The Passionate Friends (1949)


(director/writer: David Lean; screenwriters: Eric Ambler/Stanley Haynes/from the H. G. Wells novel “The Passionate Friends”; cinematographer: Guy Green; editor: Geoffrey Foot; music: Richard Addinsell; cast: Ann Todd (Mary Justin), Claude Rains (Howard Justin), Trevor Howard (Prof. Steven Stratton), Isabel Dean (Pat Stratton), Betty Ann Davies (Miss Layton), Arthur Howard (servant), Guido Lorraine (hotel manager), Marcel Poncin (hall porter); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ronald Neame; MGM; 1949-UK)
“The glossy direction of the talented Lean made it watchable but only mildly pleasing as soapy entertainment.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This love triangle film is adapted from a 1913 HG Wells novel and is modernized by writers Eric Ambler and Stanley Haynes. Trevor Howard plays the same type of character he did in his breakthrough film Brief Encounter. David Lean (“Brief Encounter”/”Ryan’s Daughter”/”Lawrence of Arabia”) films outside of England for the first time, as he ventures to the Swiss Alps. It’s a rather tedious tortured romance tale that’s abetted by sterling performances by Howard, the always reliable Claude Rains and a fetching Ann Todd (she married Lean after the film wrapped and they divorced in 1957). It’s also filled with slick flashbacks and is well-crafted, as is usual for a Lean pic. Lean was brought in to replace the original director Ronald Neame, who openly clashed with Ann Todd. It’s set in the post-World War II period.

The beautiful Mary (Ann Todd) married much older and wealthier British banking lord Howard Justin (Claude Rains), and lives a life of leisure and comfort in a loveless but successful marriage. On holiday with her retinue in the Swiss Alps (hubby is delayed by business and will arrive a little bit later), Mary discovers her old flame from college Steven Stratton (Trevor Howard) has an adjoining room in the Hotel Splendide. Mary jilted Steven, a biology professor, to marry for security. Meeting Steven again after some nine years, stirs up Mary’s juices for the jovial professor once again. She now has to decide if she should leave her kind and considerate husband, who gives her all the freedom and creature comforts, for Steven’s more passionate and more riskier involving love.

Frankly, I couldn’t care less what Mary decided and that was my problem with the woman’s pic. Things seemed too obvious and too much like a fluff Hollywood production, as the glossy direction of the talented Lean made it watchable but only mildly pleasing as soapy entertainment.