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Claude Rains





Rank/Cineguild, 1949.  Directed by David Lean.  Camera:  Guy Green.  With Claude Rains, Ann Todd, Trevor Howard, Isabel Dean, Betty Ann Davies, Arthur Howard, Wilfrid Hyde-White.

Lean's sixth Cineguild film was adapted from a 1913 story by H.G. Wells, which had been filmed before (d. Maurice Elvey, 1922).  Wells' heroine was clearly intended to be one of the new breed of emancipated and intellectual young women who flourished at the turn of the 20th century, but most of this is lost in Eric Ambler's screenplay.  Mary seems to modern eyes to be merely selfish and mercenary, preferring a comfortable, if loveless, life with her rich banker husband to romantic passion with old flame Steven.

The film is technically assured and inventive, but its structure, comprising a flashback within a flashback, is confusing and alienating.  With its use of a female voiceover narration, its emphasis on an unfulfilled affair and the presence of Trevor Howard as one of the lovers, the film has some similarities with Brief Encounter (1945).  However, the characters are more glamorous and sophisticated than Brief Encounter's provincial Alec and Laura.  Fashionably dressed, they inhabit a privileged London world of large houses, society balls, dining out, theatre-going and foreign holidays.  The film has a hard, glossy look.  Only Claude Rains' jealous husband shows any real emotion, while Ann Todd (later to become Lean's third wife) is glacial and remote, eliciting little audience sympathy.

There are some terrific technical moments, notably the whole sequence around the theatre tickets, and the device of the binoculars, which enables Rains, as he thinks, to discover Mary's affair—a perfect mesh of camera movements and editing.

Following the lifting of wartime travel restrictions, the film revels in its Swiss locations, as Lean lovingly films Lake Annecy and its surrounding mountains.  Mary's joy and excitement on her first flight, even extending to the airline food, would have struck a chord with many people experiencing foreign travel for the first time.

It is a foretaste of things to come, when Lean will film completely on location.

David Lean as Director