A good film but a lost opportunity!
5 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
There have been few other actors, before or since, who could play the part of a cad better than George Sanders, and he was at his best in this film. Nothing will ever alter the fact that he gave a very fine performance in a film which any movie-goer is likely to find rewarding, and I recommend it to any IMDb users who happen to have so far not seen it. It is based on a great fictional work by Somerset Maugham that is clearly and openly acknowledged to be a non-biographic fictional reconstruction of the life of the artist Paul Gauguin who walked out on his wife, family and friends in Paris to spend the last days of his life in a wild painting spree in Tahiti - so poor that many of his final works were painted on the walls of his hut because he could not afford to buy more canvasses. Similarly Maugham's artist, named Charles Strickland, was a well to do Englishman, and the book starts by picturing the build up of frustrations he found in his very conventional life there. He eventually walked out of it to spend many years of penurious and bohemian living as an artist in Paris before his culminating mad dash to the South Seas finally provided a sense of release and freedom through the copious colours and lifestyle changes he found in his final destination. It is a book I first read as a boy and have always loved, but it is a long time since I last read it so I should now download or purchase another copy.

This said, my expectations exceeded what this film provided. The film of this book appeared during the war in 1943 - a time when many of us were experiencing symptoms of escapism. It can perhaps best be described as having achieved modest success. For many years I did not want to spoil my fading memories of Maugham's great book by watching another version presented on celluloid - many others may have felt the same. But I vividly remembered reading a review of it which described the tremendous visual impact it achieved when the black and white images associated with Strickland's drab life in Europe finally gave way to the riotous colours he found in Tahiti. I immediately felt that here was a perfect example of how monochrome and colour sequences could be integrated into the same film to increase its emotional impact. By then early home videos of this film had been released entirely in monochrome, this seemed to me to miss the whole point of filming the book so I never bought one.

A DVD claiming to present the complete cinema version of the film as it had been originally screened, finally appeared in 2007. I bought it with great expectations and waited with breathless excitement to see the transition to colour when Strickland reached Tahihi. Unfortunatelty the report on which I based this expectation proved a little misleading - only the almost final sequence was in colour, and this showed only the paintings Strickland had completed on the walls of his hut before his death, not the third or so of the story which took place on the island. I still enjoyed the film and this relatively small difference should not affect any viewers coming to it with no prior expectations, but for me it was not the film I had been waiting to see for so many years. I believe a great opportunity was missed here for creating a visual impact that would perfectly compliment the emotional impact experienced by Strickland when he changed his lifestyle. Whilst I still have no hesitation in recommending this DVD to IMDb users who are interested in art, this has been one of the extremely few occasions where I felt that I would like to see a film remade. True today's directors would probably film the European sequences in muted colour with a heavy sepia over-wash rather than in black & white, but with enhanced colouring used for Tahiti the overall effect would be the same. Sadly such a future film could not star George Sanders, but maybe Michael Douglas would step in here.
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