Quartet (1948)


(directors: Ken Annakin, (segment “The Colonel’s Lady”), Arthur Crabtree (segment “The Kite”), Harold French (segment “The Alien Corn”), Ralph Smart (segment “The Facts of Life”); screenwriters: R.C. Sherriff; W. Somerset Maugham (stories “The Alien Corn,” “The Colonel’s Lady,” “The Facts of Life,” “The Kite”); cinematographer: Ray Elton; Reginald H. Wyer (segment “The Colonel’s Lady”); editors: Jean Barker/A. Charles Knott; music: John Greenwood; cast: W. Somerset Maugham (himself, host); “The Facts of Life”– Basil Radford (Henry Garnet), Naunton Wayne (Leslie), Ian Fleming (Ralph), Jack Raine (Thomas), Angela Baddeley (Mrs. Garnet), James Robertson Justice (Branksome), Jack Watling (Nicky), Nigel Buchanan (John), Mai Zetterling (Jeanne); “The Alien Corn”– Dirk Bogarde (George Bland), Honor Blackman (Paula), Francoise Rosay (Lea Makart); “The Kite”– Bernard Lee (Prison Visitor), George Cole (Herbert Sunbury), Hermione Baddeley (Beatrice Sunbury), Mervyn Johns (Samuel Sunbury), Susan Shaw (Betty); “The Colonel’s Lady”– Cecil Parker (Colonel Peregrine), Nora Swinburne (Mrs. Peregrine); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Antony Darnborough; Eagle Lion Films; 1948-UK)

“Hardly filling.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the kind of civilized, middle-brow fare that is so mild it’s hardly filling and leaves no bitter aftertaste. It’s based on four stories by author W. Somerset Maugham, who also appears from his villa on the Riviera as host to introduce the film in his urbane and self-effacing way. It’s the first Maugham anthology of three (followed by Trio and Encore). All four stories were scripted by the playwright R.C. Sherriff. None of the stories caught my fancy, but the last episode directed by Ken Annakin entitled “The Colonel’s Lady” was easily the most palatable.

The first segment entitled “The Facts of Life” is directed by Ralph Smart. It has the anxious clubman Basil Radford concerned that his 19-year-old Oxford student son Jack Watling is traveling away from home for the first time to Monte Carlo for a tennis tournament. Despite being warned by dad not to gamble or pick up any strange women, Jack does both. Even though Jack spends the night with scam artist Mai Zetterling, he proves it’s better to be lucky than smart.

The second segment entitled “The Alien Corn” is directed by Harold French. Dirk Bogarde is an intense aspiring concert pianist whose wealthy London family is upset that on his twenty-first birthday he’s rejected the family business for the arts. Honor Blackman is his cousin girlfriend who wants to marry him but realizes she can’t until he gets playing the piano for a living out of his head and comes to his senses to join his place among the comfortable living bourgeois. Honor gets his family to modestly support him while for the next two years he studies the piano in Paris. He’s then to return to the States and play for an impartial observer, the dignified noted concert pianist Francoise Rosay, to judge if he has the right stuff to be a concert pianist. Rosay tells him he could never become a good pianist because he lacks the feelings of an artist, and this leads to a shocking conclusion.

The third segment entitled “The Kite” is directed by Arthur Crabtree. It has lower-class mama’s boy postal clerk George Cole marrying against his overbearing mother’s (Hermione Baddeley) wishes to the ordinary Susan Shaw. Because wifey objects to his Saturday afternoon kiting outing with his parents on the common, they have a spat and separate. When in anger she destroys his valued new experimental kite, he’s so obsessed over kites that he cuts off any support. This lands him in jail. Intervening is ‘prison visitor’ Bernard Lee, who tries to bring the couple together by getting Susan to take up flying a kite. It’s all meant as a parody of marriage.

The fourth segment entitled “The Colonel’s Lady” is directed by Ken Annakin. Stuffy successful London businessman, sportsman and philanderer Cecil Parker, a smug and obtuse Colonel Blimp type, never realized his long-suffering wife Nora Swinburne was a poet. When she surprises him by having her work published and it becomes a best-seller, he soon becomes upset to learn the poetry talks of loving a mysterious man who died. Cecil just can’t get over that his mousey wife has written the hottest book since Lady Chatterley’s Lover and is shocked to learn who was her lover.