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This film suffers from the lingering taint of tepid critical response upon
its initial release, based largely on the facts that (1) Rattigan's
play was "opened up" (including a ski trip to Switzerland) and shot in
CinemaScope and (2) that the beautiful and glamorous Vivien Leigh played a
heroine created on stage by the talented but dowdy Peggy
Leigh's performance was deemed cold - too controlled - yet she provides the cold fire, hot ice quality that always made her a fascinating film actress. More's performance as the lover was overrated - he won a prize at the Venice film festival, and made it plain that he and his co-star did not get along during filming, mainly because he protested Leigh's desire to look her best. Such a desire is all the more understandable given the fact that her last completed film was A Streetcar Named Desire, as the faded beauty Blanche, and that she had subsequently broken down during the filming of Elephant Walk and been replaced by the much younger Elizabeth Taylor.
There were dissenting critical opinions. Pauline Kael called Leigh's performance here "brilliant" when later reviewing The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and finding the Karen Stone performance wanting in contrast. (I beg to differ with Pauline on that point, being a Karen Stone enthusiast myself.) In any case, The Deep Blue Sea deserves to be seen. It was produced by Alexander Korda in Britain, but distributed by 20th Century Fox in the U.S.A., so maybe there are copyright issues blocking its release on video.
Here in America the film would seem a likely staple of the American Movie Classics cable station, if for no other reason because it stars the woman who played Scarlett O'Hara. (20th Century Fox CinemaScope films of the same vintage play regularly on the station, e.g., How To Marry a Millionaire, Three Coins in the Fountain, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Anastasia, et al.) The critical success of David Mamet's adaptation of The Winslow Boy may stir interest in Rattigan once again - let's hope so.
The play itself was and remains a strong acting vehicle, especially for the woman who plays Hester. Faye Dunaway nearly did it in NYC for Roundabout, but somehow the star and the theater couldn't come to terms over contract demands, and it was revived instead with Blythe Danner (aka Ma Paltrow).
Let's hope that Vivien Leigh's performance will be available for viewing by movie fans and serious film and theater scholars alike in the near future. After all, she is one of the great actresses of the twentieth century cinema, and this is one of but eight films she made following Gone With the Wind.
An interesting footnote: Arthur Hill appears briefly in this film; later, when Vivien Leigh won a Tony Award for her performance in the Broadway musical Tovarich, Hill won the Tony for his dramatic turn in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. There is an amusing photograph of Leigh, Hill, and fellow winners Zero Mostel and Uta Hagen at the awards ceremony, circa 1963.
Terrence Rattigan's play was a popular success in London, tho
not in the NY production that starred Margaret Sullavan. There
were two revivals last year, one in London and one in NY,
starring Blythe Danner. Although the movie is boxy and
stagebound, it does preserve one of Rattigan's most entrancing
creations, Hester Collyer (Vivien Leigh), a woman all at once
rabid with latent sexual desire and without remorse or ounce of
self-pity for her choices. The performance more than meets the
requirement that Hester should never be viewed as either sordid
or immoral. Listen, this is the early 50s.
Rattigan's closest American playwright kin was William Inge. Like Inge, he favored characters tormented with issues out of sexual repression and the price they paid for what society, then, viewed as their *sins.* Like Inge, Rattigan was homosexual and often used his characters to illuminate his own dark closet. A video transfer is desperately needed.
