Three short stories are introduced by author W. Somerset Maugham in the second of his anthology film trilogy. In "The Verger," a church verger of seventeen years is fired by his new straight-laced vicar when it's discovered that he cannot read or write. Forced to make life-altering decisions, the life-long bachelor proposes to his landlady and becomes an entrepreneur. In "Mr. Know-All" an obnoxiously pushy and irrepressibly boorish dealer in jewelry alienates all his fellow passengers on an ocean cruise despite his cheerful nature and generosity, but later is sensitive enough to realize that sacrificing his ego at a key moment is important to a woman's happiness. "The Sanatorium" revolves around the lives of tuberculosis patients at an exclusive Scottish sanatorium including a pair of doomed lovers who choose quality over quantity of life. Written by
Given the title, this first follow-up to QUARTET (1948) obviously reduces the number of W. Somerset Maugham stories which comprise the film. The author still turns up to introduce the episodes, but there’s no epilogue this time around; by the way, while the script of the original compendium gave sole credit to R.C. Sheriff, here Maugham himself also lent a hand in the adaptation, as well as Noel Langley (though it’s unclear whether they contributed one segment each or else worked in unison). As can be expected, much of the crew of QUARTET has been retained for the second installment – though this also extends to at least three cast members, namely Naunton Wayne, Wilfrid Hyde-White and Felix Aylmer (the last two had bit parts in the episode from QUARTET entitled “The Colonel’s Lady”). While TRIO ultimately emerges to be a lesser achievement than its predecessor (slightly unbalanced by the third story which takes up more than half the running-time), it’s still done with the utmost care, acted with verve by a stellar cast and is solidly enjoyable into the bargain.
“The Verger” tells of a church sexton (James Hayter) – for which the story’s title is another word – who’s dismissed after 17 years of service by the new parish priest (Michael Hordern) simply because he’s illiterate. Rather than rest on his laurels, despite his age, he not only takes a wife (his landlady, played by Kathleen Harrison) but opens a tobacconist shop strategically placed in a lengthy stretch of road where no such service is offered – and, with business flourishing, this is developed into a whole chain. The last scene, then, sees him pay a visit to bank manager Felix Aylmer who, not only is surprised to learn of Hayter’s lack of education, but is prompted to ask him what his other interests were – to which the wealthy (and respected) tobacconist replies, with some measure of irony, that he had the calling to be a verger!
The second episode, “Mr. Know-All”, is the shortest but also perhaps the most engaging: a voyage at sea is utterly beleaguered by the insufferable presence of a pompous young man (Nigel Patrick), British despite his foreign-sounding name of Kelada, who professes to be an authority on virtually every subject under the sun. Naunton Wayne and Wilfrid Hyde-White are the two passengers who have to put up with him the most – the latter because he shares a cabin with the man and the former in view of Patrick’s attentions to his pretty wife (Anne Crawford). During a fancy-dress party, however, the passengers decide to enact their ‘revenge’ on Kelada by having one of them impersonate him (a jest which he naturally doesn’t appreciate)!; still, it’s here that he contrives to show a decent side to his character – told by Crawford that the necklace she’s wearing is an imitation, Wayne challenges Patrick to name its price…but the latter realizes immediately that it’s the genuine article and that this would compromise Crawford’s position if he were to tell, so Kelada allows himself to be publicly ridiculed rather than expose the fact that the woman probably has a secret admirer!
As can also be deduced from the title, “Sanatorium” deals with the myriad patients at such a place – run by Andre' Morell; the protagonist is a new intern, Roland Culver, who wistfully observes the various goings-on. The narrative, in fact, highlights in particular three separate strands of plot – one humorous (the ‘feud’ between two aged Scots long resident at the sanatorium, played by Finlay Currie and John Laurie), one melodramatic (the erratic relationship between disgruntled patient Raymond Huntley and long-suffering but devoted wife Betty Ann Davies) and one bittersweet (the romance between naïve but charming Jean Simmons and dashing cad Michael Rennie which, in spite of having pretty much everything against it including the fact that Morell has diagnosed Simmons as a ‘lifer’ while Rennie only has a few years left to him, leads the couple to the altar).
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