The Browning Version


Chris Grieb

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This is the very good film version of the play by Terrence Rattigan. Terrence Rattigan was given a very good review by Kay Nolte Smith in the March 1971 Objectivist with special praise for "The Browning Version". Michael Redgrave plays the lead. It's a very fine work about the effects of psychological repression.

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This is the very good film version of the play by Terrence Rattigan. Terrence Rattigan was given a very good review by Kay Nolte Smith in the March 1971 Objectivist with special praise for "The Browning Version". Michael Redgrave plays the lead. It's a very fine work about the effects of psychological repression.

http://www.amazon.com/Browning-Version-Criterion-Collection/dp/B00092ZLFS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1262484180&sr=1-1

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I saw and enjoyed this film last night for the first time in at least 20 years. What surprised me anew was how well it held up in its performances.

It's a psychological drama and character study that uses pre-Method acting, a notably more mannered style that had great virtues, but has become nearly nonexistent today. Every time I see such a drama — that style difference doesn't seem to matter much for comedies or epics — I worry, not that I won't like it, but that I've gotten too used to the more "modern" alternatives as to style.

I needn't have worried. The turns and twists of the lead character's suffering, the duty-bound and regretful teacher who has his professional and personal worlds falling apart, are vivid in the face and expressions of Michael Redgrave. They would have been largely lost in a more naturalized, less formal style of acting.

What's also satisfying is how the "villains" of the piece (only one, outright) are given their subtle and unstressed comeuppance. And how some others who are in the moral middle come to realize their mistakes and try to make amends for them.

Terence Rattigan created more drama, with what many saw as much "less" in obvious plotting and flashy dialogue, than almost any other screenwriter — certainly those of his own era. Another brilliant turn from the early '50s, well worth watching for, is his take on "Breaking the Sound Barrier." (As fiction and set in Britain, with no civilians then being allowed to know about Chuck Yeager of the USAF having already done it at that time.)

I was also gratified that my brother and flatmate, who isn't usually absorbed by such dramas, was wholly captivated by seeing this one for the first time. Skill and literacy rose above any unfamiliarity with the acting or the dramatic style.

(Thanks to Chris for noting its being on — but I have to say once again, folks: PLEASE note the time zones as well. This continent is huge. It was at 1:30 am Eastern time, only, thus 10:30 pm Pacific. If it's shown again for the West Coast, as some channels do but TCM does not, they'll say "Eastern and Pacific.")

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Thanks for mentioning this movie, as I was unaware of it.

I also highly recommend Separate Tables, another movie (with David Niven) of a Rattigan play.

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Separate Tables is a combination of two plays in one screenplay. It is occasionally shown on TCM. Another Rattigan screenplay is "The VIPS" which was made as a vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It is a good screenplay but the best thing was the first big role for Maggie Smith.

David Niven won an Academy Award for Separate Tables. He deserved it.

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Rattigan also wrote Breaking the Sound Barrier, a late-40s British item that was in the NBI Romantic Screen series. Yeager, who actually was first to accomplish this, said he dealt for years with people who thought it was a true story and that he was only the first American to do so.

(PS: just noticed that this information was already in #3)

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  • 6 years later...

This is an older thread, but still quite relevant. I just posted about The Browning Version on another thread dealing with emotions and repression. 

23 minutes ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Here is something on emotional repression out of the blue.

Ayn Rand always gushed over a playwright named Terence Rattigan. 

I always thought playwright meant playwright only, so I never looked for Rattigan's works (I kept putting it off for some undefined later when I would do a deep dive in the theater again). Recently a friend posted a video bio of Rattigan and I saw it. I also saw he was a famous Hollywood screenwriter right around the time Rand was. Undoubtedly she knew him. This is probably in her bios, but if so, it never jumped out at me. A name is a name is a name until it has something attached to it in one's mind.

Anyway, Rattigan wrote a work whose theme is emotional repression, The Browning Version. I just saw it a couple of days ago (and one other work by him, The Deep Blue Sea). Now I am a duly official Terence Rattigan fan. Seriously, this guy rocks and he does some mighty fine storytelling. 

I'm posting the video below and cross-posting it to a discussion we had on OL back in 2010 on a thread called The Browning Version. There are some interesting comments over there, so I recommend it. Unfortunately a couple of the posters have passed away since (Chris Grieb and Steve Reed, who called himself Greybird). btw - In the cross-post to the other thread, I included comments by Ayn Rand and Kay Nolte Smith.

I don't know how long this video will stay up, but for now it's on YouTube. Believe me, if you can find the time to watch it, you will find that this is time much better spent than what we all spend on most of the garbage in our pop culture right now.

Michael

Here is what Ayn Rand said about The Browning Version (from Ayn Rand Answers, pp. 198-199):

Quote

The Browning Version has a good, though subdued, plot. It seems naturalistic, but it has a well-constructed, romantic plot. In that sense, Rattigan is closest to Ibsen. The trappings are realistic and on the verge of naturalism, yet it is never naturalism. In The Browning Version, the professor is not a grand hero. But neither is he a conventional man. Nor is the relationship between the professor and the boy conventional. It is beautifully presented. Rattigan seems very sensitive to the devotion to values in human psychology: but all he can do is express this devotion. He has no philosophy with which to express values. That's why I don't consider him a writer who presents heroic actions by average men. The conformist touches are simply thrown in. He is not a romantic with conventional characters—he is better than that. 

