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Seriously ill, concert pianist Karen Duncan is admitted to a Swiss sanitorium. Despite being attracted to Dr Tony Stanton she ignores his warnings of possibly fatal consequences unless she rests completely. Rather, she opts for a livelier time in Monte Carlo with dashing Paul Clermont. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <email@example.com>
I was actually pretty much impressed by this story -- with its clever prefiguring, scenes of idyllic beauty, happiness, and jarring chills as abrupt as any horror movie, its music and raging against the dying of the light -- right up until it hits the last few scenes, which somehow strike a false note. Perhaps it's because my sympathies have a tendency, whether in sob-stories like this or in fluff as light-hearted as 'An American in Paris', to veer towards those third parties whose own affections serve only as a momentary derailment to the course of True Love. Perhaps it's my own experience of watching such illness play out its rapacious course, and knowledge of the futile health myths of the era. But after the touch of ice that runs through the rest of the film, the grand finale strikes me as a cop-out.
From a medical point of view it does occur to me to wonder how many modern viewers will realise from the start what's supposed to be going on! The dread opening words 'Swiss sanitarium' are no longer a universally-recognised shorthand for the unnamed spectre of tuberculosis, the cancer equivalent for sentimental sagas of the era. But it is, of course, tuberculosis requiring all those chest X-rays, mountain air, and 'stimulating diet'...
The story is skilfully constructed along the lines of a murder-mystery, lulling the viewer into security for long stretches of time, arousing sympathy and indignacy at a regime that can deprive Karen of her music as well as her liberty and her mobility. Celestine's constant light malice on the subject of Dr Tony -- jealousy or realistic view? -- stirs up additional doubt, and her role turns out to have a much greater significance than we were led to believe. Questions of truth or lies run like a twisting theme throughout the greater part of the film, keeping the audience off-balance, and making Karen's ultimate reaction of discovery easier to comprehend. (Again, though, I do wonder if modern viewers will realise that in medicine of the period, deceiving patients for their own good was no misdemeanour but more or less expected!)
By and large, I found this film much more sophisticated than one might expect from a genre piece of this nature. I've already mentioned the elements that verge unexpectedly on horror amid the sweetness, and the innocent establishment beforehand of items that will later prove significant. Celestine is not what she may appear. And Clermont, too, is not the opportunistic cad first appearances might lead us to assume.
My main problem is that it seems to turn a corner into a quite different sort of film in the last few minutes, for no very convincing reason. Given its previous record in this line, I was anticipating some kind of apocalyptic revelation right up until the final shot... and was left still hanging there, waiting, when the film proved merely to have ended. It felt like a simplistic resolution to what had previously proved a complex structure. And, I think, it turns the story into one about the heroine learning her lesson rather than one about her fierce passion for life -- and thus, for me, making her a less appealing character. Despite everything, the cruise might have been the better option...
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