(director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriters: Lenore J. Coffee/from the novel by Graham Greene; cinematographer: Wilkie Cooper; editor: Alan Osbigton; cast: Deborah Kerr (Sarah Miles), Van Johnson (Maurice Bendrix), Peter Cushing (Henry Miles), John Mills (Albert Parkis), Michael Goodliffe (Smythe), Stephen Murray (Father Crompton), Charles Goldner (Savage), Nora Swinburne (Mrs. Bertram), Nan Munro (Mrs. Tomkins); Runtime: 105; Columbia/Coronado; 1955-UK)

“This older B&W version of the recent remake puts less stress on the lust and more on the inner conflict the two lovers are having.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An American novelist, Maurice Bendrix (Van Johnson), stays on in London after the war. A flashback takes us back to the days in the beginning of World War 11 and the start of his great love affair he has with the wife of a meek civil servant. This is the original film adaptation of the Graham Greene semi-autobiography. Deborah Kerr gives an exactingly curious performance as the dutiful wife, Sarah Miles, of the dull civil servant whom she doesn’t love but can’t leave. Peter Cushing is her husband Henry Miles. He is running the daily wartime operations out of London and he can’t live without his wife, even though he knows that she doesn’t love him. Van Johnson is the third part of this romantic triangle; he doesn’t give a terrible performance as the arrogant and jealous lover who hurts so easily when rebuffed, as much as his performance was just overshadowed by Deborah Kerr’s stagy one.

This older B&W version of the recent remake puts less stress on the lust and more on the inner conflict the two lovers are having. It’s a more reserved telling of the story, probably due to the conservative time it was filmed than anything else. This version actually leaves a greater impact on the viewer of the momentous tragedy of the self-imposed restrictions religion has placed on the relationship for her. The story never seems illogical, as does the tacky ending to the later version. There was no reason to make a remake and, especially, since the newer version doesn’t add anything new to the mix that the older version didn’t already have.

At a cocktail party Maurice chats with Henry about using him as an example for the book he is working on about a civil servant. He is introduced to Sarah as Henry insists that he gets together with his wife, and says that she will be able to fill him in on the details of his life better than he can.

The affair begins almost at once, as they are neighbors and have a chance to spend a lot of time together. It also helps that Henry is always busy at the war office. Maurice is overwrought with jealousy and insecurity that he will lose her, as he has fallen hopelessly in love. They have a spat when he is disturbed by a rather harmless lie she tells as the vicar’s wife (Munro) comes over and mistakes him for Henry, and she goes along with that mistake. For him it is disheartening to hear that the woman he loves can so easily tell such a lie, as his imagination gets the best of him and he imagines what if she is also lying to him about other things.

When Maurice asks her, “Why do you stay with him when I want to marry you?” Sarah responds, “I want time…time for trust.”

The pivotal event in the story takes place in 1944, during an enemy air-bombing raid, while Sarah is visiting Maurice’s house. Maurice wants them to go down to the basement shelter for safety, but Sarah is afraid his landlady will see them there. So Maurice goes down just as the building gets bombed, damaging mostly the basement. When she goes to look for him in the basement rubble she thinks that he is dead, as she sees him lying there stiff with a heavy door over him. Five minutes go by before he comes upstairs and finds her kneeling down and praying, and the first thing Sarah says upon seeing Maurice is “You’re not dead.” She then mysteriously breaks off their relationship, telling him that love doesn’t end just because we don’t see each other. The breaking off of the relationship leaves Maurice dispirited, thinking that she doesn’t love him anymore and it causes him to hate her for leaving him.

The story picks up now from the point the flashback left off, with the war over and with him not seeing Sarah for over a year. Walking home in the rain he bumps into Henry, and even though he thought of avoiding him he seemed to be unconsciously propelled to meet him. Upon Henry’s insistence he comes over to his house and hears that he suspects his wife is having an affair, and is even thinking of getting a private detective to tail her. Maurice becomes jealous of the possibility of a new lover and asks Henry if he can go in behalf of him to the detective agency, if he doesn’t feel up to going himself. But Henry changes his mind about the agency, saying he was wrong to think like that.

Maurice goes to the private detective agency without Henry’s knowledge. The private investigator Parkis (John Mills) tails Sarah and shows Maurice a love letter she wrote that he found in the waste basket of a Mr. Smythe (Goodliffe). Maurice thereby tells Henry about it, who reacts disgustedly with Maurice and refuses to respond.

When Maurice gets hold of Sarah’s private journal, he learns why she left him. Of how she made a pact with God that if he were alive, she would never see him again romantically and would return to her husband. That she loves him so much and to just have him live will be worth it.

Sarah tells a Catholic priest, “I thought I prayed him alive and made that stupid promise.” The priest responds, “You made a vow to someone you didn’t believe in — you have the free will to break it. But you have also taken the first step toward God that you could continue with, if you so choose.”

Sarah will also get the atheistic argument from a Mr. Smythe who speaks at Hyde Park, of how religion is just a bag of tricks. She meets with him in private as he tries to get her to go back to Maurice. He is a very clever but embittered man, who was born with an ugly mole that covers one whole side of his face. He asks himself if there is a loving God, how could he create so much suffering!

Dmytryk has made an intelligent version of a tough novel to film, and made it into an impressionable film. The best performance came from the two actors who seemed to be effortlessly acting. John Mills is the detective interested more in the craft of his job than the ethics, though always aware of the moral implications of what he is doing. His pleasurable performance stole the film. Peter Cushing was just right for his role as someone who was both conniving and sincere, as the depressed civil servant who can’t find love even though he has married someone he dearly loves. The simplicity of his beliefs, that one does one’s best was successfully brought out.

In many respects, I found this the more interesting version. It told a crisper story than the newer one and avoided all the unnecessary risks the other one took, and it better understood Graham Greene’s dilemma with the modern world and his belief in a demanding Catholicism that is not worried about pleasing anyone but God. What the other version had, was more explicit sex scenes and a better actor playing Bendrix. But both versions suffer from Greene’s (or is it Catholic dogma) ideas of what sin is.

REVIEWED ON 6/2/2000 GRADE: C+  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/