. . .

Judging by his works that I have read or seen, he is not good at presenting the conventional. He's at his best presenting the unusual (though not always heroic), for example, the professor in The Browning Version.

Also, Kay Nolte Smith wrote an essay in the March, 1971 edition of The Objectivist called "Terence Rattigan." She covered The Browning Version in her essay (spoiler alert):

Quote

The Browning Version is Mr. Rattigan's finest play today. It is also one of the finest ever written.

The theme is vitally important, but very difficult to dramatize: the tragedy of emotional repression. The nature and causes of this inner state are revealed through a superbly dramatic plot, with such economy that the play takes little more than an hour on the stage. (The fine film version is slightly expanded.)

Andrew Crocker-Harris, a brilliant classical scholar, is leaving his post as a schoolmaster by reason of ill health. He is a man in whom the gentleness of indifference blends with an aloof, almost forbidding coldness. Gradually, the play reveals what brought him to this state: a career and a marriage, both begun in love and hope, are now ending in failure; his students aren't touched by the literature he loves, and his shallow, promiscuous wife wants to leave him for the latest of her lovers.

A moon-faced schoolboy arrives at Crocker-Harris's home for a makeup lesson; with rebellious daring, the boy translates his lines from the Agamemnon freely and melodramatically -- because "after all it is a play and not just a bit of Greek construe." He triggers a quiet response:

===========

ANDREW. (Murmuring gently, not wanting to look at TAPLOW.) When I was a very young man, only two years older than you are now, Taplow, I wrote, for my own pleasure, a translation of the Agamemnon -- a very free translation -- I remember -- in rhyming couplets.

TAPLOW. The whole Agamemnon -- in verse? That must have been hard work, sir.

ANDREW. It was hard work; but I derived great joy from it. The play had so excited and moved me that I wished to communicate, however imperfectly, some of that emotion to others. When I had finished it, I remember, I thought it very beautiful -- almost more beautiful than the original.

TAPLOW. Was it ever published, sir?

ANDREW. No. Yesterday I looked for the manuscript while I was packing my papers. I was unable to find it. I fear it is lost -- like so many other things. Lost for good.

===========

In a meeting with the man who will succeed him, Crocker-Harris learns that he is been feared by his pupils for years. His response is a cry from the heart, moving in its formality and restraint, tragic in its revelation of the course and toll of repression: he tells of his early enthusiasm for teaching, then the failure to communicate his love of literature, the sliding into the manner of a desiccated pedant, the gradual stony withdrawal -- and now the wrenching discovery that he is feared by those he had hoped to inspire.

Moments later, Taplow brings him a farewell gift: the Robert Browning version of the Agamemnon, inscribed to "a gentle master." Sending the boy away, Crocker-Harris begins to sob uncontrollably.

The boy's gift is a catalyst, bringing out the emotional sum and meeting of the schoolmaster's life, then becoming the instrument of his liberation. Crocker-Harris shows the book to his wife, in the presence of the men he knows to be her lover. Coolly and deliberately, she undercuts the gift's meaning by throwing doubt on the sincerity of Taplow's motive. Seeing her malice, both men are liberated, in different ways. The lover rejects her, and reveals his fundamental decency by offering his friendship to the husband she has wounded. At the play's close, there is an indication that Crocker-Harris will leave her, and a suggestion of the possibility that he may recapture some measure of his life's purpose. The tone of the ending is muted; the depth of Crocker-Harris's tragedy is stressed, yet one sees that it is neither inevitable nor irreversible.

To make so simple and action as the gift of a book reveal the characters of three persons and alter their lives -- to widen the audience's understanding while touching it's heart -- that is mastery of both the means and the end of drama.

This really is some fine writing and storytelling.

If you see it, you can thank me later.

If you can't see it now, if you can't see it after reading all this stuff on a thread called "The Browning Version," well... make an effort, gosh darn it. Stop being a dork.

:)

Michael

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3 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

I just posted about The Browning Version on another thread dealing with emotions and repression. 

I also strongly recommend  "The Winslow Boy" (1999 movie version with Jeremy Northam playing the lawyer character) and "Separate Tables" *.

The latter culminates in some quiet moments of heroism.  Especially moving to me was that of the character played by Deborah Kerr.

Ellen

* brief Wikipedia description - link:

Quote

Separate Tables is a 1958 American drama film starring Rita Hayworth, Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Burt Lancaster, and Wendy Hiller, based on two one-act plays by Terence Rattigan that were collectively known by this name. Niven and Hiller won Academy Awards for their performances. The picture was directed by Delbert Mann and adapted for the screen by Rattigan, John Gay and an uncredited John Michael Hayes. Mary Grant and Edith Head designed the film's costumes.