"The Deep Blue Sea" represents a notable staple in the film repertoire of Vivien Leigh. Given the enormous popularity and artistic achievements of this consummate British actress, it seems incredible that this film is not available on video. She is always fascinating to watch, and this drama about marital difficulties provides her with a good "modern day" role, compared to her many period/costume pieces. She is beautiful, skillful, and intelligent in her approach to and realization of her characters, and all are evident in this sensibly presented drama. Her co-star, Kenneth More, is professional as always; Eric Portman gives his usual strong character support; and the appearance of Emlyn Williams is a special bonus. The film needs to be seen on the big screen in CinemaScope to get its maximum impact. It deserves to be revived, and more importantly, made available on video.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the 21st century there are apparently no weak indecisive women like Hester ; women who totally subjugate themselves to men.Or if there are we never see them on the screen.Miss V.Leigh seems like a relic from the Victorian era,but in fact in the male - dominated 1950s middle - classes her character was not exactly ploughing a lonely furrow. Married to a judge,she would have spent most of her time re - arranging the doilies and making cucumber sandwiches for her husband's friends. No question of empowerment for her.Perhaps we should,in the circumstances have just a little sympathy for her,desperate to grab a little happiness and excitement with her ex - fighter pilot lover. The fact that he is,frankly,a bit of a trimmer,should merely increase that sympathy.As Freddie,Mr K.More plays against type.He has a superficial charm but there is less in him than meets the eye.Mr More was about to embark on a winning streak engendered by "Genevieve" and "Doctor in the house" and many of his fans viewed "The deep blue sea" in much the same way as Dirk Bogarde's regarded "The Doctor's Dilemma" - a temporary blip in a long and successful career. Miss Leigh lends her ethereal beauty to the role,and in an age when women were expected to be subservient,her self - effacement and naivety would have been looked on as desirable characteristics. She made so few movies that her devotees,naturally enough,trend to treasure each one.My personal preferences would be "St Martin's Lane" and "Waterloo Bridge" when her startling beauty leapt from the screen, here,in early middle age she still emits a strange innocence,as if her she can't believe what her heart is making her do. Mr E.Williams - actor/playwright/author - plays the judge as a fair and compassionate man with an understanding of human weakness.Both he and Freddie are characteristic creations of Mr Ratigan whose work was to become deeply unfashionable shortly after the release of this movie. Actors who wanted to get on the West End stage would soon have to learn to slurp their soup and eat their peas with a knife,and parts for butlers became in short supply. He may have been thought to have been biting the hands that fed him in "The deep blue sea" by depicting the theatre - going classes as immoral and clay - footed and as such a contributor to his own downfall,but the march of Osborne,Wesker,Pinter and co was inexorable. Viewed as a movie per se it is not particularly exciting,competent rather than inspired,ordinary rather than cutting edge,nobody was going to say to Mr Litvak "Tony,you're soooo rock 'n' rol1",but the essence of the play is put over well enough.Like so many works of the theatre it is best experienced in its own medium and is regularly revived quite successfully.As an example of the ouevre of the leading players it is a little out of the usual and consequently a curiosity rather than a "must-see",but if you want to see Mr More as a good old - fashioned cad this is your only chance to do so.
For a while it looked as though the BFI's Vivien Leigh season would be without "The Deep Blue Sea". As others have noted here, it's been unavailable for many years. Programme notes revealed that the BFI has a single 35mm print in its archive - with faded colour, sound damage in the first and last reels, and many splices. Nothing better could be located anywhere in the world. The BFI digitised the print and this was shown tonight to a sold-out house seemingly well aware this may be the only chance to see the film on the big screen. It looked better than anticipated. The performances are excellent. Incidentally, whoever said the film is "stagebound" can't have seen it since 1955. Rattigan's play has been cleverly opened out with flashbacks, many locations (among them an air show, Klosters, and the London Embankment) and several big studio sets including a law court, bars and pubs, and a huge recreation of London's Soho. I didn't have a pen and and have now forgotten many of the uncredited actors. But they include Frederick Schiller, Gerald Campion, Jacqueline Cox, Shandra (later Sandra)Walden, Amanda Coxell (later Mandy Harper),Patricia Hayes, Raymond Francis and John Boxer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What a joy to finally see the REAL Deep Blue Sea even in a poor print with fading colour, missing frames - apparently it is the only 35 mm print in existence and was, in fact, a print that was distributed to cinemas around the country in 1955. Projectionists regularly chopped frames out of prints either as souvenirs or because a film had torn perfs which needed to be removed lest it ground to a halt. Of course when you cut out a frame(s) you also cut the optical soundtrack that runs down the side, but even with all these faults one FRAME of this Anatole Litvak version, with a screenplay by Rattigan himself, is worth the ENTIRE pathetic remake by Terence Davies. Davies' producer had the effrontery to turn up and 'introduce' the screening and displayed a wonderful grasp of show biz by stating that on Broadway the part of Hester - created by Peggy Ashcroft - was played by Margaret O'Sullivan, and he compounded his ignorance by identifying O'Sullivan correctly as Jane in the Tarzan films when the actress who actually played Hester on Broadway was Margaret Sullivan and not MAUREEN O'Sullivan. Be that as it may this is THE version to see albeit at the moment that is impossible. It's full of well-known English actors of the day including Jimmy Hanley, wooden as ever, Dandy Nichols, Alec McCowan, Moira Lister, plus one Canadian, Arthur Hill, who didn't really register until he played opposite Uta Hagen in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. If you've got a moment you may feel like lobbying someone with a view to having this version fully restored and made available on DVD and at the same time having the Davies travesty made into banjo pics.
After her second Oscar in Streetcar Named Desire Vivien Leigh made only
three more films and in all of them she played older women who are
hungering for love. Hardly the image of the saucy Scarlett O'Hara which
she won her first Oscar with, but it did allow her to transition into
roles for older women. This one her in The Deep Blue Sea is way too
uncomfortably close to her real life.
