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Directed by Alexander Korda, costumed by Cecil Beaton. This is a good start
for any movie, but when it is based on one of Oscar Wilde's great comedies,
this starts to look like a real goodie.
The cast puts Diana Wyngard as Lady Chiltern, Hugh Williams as Lord Robert, Michael Wilding as Lord Goring, Constance Collier as Lady Markby, Glynis Johns as Miss Chiltern, and C Aubrey Smith as Goring's father, Lord Caversham. With them is Paulette Goddard, mainly known for her work in the USA, as Mrs Cheveley, the woman who 'looks like she has a past'. Now, An Ideal Husband can be witty and clever, or it can be screamingly funny and farcical (I saw a wonderful stage production which was firmly the latter): the film chooses wit over low comedy, perhaps the right idea as it works very well. The ladies are sumptuously costumed as you would expect, while the script barely tampers with the original stage play.
In comparison to the slightly later movie of The Importance of Being Earnest, this film bears up well. The cast is almost ideal and work together extremely well, and the colour certainly helps (as it did in Earnest too). Well worth a look.
This is visually a beatiful costume film by Cecil Beaton. Add Oscar Wilde's
brittle dialogue, put Paulette Goddard in the leading role as Mrs. Chesney
with England's top drawer supporting cast (Michael Wilding, Diana Wynyard,
Glynis Johns and Hugh Williams) and you have excellent drawing room comedy.
Goddard holds her own opposite such a luminous cast as this. Upon her entrance in Beaton's exquisite gown with feathers in her hat, she dominates the screen with her glamour. There is an elegance in Goddard that wasn't seen too much in previous roles. She has matured into a fine actress from her early days of romantic comedy and DeMille epics. Nice change.
This adaptation of the Oscar Wilde story "An Ideal Husband" works pretty
well as light entertainment despite some shortcomings. It focuses on the
dilemma of a prominent British politician, who wants to expose a financial
fraud but who has been threatened with personal ruin if he does. The plot
that follows does not really fulfill all of the potential of the situation,
but that is probably a deliberate decision, as the story focuses more on the
sights, atmosphere, and ways of upper-class society.
It often moves slowly in order to call attention to the sometimes extravagant habits of the characters; sometimes this is effective, sometimes less so. Once it gets going, the pace picks up a little. There are some moments of good subtle humor and commentary, with some of the funniest scenes perhaps being those with Michael Wilding as a wastrel son being confronted by father C. Aubrey Smith. Paulette Goddard is pretty good in an underplayed role as the villainness.
Overall, it scores higher on style than on substance, but perhaps that is exactly as intended, and it is entertaining enough to be worth seeing.
This film doesn't have a very good reputation, e.g., "slow moving" (Maltin) and "a slight, stiff play is swamped by the cast" (Halliwell). IMDb comments are mixed. Well, it does have the limitations one would expect from Korda filming a period play in lavish Technicolor. It is pictorially static, with overly bright colors. For the most part, the actors' voices are animated but their bodies are strangely inert. But in general I thought this wasn't that bad an adaptation, somewhat better than the trendy 1999 version, if only because Korda understood the period he was filming. It seems to me that Wilde's plot complications have been smoothed out a bit here (his name is not even on the credits!) so that the solution follows the problem too quickly and the whole thing can be over in 96 minutes and still have a spectacular recreation of crowds in period costume at the Ascot races. (Perhaps this is an unfair comment since IMDb notes that an original version was a half-hour longer.) With the casting and the spirited performance of Goddard, Mrs. Cheveley becomes the most animated and virile character in the film. Lady Chiltern's conception of morality should stem from a vigorous, naive idealistic vision. She should be a dynamic, slightly-otherworldly treasure with a fairytale view of the world and be the core of the film, for the plot hinges on her vision of purity. The casting and somewhat stodgy performance of Wynyard in the role weakens the story. The character becomes merely an upright, slightly stuffy moralist. Hmmm. Perhaps the criticisms directed at the film are justified. In spite of this, I quite enjoyed this, my third go-around with the play. The Importance of Being Earnest is perhaps more witty and amusing, but this story has a much more provocative drama at its core, with interesting things to say about ethics, morality and idealism. I find it odd that it is universally described as a comedy. Certainly there's a lot of pithy, epigrammatic dialogue, and some light moments, but the basic story is a clear-cut moral drama. The anguish of Sir Chiltern and his wife is real, the stakes are high and virtually life-threatening, and the moral decisions are agonizing.
