Joseph Cotten's birthday by watching him this evening in a film I'd never seen before, SEPTEMBER AFFAIR.
Cotten plays David Lawrence, an engineer taking a solo break in Europe to contemplate the future of his marriage to Catherine (Jessica Tandy). While stranded in Italy due to plane trouble, David meets Marianne "Manina" Stuart (Joan Fontaine), a pianist who's lived in Europe since she was a teenager. They hit it off and explore Italy together.
Before long, David and Manina realize their feelings are deeper than friendship. They are reluctantly preparing to part company when they're reported dead on a flight they'd missed, and they make the decision not to announce they're still alive, but instead to start a new life together. With money David cleverly obtains from a charitable fund he'd set up, David and Manina move into a lovely home together in Florence -- this premise seemed rather surprising for the era! -- but before too long the real world intrudes on their Italian paradise.
I had decidedly mixed emotions about SEPTEMBER AFFAIR. It starred two very appealing actors; in particular I very much enjoy seeing Joseph Cotten in a romantic story. The location shooting in Italy was beautiful, although, as much as I love black and white movies, I almost found myself wishing at times that the gorgeous scenery was in color! The use of the American standard "September Song" playing on the soundtrack was another memorable element; early in the film David and Manina even listen to Walter Huston's recording of the song together.
On the other hand...the plot had a decided "ick" factor, and there wasn't any escaping that pall that hung over the film, knowing that this story couldn't end well. While the viewer feels sympathy for the leads and their longing to create a new life together, it was particularly hard to understand David abandoning his son; that decision didn't cast his character in the best light. It was also hard to understand how David and Manina thought they'd keep their identities secret for the long haul; at least the film was realistic about how quickly their plans unraveled.
Putting aside my discomfort with the plot, the performances are excellent. Cotten and Fontaine convey a great deal simply with body language and facial expressions, and it says a lot for the two actors that it's so enjoyable watching them, even though they're playing a pair of extremely flawed characters.
Jessica Tandy and Robert Arthur are sympathetic as David's wife and son, and Charles Evans is a welcome presence as the Lawrence family attorney. Jimmy Lydon plays an American soldier who reminds David of his son. Francoise Rosay plays Manina's mentor and voice of conscience.
SEPTEMBER AFFAIR runs 104 minutes and was directed by William Dieterle. It was filmed by Charles Lang with European cinematography by Victor Milner. IMDb also lists Daniel Fapp as being an uncredited cinematographer; he worked on the film temporarily when Lang was ill. The film's costumes were designed by Edith Head.
Fontaine's piano solos were played by Leonard Pennario.
This film was released on VHS in 1992. It has not been released on DVD, but Netflix subscribers can watch a nice print via Netflix streaming.