Love, Guilt, Jealousy, Guilt, Faith, Guilt.
Now that a remake of this classic film has been done, Columbia has decided to release both the remake and the 1955 classic version of this love triangle tragedy at the same time. In fact they are even offered together as a 2 pack. I was given the pleasure of reviewing the original, in another entry into the Columbia Classics collection. Incredibly deep and passionate performances, a script that moves on many levels of intellect and emotion, and lush locations, sets, and even special effects make this a memorable film everyone should see. Columbia comes through with a great restoration of the film, with a very nice picture, but only adequate sound and extras.
I'm not going to divulge a lot of plot here. The story seems simple enough but more keeps building into it, and you see the film from more than one vantage point so you get an ultimately complete realization of the film. To do more than give broad brushstrokes would be depriving you of the exposition the film gives in its own time.
On the most basic level, this is a movie about a triangle; a husband and wife and the man who comes between them. Deborah Kerr (The King and I, The Sundowners, The Night of the Iguana) plays Sarah Miles, a somewhat dutiful wife of a British civil servant during World War II. Her husband Henry, played by Peter Cushing, star of a hundred horror films, is a boring and stiff upper-lipped Brit who helps handle the day to day running of London as the Nazis are bombing it. Apparently Sarah doesn't find her life too exciting, because when American writer Maurice Bendrix (Van Johnson, The Caine Mutiny, Brigadoon, Rich Man, Poor Man) comes along she allows her attraction to quickly move to adultery. The two become passionately in love with each other quickly, but guilt, jealousy, passion, anger, and suspicion threaten their relationship. Oh, and that bothersome fact that she is married. I am being flip here because at this early stage of the movie I had little use for either character. I only felt sympathy for the husband. Do not make the mistake of thinking you understand the movie early on. Ultimately all three main characters become all too human, with nobility, sacrifice, selfishness, and desire all competing for their souls.
When I thought the film had come so far to bring so much of human existence, with all its emotions, philosophy, belief, and religion to the fore, the film found more fertile ground. This film is intense, mysterious, moving, and compelling. The relationships are complicated, and the nature of faith, God, sin, and belief become part of the complex mix, along with the very human desire to do the right thing. Sarah most particularly must struggle with these age-old questions as she searches from sources of different, even contradictory viewpoints. The dilemmas and questions all of us ask at one time or another are dealt with in a detailed manner, without passing along the answer to everything. What could have been trite turned out to be a film much more than the premise, and even more than the sum of its parts.
The film is directed with a sure hand by Edward Dmytryk (Crossfire, Alvarez Kelly, The Caine Mutiny) and gives us an impressively realistic look at wartime London. His eye for the camera was impeccable, though I felt that his method of fading to black between scenes seemed a little dated now. The sets and locations, and the special effects of the Nazi bombings were very realistic, especially for the time period in which this was made. The sets of course are not affected by time and technology passing, and are richly furnished and textured. Even more impressive was the writing and performances of the three main characters. I've not seen the remake but I find it hard to look at the depth of these performances and feel the need to do it over.
Columbia delivers on the picture quality, especially considering the age of the film. Columbia offers again a choice between 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and pan-and-scan. Say it with me, forget pan and scan! Certainly some signs of age on this 45-year-old film remain, such as some nicks and grain, but they are not prevalent at all. Someone did a fine job with restoration and the transfer, for the black and white film has great contrast and superb detail without digital artifacting. Black levels are occasionally not as inky as they could be, but overall this film looks great.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The sound quality is not nearly up to the standards of the video, but is adequate for dialogue. Being an older mono track, the frequency range and dynamics are very constrained. While dialogue is always audible, the sound is thin and harsh, especially during the music. As I said, adequate but not very fulfilling.
I'm not completely happy with the extra content either. The big extra on this disc is a Making Of featurette, but it's for the 1999 remake! This is the first time I've seen such a feature on a disc that was for a different movie. Columbia really missed the boat in not taking the obvious step of comparing the two films. The Talent Files are adequate, but they left Peter Cushing, one of the three main characters with a long list of accomplishments off (editor's note: including a little movie you might have heard of named Star Wars). Finally, not only are trailers for Alvarez Kelly and The Caine Mutiny included, but also a trailer for the 1999 remake of The End of the Affair. No trailer for this film itself, but only the remake seems like a slap to the original.
The End of the Affair is a film to see. It's not trivial or funny, and gets emotional and sad often enough, but ultimately it won me over. It is safe to say this film will never look better. So I recommend purchase or at least a rental. It should have meaning to everyone who watches it.
Columbia is fined $5000 for showing more respect for the remake of this film than the original. Fine suspended for a fine restoration. The film itself stands for itself, and defies this court's judgment.
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