Thursday, June 10, 2010

Easy Virtue

Title: Easy Virtue
Year: 1927
Studio: Gainsborough
Screenplay: Eliot Stannard
Source Material: The play by Noel Coward
Running Time: 1 hour
A Silent Picture in Black & White

Thursday 10th June, 2:00pm
Today, I should have been at work, but my innards were having other plans. I left work around lunchtime on Wednesday after feeling rather ill. I was shaky, dizzy and my bowels were auditioning for the role of cymbals in the 1812 overture.
This morning, I had every intention of heading back to work. I caught the train at 6:20 and got off to change at Richmond station. Whilst waiting for the train to Camberwell, I sat on the cold metal bench under the dark skies and I pondered the truth of the situation. I was still feeling queasy and although I had an appointment with one of my customers and a meeting to attend, I knew that the world would keep on running without me - my job simply isn't that important that my health should take a backseat. I let my train arrive and depart without me boarding and I wandered back to platform 2 and awaited the Sandringham train to take me home.
After visiting the doctor in the morning (yes, it is merely a viral thing, blah blah) I returned to my abode and decided to continue with my Hitchcock project. I began at 2:00 but I became awash with tiredness half an hour later, so I returned to the bed, mid-viewing, and my cat, Fizzgig, accompanied me - she even got under the covers for a snuggle. I awoke an hour later and resumed the film...

Larita Filton - Isabel Jeans
Her Husband - Franklin Dyall
Mr Claude Robson - Eric Bransby Williams
Plaintiffs Counsel - Ian Hunter
John Whittaker - Robin Irvine
John's Mother - Violet Farebrother
John's Father - Frank Elliott
John's Elder Sister - Dacia Deane
John's Younger Sister - Dorothy Boyd
Sarah - Enid Stamp-Taylor

Virtue is its own reward they say - - but Easy virtue is society's reward for a slandered reputation
We begin in court, a judge is presiding over a divorce court and over the first few scenes we learn about the case in a number of flashbacks.
Larita is married to a drunken brute who is overtly possessive. Larita has been posing for an artist by the name of Claude Robson. The husband is jealous and Claude wants to save Larita from the abusive marriage.
After one session with the artist, the husband returns home. He is furious when he finds Larita and Claude in an embrace, albeit an innocent one on Larita's part.
The husband attacks Claude, beating him with his cane. Claude has reached for a gun, he shoots. Larita's husband collapses. The housekeeper screams and runs for the police. In a panic, Claude kills himself. However, the husband is merely wounded and survives.

Back in court, the jury have to come to their conclusion. It has been noted that Claude had also left Larita a lot of money in his will.
The jury reach their verdict:
We find Larita Filton guilty of misconduct with the late Claude Robson."
The court clears and Larita is thrown to the wolves of the press who refer to her as the notorious Mrs Filton.

Reporters - photographers - publicity... Larita fought to forget them all on the tolerant shores of the Mediterranean.

At a hotel in the South of France, she signs in as Larita Grey as her infamy has followed her. She tries to remain incognito and lies low. Whilst watching a tennis match, a ball strikes her on the face and one of the players rushes to her aid. It's a young man named John Whittaker. He takes her to his room where he prepares cocktails for her on the balcony and a nurse attends to Larita's eye.
He woos her with flowers and they take romantic rides in horse-drawn carriages.

Larita found something reassuring in John's devotion... it was like a cool breeze sweeping away the ugly memories of the past.

He proposes to her and she won't give her answer straight away. In a beautiful moment, we learn of her answer through the eyes of a telephone receptionist who puts the call through and listens in. We see her face go from curiosity via devoted interest, through shock and eventually to romance.

The two marry off-screen, we are only alerted by a luggage label denoting her new surname. We then follow their luggage home via carriage, boat (with a very odd moment featuring a poodle and then a bulldog - I don't get this at all!), train and finally by car. The two lovers travel across the moors and eventually arrive at the Moat House in Peveril, England.
John's family are initially welcoming, but his mother is cold and suspicious. She has invited a young girl named Sarah to the dinner. She is an old flame of John's and a favourite of his mother's. She knew full well that Larita would be attending, so she's just playing the manipulative matriarch to her best ability. Sarah is the epitome of kindness and politeness, accepting John and his new bride with open arms.
Mother is positive Larita is keeping secrets from them. She is sure she has seen her somewhere before.

