Saturday 7 April 2007

The End of the Affair (1955) Edward Dmytryk

The End of the Affair is based on a novel by no less an author than Graham Greene, though of course being 1955 it's a little conscious of the Production Code. Van Johnson is an American soldier, Maurice Bendrix, staying on in London after his service to write. It's still wartime though and he's focusing on the civil service fighting in a very different manner a long way away from the front. One of the civil servants he's talking with is Henry Miles, played by Peter Cushing, of all people. It's always surprising to see him out of Hammer mode, in so called quality cinema. Picking the brains of Henry's wife Sarah he falls for her, and she him. She's the star of the film, Deborah Kerr, on a serious high in her career: it had been two years but her last film was From Here to Eternity and two after this would be The King and I.

Maurice and Sarah become something of a regular couple, travelling all over London, but there's a huge gulf in their characters. Sarah finds no problem shifting between being with her husband and being with her lover, or comfortably lying on the spur of the moment to maintain an illusion. Like Maurice says, he's just a passenger in her life. However he takes it far more seriously. He loves being with her but feels guilty every time he is. He hates living a lie but aches whenever they're apart. Both of them are superb in their roles and I can't imagine either of them being better.

It's these differences that the first half of the film is really about, rather than any sort conventional plot. While things happen, and given that we're set in London during the Blitz there are plenty of them, they're really not that important except as triggers for the revealing of more emotional understanding. I'm all for character studies, but amoral women cheating on their husbands don't really come anywhere near the top of the list of characters I'm keen on studying. What surprised me most was the speed it seemed to rattle along at. It always seems to focus on the moment but great spans of time pass during the first half of the film, at which point we meet the title.

The affair ends, powerfully during a bomb hit and a serious prayer to God, and then we get the interesting half of the film. Suddenly Sarah has her perspective and she has to fight for understanding of it. Maurice doesn't see her for a year but then, through a chance meeting with Henry, it all floods back and he ends up hiring a fascinating character called Albert Parkis, a private detective who doesn't seem like any other private detective I've ever seen in film. He's wonderfully played by John Mills and that gives him the credit above Peter Cushing on the title card.

The second half is intriguing, but it could be without the first half as background. Maybe that makes the second half the real film and the first half a really long introductory segment. I have no clue how this technically works out but the end of the affair was the beginning of my interest, and once there it stayed throughout.

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