This is the third of five films made of the play MELO by the French playwright Henri Bernstein between 1932 and 1986. The play was filmed twice in 1932, first as MELO (released in the USA as 'The Dreamy Mouth'), and then as DER TRAEUMENDE MUND (literally translated as 'The Dreamy Mouth'), released in the USA as 'Dreaming Lips'. It is not known why the film was made in German twice within a single year by the same director, or whether a print of either version survives. In the second film of the play (made in German), the lead was played by Elizabeth Bergner, who then repeated her performance in English in this film version five years later. All three of these films were directed by director Paul Czinner, who was born in Budapest in 1890 but whose name is Austrian. He was married to Elizabeth Bergner, hence his obvious enthusiasm to give her the opportunity to star in this film in versions made in two languages. (In 1935 he directed her in 'Escape Me Never' in English, and she won an Oscar nomination for that.) The fourth filming was in 1953 and was once again called DER TRAEUMENDE MUND, directed by the Austrian or Hungarian director Josef von Baky and starring Maria Schell (see my review). Finally, in 1986, Alain Resnais filmed this story, starring Sabine Azema (who won a Cesar for it). (The 2004 film called MELO is no connection with this story whatever.) Whether there is anyone alive who saw the first two versions of this film I cannot say. But few seem to have seen this one, and they have not missed anything. The film falls entirely flat. Elizabeth Bergner is someone who lacks all screen presence. She comes across as vapid, vain, self-centred, and lacking in talent. To put it more bluntly, she cannot act, and she cannot compensate with any charm, and she even has a tendency to pout. By contrast, in the 1953 version, Maria Schell is such a radiant presence that the whole film comes alive in a remarkable, though disturbing way. Bergner may well have appealed to people in the 1930s, when her artificiality would have been less noticeable, as society itself was so artificial then. The other big disappointment of this film is the totally lacklustre performance of Raymond Massey, who appears to be drugged with a sleeping potion, and half dead. Since he and Bergner are required by the story to fall madly in love, the lack of any chemistry between them renders the film pointless. Their relationship is like that of a spoilt brat who fancies herself a kitten, and a corpse. When the kitten prods the corpse, he cannot react, because he is dead. When the corpse pledges undying love to the kitten, one expects his jaw to fall off. Massey wisely is not shown playing the violin in this film, where he is meant to be a world famous soloist, and whereas that saves him from making an ass of himself (a dead ass, but nevertheless an ass), it also deprives the film of any semblance of reality. The situation is made worse by silly Romney Brent, who plays Bergner's husband like a schoolboy and evokes as little sympathy form the viewer as Massey and Bergner. This film should have stayed lost. (For those interested in endings, the ending here is totally different from that of the 1953 film. Some of the dialogue in the two versions is identical, however.)
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Elizabeth Berger has an affair with Raymond Massey -- he's a Spanish violinist -- but realizes she loves her husband, Romney Brent -- who reminds me a good deal of Rex Harrison (or perhaps the other way around) -- in her husband, Paul Czinner's movie version of a play by Henri Bernstein.
While Massey is surprisingly good in a romantic role, and Brent is quite good, if a tad whiny, Miss Berger is annoying. She certainly could act, but she plays her character playing with the men in her life like a six-year-old making up a story about her dolls. It's a pity, because there is a lot to admire in this film, including its brisk pace of story-telling (David Lean was the editor) and some fine lighting by Lee Garmes.
Czinner was clearly a man in love with his wife, but his attempts to make her a competitor to Greta Garbo failed, not because she was a poor actress -- she wasn't -- but because ... well, she lacked that mysterious something that makes someone a real star. American studios could manufacture stars by careful management. Those resources were not available to Czinner and Berger. So it was back to the stage for her, where she did very well.
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