QUARTET, from 1948, was the first of three British anthology showcases for stories written by W. Somerset Maugham. The venerated author, then 74, introduces the offering with the comment “In my twenties, the critics said I was brutal. In my thirties, they said I was flippant; in my forties, they said I was cynical; in my fifties they said I was competent – and then, in my sixties, they said I was superficial.”
R.C. Sheriff took on screenplay duty for four well-acted, achingly civil pieces of whimsy & woe, faith & distrust, harmony & irony. The quartet are firmly planted in the creature comforts and conduct considerations of England’s leisure class, with the sword-honed diction practically a 120 minute education in enunciation. John Greenwood’s score is recessed but attentive, a quiet swirl.
“The Facts Of Life”, directed by Ralph Smart sends unworldly young tennis player Jack Watling off to Monte Carlo after his father admonishes him about gambling, loaning money and being wary of women. Naturally, the chap ignores each wise warning in turn, with the femme foreign femme fatale in question the provocative Mai Zetterling. Neat twist capper to this one.
“The Alien Corn”, directed by Harold French has newcomers Dirk Bogarde,26, and Honor Blackman, 22, in a held-to-your-word bind that shows dreams and best intentions colliding with reality as a young man defies his family to pursue a career as a pianist. More than discord keys in when the verdict of a maestro is noted.
“The Kite”, directed by Arthur Crabtree has George Cole as a fellow whose hobby of kite-construction and weekend flying fits neatly with the cocoon of his parents Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddeley, but drives his new, unimpressed wife Susan Shaw to distraction. It doesn’t help that ‘Mum’ can’t abide the girl at first sight. This one’s a bit too twee.
“The Colonel’s Lady”, directed by Ken Annakin, put stuffy retired soldier Cecil Parker up against his myopic hypocrisy. When his taken-for-granted wife Nora Swinburne pens a book of poetry whose salacious content makes it a huge success, he feels publicly humiliated as the book’s cuckold, even though he’s conducting his own affair with playgirl Linden Travers.
On the sidelines roam a constellation of the reliable: Bernard Lee, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Ernest Thesiger, Felix Aylmer, Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne, Francoise Rosay, James Robertson Justice and Maurice Denham.
Available numbers indicate a gross of £122,000 (£4,550,000 in ’21) not eclipsing the production cost of £165,000 (£6,154,000 in 2021), yet acclaim and interest was sufficient to prompt a follow-up two years later with Trio.