"An Ideal Husband" from 1947 is not Oscar Wilde's most famous comedy,
but it is funny nevertheless. This production is directed by Sir
Alexander Korda with an English cast with the exception of Paulette
Goddard. Goddard plays a "woman with a past," the overly-made up Lady
Chevely, who attempts to blackmail Sir Robert Chiltern (Hugh Williams)
so that he will encourage support for what is, in essence, a scam in
which she has invested. Williams turns to a friend, Viscount Arthur
Goring (Michael Wilding) for advice.
This is the type of material that can be hilarious or just charmingly witty, and Korda opted for the latter. As good as it is, the film is nearly upstaged by some of the most gorgeous costumes ever seen, designed by Cecil Beaton. They are truly eye-popping, as is the beautiful color process used in the film.
Everyone is good, including a young, pretty Glynis Johns as Chiltern's as yet unmarried sister, and Lady Diana Wynward as the very moral Lady Chiltern.
This film compares well with the 1999 version starring Rupert Everett, Cate Blanchett, and Julianne Moore. Moore perhaps exhibited a little more class than Goddard, but Goddard still does a good job. Well, you could certainly believe she was a "woman with a past" at any rate.
Avoided this for years because of its underwhelming reputation, and was delighted by a recent TCM showing. It's a fine filming of a muckraking Wilde comedy, in which, typically of the author, observations about class and sex and money are often dropped in, not to further the plot, just to allow Wilde to epigrammatically vent as only he could. It's a ravishing production in eye-popping Technicolor, swamped by Cecil Beaton gowns and played by a most competent cast. If Diana Wynyard's moral righteousness becomes a little wearying, I suspect it's the character rather than her playing of it, and she's matched splendidly by Hugh Williams' tortured, blackmailed statesman. Michael Wilding was never better, Glynis Johns is young and comely, and Paulette Goddard not only maintains a convincing accent but absolutely catches the charm, opportunism, and wise verbal sparring the character needs. It's a fine companion piece to the matchless "Importance of Being Earnest" of five years later, and much more eye-catchingly cinematic.
Oscar Wilde is often thought of as a primarily comic playwright, but of
his seven completed plays only one, "The Importance of Being Earnest"
is a pure comedy. Three other plays are sometimes bracketed with it as
"drawing-room comedies", but all three are in many ways problem plays,
combining plenty of witty dialogue with serious examination of social
issues. In "Lady Windermere's Fan" and "A Woman of No Importance" these
are questions of sexual morality, whereas "An Ideal Husband" revolves
around political corruption, questions of honour, and the relationship
between the sexes.
"An Ideal Husband" has been filmed four times. There were two separate adaptations in the late nineties, made only a year apart, but, oddly, the first version was made in Germany in 1935. Given the Nazi detestation of homosexuality, it seems strange that they should have chosen to film a work by a famously gay author. This 1947 version, however, is the only one I have seen. It is an early example of the British "heritage cinema" style, being made in colour, which was still the exception rather than the rule in the British cinema of the forties, and featuring the lavish period sets and costumes which were later to become the hallmark of films set in the Victorian era.
The action is set in London in 1895. Sir Robert Chiltern, a wealthy and successful politician, is approached at a party one evening by a mysterious woman named Mrs. Cheveley, who attempts to blackmail him to support a fraudulent scheme in which she has invested. She says that she knows, and can prove, that earlier in his career he was guilty of selling a state secret for money, and threatens him with exposure unless he makes a speech to the House of Commons recommending that the British Government support her scheme. The film then explores the complications which arise from this and Mrs Cheveley's other machinations.
Two key characters are Sir Robert's wife Gertrude and his closest friend Lord Arthur Goring. At first Goring seems to one of Wilde's witty but foppish young men, a gilded dandy whose main talent is for uttering bons mots like "Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not", but in the end he proves to be a loyal and resourceful friend to Sir Robert. Gertrude Chiltern is high-minded and idealistic, but can be inflexible and unforgiving; she finds it difficult to make allowances for those, even her husband, whose moral principles are not as rigid as her own. The need to atone for one's past misdeeds, and the need to allow others to atone for theirs, is one of the key themes of the play. "No one should be entirely judged by their past." Although "An Ideal Husband" does not directly address the question of sexual morality, it does have some relevance to Wilde's own situation. Like Sir Robert, he was hiding what late Victorian society would have considered a guilty secret.
