A.A. Milne is of course remembered for 'Winnie the Pooh', but during his lifetime he was known for a wide range of writings. He regularly contributed humour pieces to 'Punch' magazine, and his novel 'The Red House Mystery' (a whodunit that's also a howdunit) was in the 1930s considered one of the great works of detective fiction. (It is now seriously dated.) Milne was a striking figure, with his blond hair and piercing bright blue eyes: for maximum effect, he often dressed in suits of the exact same distinctive blue as his eyes, and he was nicknamed 'Blue' by his friends because of this.
Milne was also a playwright of some success in his lifetime; here too, his work has sadly dated. Milne first achieved success as the author of 'Toad of Toad Hall', a stage dramatisation of Kenneth Grahame's classic 'The Wind in the Willows'. This was Milne's favourite novel, and he would often appraise new acquaintances by mentioning 'Willows' in the conversation so that he could observe their response. It's notable that Milne's books about Pooh and Christopher Robin are illustrated by Ernest Shepherd, who had previously illustrated 'The Wind in the Willows'.
'Mr Pim Passes By' is the film version of one of Milne's more successful plays. The opening credits list Milne's play as the source, but (in the print I screened) no scenarist is identified as author of the adaptation. Milne's stage play is an unfortunate vehicle for adaptation as a silent film, as most of the humour in this comedy of manners derives from the dialogue. This film (by a director unknown to me) features many, many intertitles with long, long pieces of dialogue in them ... but I don't believe that the director or scenarist should be blamed; this particular material just doesn't work very well without audible voices handling the dialogue. 'Pim' is a comedy of a very English sort, and even in England this type of humour is no longer in fashion.
Olivia Marsden was formerly married to Jacob Tellworthy, but he died during a period when they were physically separated, so she only learnt of his death second-hand. (They were emotionally estranged all along.) Five years ago, she married the much older George Marsden: a wealthy skinflint from a blueblood family, who rules Marsden House (his stately home) as an absolute tyrant. Olivia has no say in the household's affairs, no power over her own life. Neither does her daughter Diana, who is in love with the aptly-named Brian Strange ... who is meant to be a sympathetic character (the juvenile lead), yet whom I despised straight off. Brian Strange is one of those sensitive young artists who insist on painting landscapes that don't resemble anything seen in nature. (One intertitle identifies him as a 'modernist'.) George Marsden absolutely dominates his wife and stepdaughter, and forbids Diana to have any contact with Strange.
One day, into Marsden House ambles the absent-minded Mr Pim, seeking an introduction to the neighbour next-door over. Overhearing a reference to Jacob Tellworthy, he speaks of him in the present tense. It seems that Tellworthy is in fact alive; Mr Pim knows him quite well, and saw him only just recently. Having dropped this bombshell, Mr Pim ambles off.
Olivia and her oh-so-very respectable husband (to say nothing of his mother, the dowager Lady Marsden) are scandalised to learn that their marriage is illegal, and that Olivia is guilty of bigamy. Now along comes Mr Pim again, with a new bit of information. It seems that Tellworthy was indeed alive all these years, but he has just lately died. Olivia is indeed a widow, but she and Marsden have been living together all these years in an illegal marriage. Scandalous! Having dropped this second bombshell, Mr Pim once again ambles off.
By pulling a few strings, Marsden contrives to file a backdated marriage certificate. But Olivia refuses to consent to this. SPOILERS COMING. Realising that Marsden is desperate to remarry her (for the sake of his own reputation), Olivia renegotiates the terms of their marriage: she will receive more household money and some new drapes. Oh, and while he's about it, Marsden is to consent to his stepdaughter Diana's engagement to that modernist 'artist'. Happy endings all round (for all except Marsden) ... and now once again Mr Pim passes by. It seems he's just remembered that the fellow he knew wasn't Jacob Tellworthy after all. It was someone named Polwittle!
'Mr Pim Passes By' does not make a wholly successful transfer to the silent screen, as it is dependent upon so much dialogue that must be *read* in the intertitles. All of the actors give good performances; in one case, perhaps *too* good. Henry Kendall succeeds so thoroughly in conveying the arty-tarty pretensions of the 'modernist' painter Strange, he makes it clear that Strange is a dilettante and that Marsden is absolutely right to thwart his romance with Marsden's stepdaughter. I was disappointed that Diana is permitted to throw her life away on this berk. Campbell Gullan is doddering and indecisive in the title role, but that's appropriate to the character. In all, I'll rate 'Mr Pim Passes By' 5 points out of 10.
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