During the days that followed, Mrs Whittaker made Larita's life a burden to her - in private... But she was all smiles and sweetness with her - in public.

A few days later, at a polo match at which many people from far and wide attend, Larita spies someone from her past (I struggle to figure out exactly who he is, to be honest) and she fears she will be exposed.

John's mother and sister are then writing invitations to a dance party at their home for the 22nd June, 1926. Larita offers to help, but mother declines the offer.

Some friends of John turn up to play tennis. Larita sulks in the drawing room and spies a camera on a shelf. This reminds her of the invasive nature of the press and hurls a book at it.
That night, she has nightmares. She explains to John that she hates being in that house and that the family hate her. He storms off.

So Larita remained - and suffered.

The day of the dance, Larita is in the garden reading and she overhears Sarah and John talking.

Sarah: John - - you're neglecting Larita - and it's not fair to her.
John: It's been a terrible mistake... Mother made me see that.
Sarah: If only you'd realised - before it was too late!

Later, John's younger sister discovers a newspaper article which features Larita in photos and refers to her past surname. She shows it to mother and it suddenly dawns on her. She remembers the divorce case.

She confronts Larita along with the family. the father is not sure why anyone should care or make a fuss. When John discovers, he is confused and angry - but with whom? Larita for lying or his mother for interfering?
John's mother then goes on a tirade against Larita and she tries to stick up for herself.

Mother: In our world we do not understand this code of easy virtue.
Larita: In your world you understand very little of anything, Mrs Whittaker.

In the hall, John's father tries to console Larita.
That night, Larita is upstairs as all the guests arrive. John's mother tells everyone that her daughter-in-law shall not be attending as she has a headache.
Larita will not be kept prisoner in her room and dresses beautifully (and provocatively) and descends the stairs, humiliating John's mother at the same time.
She makes the decision to leave that night after the party and files for divorce.
All this to make everyone else happy but herself.

Back in the courtrooms, the case is concluded quickly and Larita steps out to await her trail by press...

The End

Great Lines
The superb comeback from Larita after John's mother has been abusing her verbally; "Now that you have quite exhausted your venom, I shall go to my room." - nonchalant and classy!
Apparently, Hitch hated the final line, but I (and other critics, apparently) love it. "Shoot! There's nothing left to kill." True pathos, balancing humour and heartbreak in equal measure.

I have watched this film a couple of times and although it tells a very basic story, it loses a few things in translation from play to silent screen. Noel Coward's wonderful dialogue is obviously one of the major losses, but the body of the play and the pertinence of the reflections on snobbery in society are still at the fore.
The notion of a family being ridiculed for having a divorcee in their midst is all rather bemusing in our 21st Century world, but we have to look at the film in context. This was a time when so many things were taboo - not only in society but also in the movie industry.
In one clever move, a juror's notes are frequently viewed on screen so we don't simply rely on the dialogue cards to aid the plot.
The telephone receptionist scene is quite possibly the highlight of the movie. Sucha simple yet effective way of storytelling through mime.
Some of the editing is a bit disappointing and scenes jump too rapidly. The death of the artist happens so incredibly quickly, there isn't even a chance to blink and miss it - it simply happens - one moment he is looking at the gun. The next he is dead. Obviously too dramatic for the audience of the 1920s.
A handful of lovely touches from Hitch; the swinging of the eyeglass merging into the swinging of the pendulum denoting time passing, the initial framing of a scene through a tennis racket, the judge focusing in on characters through his eye glass, and the terrific shot early on of the husband's viewpoint - he sees the artist's back, the artist looks over his own left shoulder looking rather evil and Larita's innocent yet scared eyes peeking over the artist's right shoulder like a frightened animal.
Also worth mentioning is the book-ending of the court room scenes and, most notably, the shots of the judge's wig.

My Verdict
It's all rather depressing, really. Poor Larita.
Not the best of the early Hitchcock films, but not the worst. My advice is either see the play or the fantastic recent movie adaptation by Stephan Elliott starring Ben Barnes, Jessica Biel, Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth - it's a hoot!!

No comments:

Post a Comment