Thursday, August 7, 2014

I'll Never Forget You - 1951 (Again)

I’ll Never Forget You (1951) is an exquisite time-travel romance, ill-fated, of course, for time is always our worst enemy, as well as being perhaps the greatest mystery in our lives.  This wistful film conveys those feelings, and illuminates the courage, longing, and heartbreak of the romantic couple faced with bridging a time gap of more than a century with their haunting relationship.

Tyrone Power is the time traveler, a nuclear physicist in post-World War II London, who travels back in time to escape a bleak modern world.  Ann Blyth is the 18th century woman he unexpectedly encounters, and with whom he falls in love.  We’ve discussed this film in a post from last year here, and compared it to Berkeley Square (1933).

I’m not going to re-hash the whole plot for this post, but I am going to discuss the final scene, which I left out in my original post, so beware of the spoiler.

This post will focus more on Ann Blyth’s performance, and I’ll lead off by quoting myself from last year’s essay:

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.

We've mentioned often in this year-long series on Ann Blyth’s career her versatility, her range, and her ability to create a character from the inside-out.  This quality is especially effective, and necessary, in this film. Her ability to inhabit a character helps her 20th century audience bridge the time gap as well.

I’ll Never Forget You, now a favorite of many who have discovered or re-discovered this film since its 2008 DVD release as part of a Tyrone Power collection, had a troubled past and a rocky start.

Tyrone Power, fresh from the stage in a six-month West End run of Mister Roberts was cast as Peter Standish, the time-traveling physicist. The film was shot at the Denham Studios in England.  The role of Helen Pettigrew, his beloved, proved a more difficult role to cast.  Several different actresses were considered, but Irish-born Constance Smith was finally chosen.  After about six weeks of filming, Miss Smith was replaced when Ann Blyth was quite suddenly loaned out by Universal to 20th Century-Fox and sent quickly to England in the spring of 1951.

The news reports of the day alternately reported that Constance Smith requested to bow out of the movie, and other reports that she was replaced due to pneumonia, or that she and Tyrone Power did not get along.  According to a biography of the director, Roy Ward Baker by Geoff Mayer, the author states that the real reason was Miss Smith’s “unsatisfactory performance.”

Having to replace one of the leads after six weeks, especially where color filming was involved, proved to be an expensive setback.  The studio, for whatever reasons, released the film without much build-up in December 1951.

The film languished, and disappeared, though an inferior black-and-white print was shown on television back in the day.  Until the 2008 DVD release presented a pristine print with the color scenes (the opening and closing scenes of this film are in black-and-white), audiences had not seen this truly beautiful film in decades.

The story is filmed carefully, meticulously, from the hazmat-style outfits of the modern-day scientists performing experiments with radioactive material in the beginning scene, to the 18th century costuming.  The radiation suits are meant to protect the scientists from contamination, but Tyrone Power encounters filth, disease, ignorance, and cruelty in the 18th century that is no less lethal.

Mr. Power idolizes the 18th century as the Age of Reason, yet he will face superstition and a disdain for science and logic that foil his attempts to help mankind in this era.  He will be persecuted for his knowledge.

The cast is excellent, as all described in my first post on this movie, and it is remarkable to think that Irene Browne, who plays Lady Pettigrew, the fluttering mother trying to marry off her two daughters to save the family from the disgrace of poverty, also played the same role in the 1933 version, Berkeley Square.

But this is more than a costume drama, it is a time-travel adventure, and three facets of this film, beyond the delightfully literate script, are I think what makes this movie successful in taking our imagination along on the trip – the tender, somewhat foreboding, musical score by William Alwyn, and second, Baker’s direction, with some wonderfully evocative moments – such as the image of Ann and Tyrone Power enjoying a peaceful day in the country, with two separate shots of passing carriages on the hill beyond them, both representing, literally, “trouble on the horizon.”  Also the use of the townhouse on the square, both the interior, that does not change through the centuries, and the exterior grounds of the square, which does, as another character in the movie. 

Most especially, of course, is the use of black and white to show the modern era, and the color stock for the 18th century scenes.  The color scenes are pretty, dream-like, and bring alive to us this distant past.  

However, we may note, incongruously, that the black-and-white film, beyond whatever statement it makes about the dreariness of post-War London, is actually a sharper, clearer image.  We can see contrast better.  We are wiser.  We know where we stand.  It is not romantic, but it is more real.

The third facet which contributes to making this movie work is Ann Blyth.

She may have been down on the list of candidates for this role, and a last-minute sub off the bench, but, serendipitously, could not have been a better choice.  As noted in my previous post on this movie, what she does with her body and voice is a very deft and intelligent interpretation of this 18th century woman.  Her light English accent is natural, and her carriage, lithe and graceful, yet rigid with that corseted waist and straight back, is used, along with her lowered glance, as a key for us to understand her world.  She is in a kind of bondage due to her gender, her class, her dwindling family fortunes.  

She is pursued romantically by the pompous Raymond Huntley, who jealously works to discredit and foil Tyrone Power.  Her reaction to Huntley's resentful, self-pitying wooing is one of acute embarrassment, pain and discomfort; she is too kind, and too poor, to tell him to get lost.  But still, she makes us feel she will not marry him, no matter what her mother wants.  This quiet young woman has a will of her own.  Tyrone Power is a godsend to her narrow world, who brings her excitement, passion, and her greatest heartbreak.

Ann Blyth brings depth to her character, and she enables Tyrone Power to break out of his awkward loner’s shell.  She gives him personality. 

