Robert (Robert Donat), a mousy accountant, and timid, sickly Cathy (Deborah Kerr) have settled into a dull marriage in their drab London flat. Robert joins the Royal Navy in 1940, and Cathy thereafter joins the Wrens, leading to a separation of three years. During their military service, Robert and Cathy each blossom into new people thanks to this VACATION FROM MARRIAGE.
This film is a wonderful mood piece, capturing rainy wartime London as well as the interesting evolution of two staid, quiet people into bold new personalities. The film tells Robert and Cathy's parallel stories as they settle into their new jobs, uneasily at first and then with growing confidence. Each serves their country with heroism, and they also come to realize they are desirable, thanks to the interest of Richard (Roland Culver) in Cathy and Elena (Ann Todd) in Robert. As time passes, Robert and Cathy are each increasingly certain they don't want to return to their old way of life.
The movie should be seen in one sitting to fully appreciate the gradual transformation of the characters. It's almost difficult to watch them in the early scenes, between Cathy's endless sneezing and Robert's vacant stares. The characters of the movie's first scenes bear no resemblance to the dashing Robert and Cathy of the final reel.
My one quibble is that I would have liked to see a bit more of Cathy and Robert's new relationship developed when they meet on leave near the end of the film. What exists in the film is wonderful, but the ending was just a little abrupt.
The U.S. version shown on Turner Classic Movies is 93 minutes, whereas the version shown in England ran 102 minutes. I'm curious to know if the British version -- called PERFECT STRANGERS -- is available and what was left out of the U.S. print. Incidentally, according to IMDb, U.S. prints originally featured an introduction by Peter Lawford; it was not included in the print I recorded from TCM some time ago.
The movie was produced in Britain by MGM, which shortly thereafter brought Kerr to the United States to star opposite Clark Gable in THE HUCKSTERS (1947). Donat had had a big success at the same studio, winning the Best Actor Oscar for GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (1939) -- an Oscar which, ironically, some feel should have gone to Clark Gable for GONE WITH THE WIND.
Alexander Korda directed VACATION FROM MARRIAGE. Clemence Dane won the Oscar for Best Original Story.
The supporting cast includes Glynis Johns as Cathy's friend in the Wrens and Caven Watson as Robert's friend Scotty.
This film does not appear to have had a video or DVD release in either Britain or the U.S.
TCM has the trailer available here.
May 2012 Update: VACATION FROM MARRIAGE is now available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive.