Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tonight's Movie: If Winter Comes (1947) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

IF WINTER COMES (1947) is an absorbing if imperfect drama set in a British village just as England enters World War II. It's available from the Warner Archive.

Walter Pidgeon plays Mark Sabre, who has a contract to write textbooks at a company run by Mr. Fortune (Reginald Owen). Fortune doesn't appreciate Sabre and would like nothing better than to break the contract and let him go.

Mark is married to Mabel (Angela Lansbury), a union which initially seems satisfactory, though their relationship is somewhat perfunctory, but Mark's apparently placid home life dissolves with the return of his old flame Nona (Deborah Kerr).

Nona had impetulously married Tony (Hugh French) a few years previously, and Mark wed Mabel on the rebound. Mark and Nona both regret their choices but seem determined to do the honorable thing and stick to their marital commitments.

Mark becomes involved with Effie (Janet Leigh), a young village girl whose unpleasant father (Rhys Williams) throws her out when it's discovered she's expecting a baby. The unwed girl has nowhere to turn and Mark takes her into his home, enraging Mabel, who is all too willing to suspect Mark is the baby's father. Mabel promptly sues Mark for divorce, and when Effie is served with legal papers related to the divorce, things go from bad to worse.

This film has been maligned by various critics over the years, but while it clearly has flaws, being dull isn't one of them. Indeed, a viewer can easily forgive the film's problems for the pleasure of watching Pidgeon mooning over the lovely Kerr and going toe to toe with the deliciously nasty Lansbury, who was unbelievably all of 21 or 22 when she filmed this.

This was just the second film starring the 20-year-old Janet Leigh, following her debut in THE ROMANCE OF ROSY RIDGE (1947) that same year. She is remarkably good and touching for such an inexperienced actress. She was a natural, very moving as a sweet girl who just needs a home and a loving family.

Leigh's light British accent may tend to disappear from time to time, but on the whole it works. In her autobiography Leigh wrote that she was tutored on the accent by the niece of Sir C. Aubrey Smith, but "accents just don't come easily." She was gratified that British director Victor Saville didn't realize she was American until far into the shooting.

Leigh wrote of Walter Pidgeon "What a distinguished actor and person he proved to be!" She said Pidgeon sponsored her membership into the Academy. Their work together also included THAT FORSYTE WOMAN (1949) and THE RED DANUBE (1949).

As for the film's problems, the main issue is that there's almost too much plot for a 97-minute film, with nothing depicted in much detail. Various storylines in the movie feel truncated, missing depth and character background. The film was based on a novel by A.S.M. Hutchinson, with the setting switched from WWI to WWII; it's available in a free Kindle edition.

There are many unanswered questions, such as why are Sabre's colleagues at the publishing house so eager to get rid of such a nice man from the outset of the film? Why did Nona marry Tony? Does Tony have a gambling problem, as a scene hints? We know Mark married Mabel on the rebound, but even so, how did they end up married? And so on.

Then there's the characters of Mrs. Perch (Dame May Whitty) and Freddie (Hugh Green) who are scarcely in the picture, serving mostly as a device to throw Sabre and Effie together in a "compromising" position after the elderly woman's death.

Despite the movie's issues, those who enjoy MGM's '40s version of Britain are likely to find it pleasant viewing, as I did. Incidentally, the village bridge was a permanent set on the MGM backlot which was seen in countless films, including THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948).

Rene Ray and Virginia Keiley are winning as Sarah and Rebecca, young maids who adore Mark and can't stand his wife. Binnie Barnes is Mabel's nasty gossip of a friend. The large cast also includes John Abbott, Dennis Hoey, Ian Wolfe, Halliwell Hobbes, and Patrick Aherne. Aherne, the brother of Brian Aherne, steadily played small roles in films for over three decades.

Director Victor Saville's other credits included one of my favorite films, TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (1945), as well as DESIRE ME (1947) which was reviewed here last summer. The movie was shot in black and white by George Folsey.

The DVD includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I must see this one! Thanks for a fine review.
Always a pleasure to see Walter Pidgeon in a lead role.

2:45 PM  

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