Ann, the actress, moves as though conscious of being observed, as does her character under the watchful eye of society at the garden party.  Director Roy Baker uses her well, in two particular shots that I love: when she steps out of the coach, queenly straight as Tyrone Power takes her hand, and the hem of her dress ripples down the coach steps like a waterfall.  Also, when she walks away from Power at the end of the garden party, and she pauses, at the far end of the steps of the tented pavilion, to turn slightly and look back at us.  It is a glance of indecision, a reach across the room and the mysteries of time, to Tyrone Power.

Those shots belong to the director.  To Ann belongs the real tears that spring from her eyes when she and Mr. Power realize they haven’t much time left together, and her wondrous gaze into the future when she and Tyrone share a mind-meld vision of his world.  

It is so powerful, and so exhausting, they both break off with simply closing their eyes to illustrate the emotional release.  It is a kind of psychological consummation.

The time travel bit of the story is bookended by the opening and closing scenes which take place in the present.  Ann has a foothold here, as well.  Spoiler time.

Michael Rennie, who plays Tyrone’s colleague in the lab, tries to pull the loner out of his shell and reminds him that his sister wants to meet him.  At the end of the story, when Tyrone stumbles back through his own front door in a black and white world, Mr. Rennie reappears, and relates that Tyrone has been acting weird for several weeks, and that he and his sister have tried to look after him.  We know Tyrone's ancestor, the fellow Tyrone replaced in the past, is the weirdo.  But he’s gone back to his own world now, having switched places temporarily with Tyrone, and will marry Ann Blyth’s sister.

Mr. Power, barely able to deal with the loss of his beloved in the past, is stunned, as are we, when she walks through the door.  She’s not Helen, though; she’s Martha, Michael Rennie’s sister. 

It’s obviously a bone thrown to Tyrone, and us, to help heal the wound of his lost love, but it actually raises more questions.  When he bolts for the local graveyard to find proof that his 18th century love existed, and reads her headstone, Martha follows quietly and with gentle understanding.  He is shocked to discover Helen died only three months after he returned to his own time.  He surmises she died of a broken heart. 

Since this is one of those movies that make you think about the story long afterward, we wonder how awful it must have been for Helen to see the real 18th century Peter Standish marry her sister.  He would have known nothing about her, felt no love for her, been a complete stranger to her, except for his voice and his face, which is the image of her beloved, whom she will never see again.

Does Tyrone Power face a similar fate?  Here is Martha, so concerned about him, the image and voice of his beloved, but she is a total stranger.  Can we really expect he will replicate his love with her?  Does he expect that, or even hope for it?  When she and Tyrone, and Michael Rennie, walk, dreamlike, through the ground fog of the graveyard to leave us, is this the end of the story?  Never was an ambiguous ending so powerful.

For more on I’ll Never Forget You, have a look at this review posted on the Toronto Film Society website.

Come back next Thursday for another historical drama when Ann takes to the high seas with Robert Taylor in All the Brothers Were Valiant (1953).

Mayer, Geoff.  Roy Ward Baker (Manchester University Press, 2004), p. 24.

The Southeast Missourian, May 22, 1951, p. 8, syndicated column by Erskine Johnson; June 4, 1951, syndicated column by Erskine Johnson.

I've started a Kickstarter campaign - looking for backers to raise funds for upcoming Ann Blyth biography - principally to offset costs of fees to obtain never or rarely seen photos in libraries, museums, and newspaper files. Please click on the notice box at the top right of this page.  It will run until August 24, 2014. Thanks to all who can help. 

 THANK the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -
The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.

 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.


DorianTB said...

Jacqueline, I confess I don't often watch time-travel films, but I must say I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU truly touched my heart! You especially got me truly caring about Power and Blyth's characters! It didn't hurt that Michael Rennie was among the cast as well, too, as our family likes him! :-) You've gotten me keeping an eye out for I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU. BRAVA for fascinating and your moving blog post with the remarkable Miss Blyth!

Laura said...

Lovely! I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU is such a very special movie, your post makes me want to revisit it.

I also enjoy ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT although it's not a perfect film. Hard not to enjoy with the three leads, Technicolor, and Miklos Rozsa score. Looking forward to your post!

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Dorian, I hope you can see this one soon. I like Michael Rennie, too, though he is used only briefly in this movie.

Laura, I know you're a fan of this one. It is indeed a special movie. I can't help but wonder if the fact that the two leads must deal with lookalike replacements in their lives is not only bittersweet, but cruel.

There's a lot I like about ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT, though I agree, it's got some rough edges. Looking forward to discussing it.

Rick29 said...

I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU contains one of my favorite Ann Blyth performances. It's a well-done romantic fantasy and certainly the equal of the better-known original.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Glad to hear from fans of this movie, Rick. I hope many more will get to see it.

grandoldmovies said...

You wrote so beautifully about this film in your earlier post, and you do so again here - I sense that it has a special resonance with you, as it does with me, and that's mainly due to Ann Blyth's delicate and lovely performance. She's so subtle in her acting yet conveys volumes of feeling, that you feel you know this young woman from her depths. I liked your analysis of the ending in the present time, when Power meets the lookalike Blyth, but he doesn't have a conventional moment of I-found-my-lost-love-again. I think you get it down right, that he has no idea how to react to her since she truly is a stranger; and Blyth plays the moment so well, sympathizing with Power but also holding herself in-- she herself is not sure of this situation. (You're also right on how the color scenes look more unreal and distant in time than do the B&W ones; a peculiar effect of color film.) It's an unusual movie and should be rediscovered.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you so much, GOM, for your generous comments and your thoughts on this film. I really do feel that Ann Blyth lends a huge amount of support to the development of Tyrone Power's character in the way she handles her role. I'm thankful for the DVD produced as part of a Tyrone Power set, but I'm hoping TCM will be able to show the movie someday. I guess most classic movie fans discover films through TCM than any other source these days.

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