Saturday, September 18, 2010

Personal Affair (1953)

Ah … scandal, that old time religion of the classic melodrama. The driving force behind so many of the silver screen’s great and not-so-great films, scandal is, almost undoubtedly, the most significant narrative theme abandoned by contemporary filmmakers. Yet scandal enjoyed its heyday in the 1950s, and it’s the driving force behind the 1953 British film Personal Affair.

Leo Genn stars as Mr. Barlow, a Latin teacher in an “experimental” (co-ed) British seconday school. He has a beautiful — but jealous — American wife, Kay (Gene Tierney), who can’t seen to adjust to English society and consequently wastes her days imagining all the ways in which her good looking and popular husband might be untrue. When he invites shy Barbara (Glynis Johns) to his home for extra tutoring, Kay recognizes what her husband doesn’t — that the young woman is carrying a torch for her teacher. In a fit of jealousy Kay accuses the confused young girl of making a play, and Barbara flees. When Mr. Barlow learns of this, he arranges to meet Barbara later in hopes of making things right. When Barbara fails to return home that night, or the following day, the small town becomes a hive of gossip, innuendo, and yes — scandal.

The movie offers a different, yet equally fascinating exploration of the same themes and academic setting of The Children’s Hour (and the equally wonderful earlier version, These Three); though Personal Affair explores the husband-wife relationship and exists almost entirely with the spaces of domesticity. There are moments where Barbara’s school friends spread rumors, and even go to the police, but it only serves to develop the theme of rampant gossip — and everyone in the town chips in. A woman’s picture from top to bottom, the film is nevertheless unkind to its female characters, possibly with the exception of Barbara. Gene Tierney is quite good as the disturbed wife whose emotions run the gamut from jealousy to fear to rage. Only Tierney, however unfortunately, could have played the part so well.

Personal Affair is a thoughtful drama, though it may be marred by an ending that cops out to the positive — somewhat surprising considering it isn’t a Hollywood production.

Personal Affair (1953)
Grade B+
Directed by Anthony Pellisier
Starring Gene Tierney, Leo Genn, Glynis Johns
Released by Two Cities Films
Running time: 82 minutes
Availabilty: VHS, has aired on TCM.

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