End of the Affair, The (1955)

The End of the Affair (1955), directed by Edward Dmytryk.

I did not see this until after watching Neil Jordan's wonderful version, The End of the Affair (1999). Jordan thought the earlier picture was poor, but we must try to see it with new eyes and judge it fairly.

Its first handicap is the sexual standards in movies of the period, more generous in the UK than in the US, but still having to obey the necessary conventions. The plot shows us a married woman having a passionate affair with the American writer, and once we see a rumpled bed in the background, but otherwise we just have to understand and imagine.

The second problem is how to think about Van Johnson's performance. He honestly seems out of place in this ensemble, although he is sometimes good at the silent pain and confusion of his character. His voice is bland and I found his narration objectionable, although when Deborah Kerr narrates from her point of view in the second half I didn't mind it at all. Jordan also had narration from both characters in his version.

Kerr is always wonderful. Here and in many of her roles she does something I don't remember seeing from any other actress of that era: intelligent and proper and posh as necessary, but clear-eyed and unsqueamish in sexual matters.

The supporting cast is great: Peter Cushing as the civil servant husband, dull but hurting, and John Mills as the seedy but likable working class detective.

Both movies use quite a lot of the same dialogue from the book. This version has more explicit discussion of the miracle. A great moment is when Kerr studies Johnson with shocked awe after the explosion: "He's trying to remember what it was like to be dead".

It is a serious film and treats its source well.

Lovely lush score by Benjamin Frankel.

Available on DVD, a flipper with anamorphic widescreen on one side and a 4:3 cropped image on the other.