There are good contributions from Hugh Williams as Sir Robert, Diana Wynyard as Gertrude and Paulette Goddard as Mrs Cheveley, who here becomes an American who has kept her accept despite her English education. (We learn that she was s schoolmate of Gertrude Chiltern). Doubtless the film-makers wanted to create a role for a major American star. There is a particularly good performance from Michael Wilding as Goring, which is not an easy role to play. On the one hand the actor's performance must be light and elegant enough to convey Goring's facade of the cynically witty boulevardier. On the other, it must also be substantial enough to suggest the decent man of principle and devoted friend who lurks beneath that facade, and Wilding is able to bring off this difficult double. Wilding may be best remembered today as one of Liz Taylor's many husbands, but in the forties and fifties he was an established star of the British cinema and of Hollywood. He was also a versatile actor; another role in which he was excellent was that of the Pharaoh Akhenaton in "The Egyptian", a character about as different from Goring as one could imagine.
The film closely follows the plot of Wilde's play and keeps the original setting. (One difference is that the scene in the House of Commons is actually shown; in the play we merely hear about it at second hand). I think that this was the right decision as the details of Wilde's plots are often specific to late Victorian times and attempts to update them can fall flat. An example is the recent "A Good Woman", an adaptation of "Lady Windermere's Fan", which makes the main characters American rather than British and transfers the action to 1930s Italy. In my view this film does not really succeed, and an important reason for this is that the film-makers never seem to have taken into account the fact that the world had changed in the four decades between the 1890s and the 1930s.
If one looks at the wider themes of Wilde's plays rather than the details, however, they can be seen to touch on many topics of timeless relevance to modern times. This was true of the 1940s and remains true today; the theme of political corruption, for example, seems particularly relevant today in the wake of the MPs' expenses scandal. Even more important is what he has to say about love: - "It is not the perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love. It is when we are wounded by our own hands, or by the hands of others, that love should come to cure us else what use is love at all"? The combination of wit with a serious discussion of important topics is what makes Wilde's "drawing-room" plays so compelling, and this version of "An Ideal Husband" is an excellent adaptation of a great play. 8/10
Not everything Wilde wrote was a comedy through and through. This is more accurately a satire, and though the Wildean wit is definitely present, there are moments of drama and tension. Unfortunately, these moments are marred in this film by an underscoring which is inexplicably bright and merry, almost frenetic, and which undercuts the mood that the text and actors are trying to create. I'm not sure what Korda was attempting to do with such an intrusive score--perhaps he wanted to convey the frivolity of the "gay 90s" referred to in the opening voice-over?--but I'd love to see it without the annoying soundtrack. I imagine it would be quite a different movie.
Written by Oscar Wilde, the credits roll, and it starts out as a droll period piece. Within a few minutes, we are at the fancy gathering with Mrs. Chevely (Paulette Goddard), as she cleverly spars with her old schoolmate who happens to be the hostess, and other guests. We quickly find out what games she is up to, and things pick up a bit. One annoying thing was Miss Mabel's (Glynis Johns) screeching, high pitched voice, but fortunately she doesn't spend much time on screen. Strong performances by Goddard and C. Aubrey Smith as Earl of Caversham, who always played the grand old uncle, the grandfather, the captain, etc. Personally, I liked Goddard's earlier stuff (The Women, Dictator, and a bunch she made with Bob Hope.) "Husband" would be Alexander Korda's last film as director, although he DID write and produce several more films. Michael Wilding, (one of Liz Taylor's many husbands...) plays Viscount Goring. This was remade in 1998 with Sadie Frost and Jonathan Firth. Starts slowly, gets better as it goes along. Technicolor.
AN IDEAL HUSBAND starts off with cinematic flourish as it introduces
its main characters, but soon settles down to become the drawing room
Victorian comedy intended. PAULETTE GODDARD as Lady Cheveley, has a
central role as a scheming aristocrat who blackmails HUGH WILLIAMS over
a past indiscretion involving a stock exchange swindle that started his
Lavishly costumed, photographed in gorgeous Technicolor, it's directed at a stately pace by Anthony Asquith, who never manages to raise it above the level of an average drawing room comedy/romance. Miss Goddard is the American addition to a very British cast and gives a very uneven performance as the woman who sets out to destroy Williams' career unless she gets her way. At thirty-six, she's beautifully gowned and photographed, but seems to lack the refined quality one expects in such a role.
The delightful cast includes DIANA WYNYARD (as Williams' wife), GLYNIS JOHNS and SIR C. AUBREY SMITH, but the Oscar Wilde-based script is not one of his wittiest.
The strongest performance in the film is given by HUGH WILLIAMS as the troubled husband who considers resigning from public life and the one with the most comic flair is SIR C. AUBREY SMITH.
Not one of Wilde's most diverting comedies.
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