In this film it opens with her attempting suicide and being saved by prying neighbors. Her much younger second husband has left her and in flashbacks we learn what was going on. Vivien had been raised a prim and proper church girl with a country parson for a father. She learned the biblical view of sex that did not leave much room for later research into the field on a more clinical basis. She married the older and more settled Emlyn Williams who is a judge. But as they got older Emlyn got less interested in sex. Enter Kenneth More who was an RAF air ace and now a test pilot. That's real glamor for her and like Anna Karenina, another Leigh part she leaves Williams and runs off with More.
But More's got issues also, he's an alcoholic and deep down he's looking for a mother figure. Since she and Williams had no children, Leigh isn't recognizing this nor is she prepared to deal with it.
Terrence Ratigan adapted his own play to the screen and rather well since the play only takes place in Leigh's apartment. We get some scenes of London night life in 1955 and with More's job, part of the film takes place at an air show. On Broadway the play ran for 132 performances in 1952-53 and starred Margaret Sullavan.
Offering advice and counsel is defrocked psychiatrist Eric Portman who is a neighbor. But as Leigh finds out as does the audience there are no no easy answers.
The Deep Blue Sea is not as good a work from Ratigan as The Browning Version or Separate Tables. Still the cast performs well, especially Vivien Leigh who made very infrequent screen appearances now.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is very much a photographed stage play and director Anatole Litvak
takes few pains to hide it. Beginning early in the morning when a
failed suicide attempt resurrects Hester Collyer to again face her
life, the film ends in the late evening of the same day, when she is
able to face the future with renewed courage and strength.
This is the tale of an overly emotional woman, who can no longer closet the feelings she has unleashed during a year's affair with a test pilot, giving up along the way a fifteen year marriage to a British lord and judge. Neither man is the emotional type and love more the idea of love than the actual person that Hester is.
Along the way we begin to feel that Hester is a bit unbalanced, her suicide attempt coming as it did because her current amour has forgotten her birthday. She cries a lot, pleads a lot, and lies to keep him from leaving her at the end. Hester must face the realization that Anna Karenina faced before her - the man she gave up her former life for does not love her as deeply as she loves him.
A character in the play observes to Hester that she doesn't need her Freddie so much as she needs to know that he needs her.
There are two flashbacks to bring us up to date on the day in question, which also open up the action from the claustrophobic apartment set where the play and film mainly take place. The second chronicles the affair, from Hester and Freddie's meeting at a jet field, a dance that evening, a ski trip, and later their decision to run away to Canada.
One has difficulty liking Hester, she is utterly helpless, letting Freddie walk all over her, displaying not much character. This may be the reason Vivien Leigh is difficult to accept in the role. She has always played self-sufficient women and it is hard to take her playing someone so co-dependent. This may also have been a reason why it did not do well at the box office.
It was filmed in CinemaScope and murky Eastmancolor. I viewed a 16 mm print, with badly faded color, red bleed and scratches. It's extremely rare on VHS, had never been commercially released, and can only occasionally be caught on television.
It is not Leigh at her best - she is SOOOO cold and clipped British in the scenes where she is not falling apart. We feel no warmth for Hester and don't really care what becomes of her. This is fatal for a leading character.
Kenneth More does well as Freddie and Emlyn Williams is properly solicitous as the Judge.
It is lethargically directed and does not really add up to anything worth viewing more than once.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Vivien Leigh is the only reason to watch this film. While she is still
beautiful and talented (as always), there just wasn't much she could do
with this role. No one would be appealing as a weak-willed adulteress
who leaves a good husband for a cad. Hester Collyer just doesn't know
what she wants.
This movie is very difficult to acquire and apparently has never been released on DVD or VHS. I can see why. The copy I ordered off ebay was not of the best quality. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the film was in color, but everything seemed red or fuzzy. The same street scene on the Thames in London was used over and over, and most of the interior shots were dark and depressing. Perhaps this was the intent of the makers. "Deep Blue Sea" suffers from some of the same problems as "Roman Spring of Mrs Stone"; the characters seem one-dimensional without a full range of emotions and little purpose in life. Miss (not Ms) Leigh aced the parts, but there just wasn't much to develop.
At any rate, die-hard Vivien Leigh fans should check this out since it was her third to last film outing. Keep in mind there are many other superior choices in order: Gone With the Wind, Waterloo Bridge, Steetcar Named Desire and even Ship of Fools.
Vivien Leigh, one of the most beautiful women ever to appear on the screen, is the only reason to watch this movie. The plot is old and tired, but Miss Leigh is always a delight to watch.
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