Lean's sixth Cineguild film was adapted from
a 1913 story by H.G. Wells, which had been filmed before (d. Maurice
Elvey, 1922). Wells' heroine was clearly intended to be one of
the new breed of emancipated and intellectual young women who flourished
at the turn of the 20th century, but most of this is lost in Eric
Ambler's screenplay. Mary seems to modern eyes to be merely
selfish and mercenary, preferring a comfortable, if loveless, life with
her rich banker husband to romantic passion with old flame Steven.
The film is technically assured and
inventive, but its structure, comprising a flashback within a flashback,
is confusing and alienating. With its use of a female voiceover
narration, its emphasis on an unfulfilled affair and the presence of
Trevor Howard as one of the lovers, the film has some similarities with
Brief Encounter (1945). However, the characters are more
glamorous and sophisticated than Brief Encounter's provincial
Alec and Laura. Fashionably dressed, they inhabit a privileged
London world of large houses, society balls, dining out, theatre-going
and foreign holidays. The film has a hard, glossy look. Only
Claude Rains' jealous husband shows any real emotion, while Ann Todd
(later to become Lean's third wife) is glacial and remote, eliciting
little audience sympathy.
There are some terrific technical moments,
notably the whole sequence around the theatre tickets, and the device of
the binoculars, which enables Rains, as he thinks, to discover Mary's
affair—a perfect mesh of camera movements and editing.
Following the lifting of wartime travel
restrictions, the film revels in its Swiss locations, as Lean lovingly
films Lake Annecy and its surrounding mountains. Mary's joy and
excitement on her first flight, even extending to the airline food,
would have struck a chord with many people experiencing foreign travel
for the first time.
It is a foretaste of things to come, when
Lean will film completely on location.