“I tell you, I’ve GOT to paint – I can’t help myself!”
A writer (Herbert Marshall) recounts the tale of a self-absorbed Brit (George Sanders) who leaves his wife (Molly Lamont) and children for a life of solitary painting in Paris. Once there, Strickland (Sanders) is idolized and cared for by a meek acquaintance (Steven Geray) whose wife (Doris Dudley) abandons him for Strickland. Will a life in tropical paradise — where a matchmaker (Flora Bates) convinces him to marry a lovely young maiden (Elena Verdugo) — change Strickland’s misogynistic and anti-social ways? Does this even matter, as long as he continues to secretly make Great Art?
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- George Sanders Films
- Herbert Marshall Films
- Marital Problems
- Midlife Crisis
Albert Lewin’s adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1919 novel — loosely based on an outline of Paul Gauguin’s life — afforded Sanders his second-most-hated cinematic character after Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950), and remains an insufferably misogynistic apologia for Artistic Male Geniuses as Permissible Bastards. There is very little to commend in this tale about an admittedly revolting man who nonetheless is lionized by the end (final title card notwithstanding). Perhaps the most egregious of many exchanges occur once Strickland is on Tahiti, where he deigns to consider marrying a beautiful and adoring 15-year-old girl with flowing hair and limited English. The local matchmaker, Tiare (Bates, having fun in a florid role), explains to the ever-inquisitive Marshall (as Geoffrey Wolfe):
Tiare: I was only 15 when my father found out that I had a sweetheart. He was 3rd mate on the Tropic Bird. Oh, he was a good looking boy.
Wolfe: What did your father do?
Tiare: He thrashed me within an inch of a life, then made me marry Captain Johnson!
Wolfe: Were you very unhappy?
Tiare: Oh, I didn’t mind — he was handsome, too! He used to beat me regularly — I was black and blue all over for days at a time. HE was a man! I cried when he died.
And shortly after this:
Strickland [agreeing to marry Ata]: I shall beat you, you know!
Ata (Verdugo) [lovingly and meekly]: How else shall I know you love me?
Meanwhile, the narrative crutch of having Marshall-as-Maugham (or in this case, another random novelist) telling the story of a seeker-in-exile feels forced and stale, especially after having just watched The Razor’s Edge (though to be fair, this Maugham adaptation was released first). Feel free to skip this one unless you happen to be a particular fan of Maugham’s work.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Atmospheric cinematography
Oh heavens, no.