatched ONCE MORE, MY DARLING recently -- it's a wonderful movie, in fact I included it in a list of "underrated comedies" in a guest post at Rupert Pupkin Speaks earlier this year. I'd love to read your take on it. So many wonderful moments in that one, plus a nice sense of L.A. and a delightful cast.

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I agree "Once More, My Darling" is underrated. I was surprised to read reviews of it that were merely polite, of reviewers that found it pleasant. Not just reviews from today, but ones that were written when it came out. I thought it was drop dead hysterical. I'll try to watch it again sometime in the near future.

Classic Film and TV Cafe said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your comparison of these two time travel romances. I saw I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU first and then spent many years looking for BEREKELY SQUARE. When I finally saw it, I was somewhat disappointed--perhaps it was a case of high expectations. I still find Powers' films to be charming; it should be shown more often.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I actually discovered the story through an old time radio broadcast first. This was with Greer Garson and Ronald Colman in the leads, done sometime in the early '40s, and I thought it was so sweet. I believe Lux Radio Theater has done it at least once, maybe twice with Leslie Howard. Maybe a two or three years later I saw the movie "Berkeley Square," so "I'll Never Forge You" came late in the game for me.

barrylane said...

I have seen both Berkely Square and I'll Never Forget You. Howard's film is much stronger but I'll Never Forget You lingers. Howard is more neurotic, more clearly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Well, there are other things but nothing much matters if you do not accept the premise. I do, by the way. As for the play, I believe it was performed at The Shaw Festival in Canada smoe years ago. I missed it my misfortune because this material appeals. Oh, final thought. I saw the Tyrone Power film on initial release but the Howard on a gray market video.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks for stopping by. "Berkeley Square" has been on TCM, I think that's where I've seen it. I hope I can see the stage version sometime.

Yvette said...

Ooooh, Jacqueline, this sounds like such a good story. I love time travel themes and yet somehow, I've never seen any of these versions of the story.

In truth, far as I'm concerned, time travel has never really been used effectively on screen - at lest not that I've seen. Although A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court had a few charming sequences. Oh wait, I did like TIMELINE based on Michael Crichton's book, so I take that back. :)

I'm definitely going to watch the Tyrone Power version on youtube. Thanks for another great post.

By the way, I'm still hoping that someplace, sometime I'll get a chance to watch MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT which you talked about months ago.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, Yvette. The fun thing about blogging about a YouTube movie is everybody gets to see it. I'd love to know what you think.

Let me look and see if I still have "Middle of the Night" recorded. I don't always keep stuff after I've blogged about movie, but I often do. I'll email you if I've still got it.

Yvette said...

Oh, thanks, Jacqueline, that would be wonderful. :) I'll cross my fingers.

Caftan Woman said...

"I'll Never Forget You" is such an apt title. Once seen, the movie leaves an indelible place in a sentimental heart. I was sad that "Berkeley Square" didn't have that emotional impact.

Back in 1991, "Berkeley Square" was produced at the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake. What I recall most of the production was the humour from the caddish cousin and the stock British aristocratic characters. Only a slight melancholy came through in the romance.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

CW, you never let me down. Somebody who's seen the stage version, yay. Your memories of the production are interesting. Yes, the script really crackled with the humor of the cad and the other Brits. Maybe strong humor doesn't leave much room for the romantic angst we see in "I'll Never Forget You."

I've never been to the Shaw Festival, but I have been to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Lovely town.

Unknown said...

Maybe I'm biased, being a convinced Leslie Howard's fan, but "Berkeley Square" is still one of my favorite films, and any comparison is just impossible.
Though Leslie Howard wasn't the first Peter Standish (the play had already been produced in London, in 1926), this role was undoubtedly one of his most celebrated creations. His production of 1929 was an immense success.
The film version, of course, cannot reproduce the magical atmosphere surrounding his stage presence, which entranced audience and critics. "Berkeley Square" is a classic "filmed play" of the early Thirties; it's quite static, its photography is unimaginative. But Leslie Howard's skill and charm still shine in splendor.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Leslie Howard fans always welcome here, Ginevra. I wish I could have seen his stage version.

The Rush Blog said...

I just finished watching "I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU". I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. I wouldn't regard Tyrone Power's performance as weak, just a bit more introverted than Leslie Howard's performance. Then again, Power was portraying a more introverted character.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Welcome to the blog! I'm glad you enjoyed the movie. I agree, Powers' character was introverted and that really describes the main difference in a nutshell.

Unknown said...

I hope everyone has seen Ann Blyth in "Queen of the Nile"; it's in my top five list of Twilight Zones, and she gives a terrific performance!

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