Quartet (1948)

“In one way or another, I’ve used in my writings pretty well everything that’s happened to me in the course of my life.”

Synopsis:
W. Somerset Maugham introduces four cinematic adaptations of his short stories: in “The Facts of Life”, a young man (Jack Watling) disregards his father’s advice about gambling while on a trip to Montecarlo, and is duly pursued by a deceitful young woman (Mai Zetterling); in “The Alien Corn”, an aspiring pianist (Dirk Bogarde) is given two years by his wealthy father (Raymond Lovell) and mother (Irene Browne) to prove himself worthy of the career; in “The Kite”, a grown mama’s boy (George Cole) finds that his passion for kites is jeopardizing his new marriage; and in “The Colonel’s Lady”, a self-absorbed colonel (Cecil Parker) is startled to learn that his meek wife (Nora Swinburne) has published a best-selling book of romantic poetry.

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Review:
This surprisingly enjoyable quartet of films may very well represent the best of “short story cinema”. While directed by four different men (Ken Annakin, Arthur Crabtree, Harold French, and Ralph Smart), the half-hour segments possess a unifying sensibility which elevates the whole to more than simply the sum of its parts. Each story touches in some way upon relations between the sexes: callow youths are taught valuable life lessons by older women, and troubled spouses must evince humility and compromise in order to repair the damage done to their marriages. As with all episodic movies, it’s nearly impossible not to pick favorites (the final one here — “The Colonel’s Lady” — is widely acknowledged as the best of the bunch), but I found each one to be an enjoyable — albeit undeniably melancholy — morsel. With the possible exception of “The Facts of Life”, these are not necessarily light-hearted diversions; the most devastating tale is undoubtedly the second one, which — thanks in large part to Dirk Bogarde’s sensitive performance — is a true weeper.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An enjoyable, light-hearted tale of deceit and luck (“The Facts of Life”)
    Quartet Facts of Life
  • Dirk Bogarde as the aspiring pianist in “The Alien Corn”
    Quartet Bogarde
  • A remarkably touching story of middle-aged marriage and masculine insecurity (“The Colonel’s Lady”)
    Quartet Marriage
  • Cecil Parker as Colonel Peregrine
    Quartet Parker

Must See?
Yes; this is a “jolly good show”, and should be seen by all film fanatics. Listed as a film with historical importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Quartet (1948)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    It’s a beautifully mounted production – and the direction and acting are polished throughout. Maugham is certainly a fine writer (‘Of Human Bondage’ is in my top ten favorite novels) and his longer works have often been turned into fine films.

    But I find this film slight – outside of the 4th story, which alone might encourage me to recommend the whole film…only I can’t, but those who like Maugham will find the closing tale of particular interest.

    The opening tale is engaging-enough (even if I find it ultimately slightly unsatisfying). But the middle two pieces are discouraging: allowing someone’s harsh criticism of you as an artist to strongly influence you when you are obviously proficient? – bullshit; a big, negative to-do made over an interest in flying a kite? – tedious.

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