The Passionate Friends were in love when young, but separated, and she married an older man. Then Mary Justin meets Steven Stratton again and they have one last fling together in the Alps. Written by
David Wark <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This Rank/Cineguild production directed by David Lean is based on a novel by H G Wells, here adapted by Lean and Stanley Haynes, though with a screenplay credited to Eric Ambler. Although the plot is about a triangle, Lean's focus is on Ann Todd as the woman between two men, her husband and the man who was her first love but whom she refused to marry. Her situation is presented in an exchange between the man, Trevor Howard and Todd - "If two people really love each other they want to be together. They want to belong to each other", Todd - "I want to belong to myself", "Then your life will be a failure". However in the tradition of upper class Brits, Todd's life of failure means a marriage to a successful banker, Claude Rains. The narrative has an unusual triple flashback structure, which is perhaps why it needed three writers, with the present being narrated by Todd with the prospect of a divorce, and flashbacks to the vacation in Switzerland where the instigating incident occurs, Todd's memory/flashback of 9 years earlier re-meeting Howard, and small memories of their first romance. The initial meeting is tainted by lines like Todd's "Why can't we be in love without the clutching and gripping", though later Todd admits to "not being a very good person". Howard's character has his ambiguities too, being a university biology lecturer who knowingly has an affair with a married woman. The infidelity gets a funny spin by Rains' business with Germany and Italy pre-WW2, and Rains saying he has "a taste for intrigue", though the film being made post-WW2 allows him to speak of the "Teutonic hysteria" of the Germans. In spite of some of Lean's technical touches, the thing that de-passionates the situation is Todd, in her first film for her then husband. Whilst at times she resembles Garbo, the rather butch Todd lacks the divine one's expressiveness, with Lean reduced to filming her running from Howard in slow motion to give her some lyricism. All three of the leads are oddly lit indelicately, perhaps to suggest that all this passage of time has aged them, but this with Todd, adds to the destruction of romantic intent. Lean provides a vocal montage of telephone conversations, cuts from a kiss to a bunch of flowers, doors slamming to a typewriter slide of the divorce document, gives Rains a cuckold paranoid montage, and has a "Keep Smiling" poster featured in the background of the climactic scene in the train underground, though the idea of Todd not buying a ticket before she enters rather pre-empts things. Rains has the audience empathy, even if the odd way he stand in a ¾ pose when he confronts someone seems silly. He is the more emotional of the three, but because of the British standards of polite behaviour, his yells are either heard off-camera or with his back to us. The best scene reads as Hitchcock-influenced with Rains dictating to his secretary and Lean continually cutting to a pair of tickets to a play Todd and Howard go to see. The title First Love gets a comic payoff when we hear it is a musical with a fatuous title song.
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