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After Larry Darrent accidentally kills his lover's blackmailing husband, someone else is arrested for the crime. When he is found guilty, Larry and Wanda have just three weeks together before he must give himself up or let an innocent man go to the gallows. Written by
Ian Harries <firstname.lastname@example.org>
21 Days is directed by Basil Dean and adapted to screenplay by the director and Graham Greene from John Galsworthy's play The First and Last. It stars Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Leslie Banks, Francis L. Sullivan and David Horne.
When Larry Durrant (Olivier) accidentally kills his lover's husband, he decides to hide his crime and the couple embark on a whirlwind romance for the next twenty one days. However, with an innocent dupe on trial for the murder, Durrant's conscience begins to get the better of him.
If it didn't feature Olivier and Leigh then this would have been consigned to the forgotten bin and sealed up post haste. That the stars give it a curiosity value is a given, but one peak at the meagre back story backs up the fact that it really is rather a dull movie. Film was wrapped in 1938 but sat on the shelf for two years and was only released once Olivier and Leigh became big names in 1940. The two stars were more interested in playing footsie under the table than putting any acting depth into the production, something which greatly annoyed director Dean as he was trying to make a gripping crime drama. In fact Viv and Larry were so unhappy with how the film ended up, they reportedly walked out of a screening of it at the halfway point!
Picture is clearly meant to be a scathing observation on the folly of criminal law, wrapped around a male protagonist battling his moral codes as his heart goes pitter patter for a dame. Yet the picture rarely reaches dramatic heights, playing out more as a movie about young lovers inconvenienced by an accident, than one about a cruel twist of fate so pay your penance you loser. Olivier gives good quality mental anguish, again that is a given, but Leigh is just on the sidelines looking pretty and rarely impacting on the narrative. The other cast members work well enough, but everyone seems confused as to just what sort of tone to aim for, in fact taking their queues from Larry and Viv. While the ending lacks an edge, playing out more as a cheap cop out than anything else, geared once again towards how lovely the central couple are together.
Somehow finding its way into a British film noir DVD collection, that's a bit of a bum steer. However, little snippets of visual pleasures do provide bright spots in the viewing experience. The few scenes involving a foggy London of wet back streets and street lamps hint at where the director hoped his movie would dwell, and with cinematographer Jan Stallick photographing continually with shadows prominent, there's just enough to keep it from being a complete wash out on the tech side of things. Ultimately it's very disjointed, a tonally confusing picture in search of a more dramatic and thrilling home, director Dean knew it, producer Alexander Korda knew it, and crucially, so did Olivier and Leigh. Only the most staunch (biased) fans of the two stars can seriously think this is a good movie. 5/10
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