 

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1 hour ago, Ellen Stuttle said:

I also strongly recommend  "The Winslow Boy" (1999 movie version with Jeremy Northam playing the lawyer character) and "Separate Tables" *.

Ellen,

I have both lined up. I'm also trying to get my mitts on Rattigan's plays, but the more-or-less official collections (two volumes) are wicked expensive. I've found a much cheaper edition (also two volumes) and I ordered them. I hope they cover most of the plays.

As to The Winslow Boy, on looking over the plot description, it reminds me an awful lot of Scent of a Woman, with some major changes, of course.

My first Rattigan film was The Deep Blue Sea. (I saw the version with Vivien Leigh below.) I didn't think it was possible, but he made a clingy bitchy woman fascinating. I've had a few relationships with such creatures and they were definitely not boring, but fascinating? No way. I can tell you that from experience. :) To see such a type as fascinating was quite a treat 

Hester Collyer (the name of the lady) was almost bipolar, alternating between the repressed pessimism with confidence you normally see in the main male character of a hardboiled private eye story and a total basket case falling to pieces because she fears being abandoned. Here's the YT version if you are interested:

It may start in the middle for some damn reason, but just slide the control to the beginning. The image and sound are not great, but you get used to them. At least I did. (And, I think this was originally in BW, but I'm not sure.)

I found the non-dramatic parts a bit grating (the ski stuff and the bar-hopping simply drug on too long and were not all that interesting, not even regarding film techniques), but the story more than made up for it with a clever hook. It starts with a failed suicide attempt and you (and the other characters) spend the rest of the movie wondering whether she will try again. The poor guy (Freddie Page) doesn't know what to do with this kind of neurosis. Besides, he's burning out on his flying career and drowning his sorrows in the bottle. And she has an ex-husband who is a high-court judge who keeps begging her to come back. So there's that. The gossip lady overdid it, but she was still one of my favorite characters. I don't think that was due to any dramatic values, though. That was more like personal resonance. :) 

Michael

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On 12/11/2016 at 1:19 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:

... and "Separate Tables" *.

The latter culminates in some quiet moments of heroism.  Especially moving to me was that of the character played by Deborah Kerr.

Ellen,

I just saw Separate Tables.

They just don't make tearjerkers like that anymore.

God, what a great movie...

And you're right about Deborah Kerr. She acted her ass off.

I've seen three Terence Rattigan films so far and I'm detecting a pattern in his climaxes: a great moment of shame being overcome, not just by the character feeling the shame, but the moment intensified by the acceptance of others.

In The Deep Blue Sea, Hester Collyer overcame her own shame after she realized what it was, that it existed in the first place, and that the doctor saw her for what she was (good, bad and ugly)--and he let her know it was OK. In fact, he was the one who explained her need to her and let her know she was the strong one. Climax as she underwent a huge immediate change in character.

In Separate Tables, the acceptance of the Major in his greatest moment of shame was by everybody in the restaurant except the busybody mother. Climax. Tearjerker climax at that. I liked the line where the other couple (who, to paraphrase, tore each other to pieces when together and tore themselves to pieces when apart) talked about the hotel restaurant being unlike the big city and high society of facades where one was lonely in the crowd, instead it was a place where everyone sat at separate tables, but talked to each other.

And in The Browning Version, Andrew Crocker-Harris was outright applauded by the students when he bared his heart to them after an entire career of emotional repression. Climax.

This makes me wonder... Ayn Rand gushed so much about Rattigan, I wonder about the role of shame in her idea of Romantic Realism, how fundamental it is. Shame looms large in her own fiction, it's the core of sanction of the victim. Her "shame" protagonists don't feel shame from actually feeling unworthy, though. They are conflicted by the shame they think they should feel, but can't.

Shame certainly was one of the main glues that held the early Objectivist movement together. People were constantly ashamed of not living up and it cut deep. (Hell, now that I think about it, unacknowledged and repressed shame is probably the reason for the snarkiness and quickness to reject and denounce by the more Randroid types.)

I'm going to think on this some...

Michael

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As an added thought to the post above, it occurs to me that if you say someone looks shameless, that comes with quite a contradictory emotional load if you want to be literal. However, if you say a face had an expression that was without pain or fear or guilt, you get the "without shame" concept but without the negativity.

Since fear and pain are unavoidable as human conditions, and arguably guilt, too, and since I believe Rand was intelligent enough to knew these states come and go as part of our biology, I bet this no-trace-of-shame meaning is what she was getting at when Dagny awoke from being knocked out by the plane crash, looked up and saw John Galt's face for the first time.

In other words, his face was without moral pain, or moral fear, or moral guilt. Finally I'm comfortable with that phrase...

Michael

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2 hours ago, Brant Gaede said:

Where did Rand gush about Rattingan? Kay Nolte Smith wrote a review in The Objectivist is my only reference.

--Brant

Brant,

I kinda quoted what Ayn Rand said about The Browning Version from Ayn Rand Answers in a post above, the one where I also gave a large quote from Kay Nolte Smith. All you had to do was read it.

:) 

btw - I didn't quote the sentence that came before the Rand quote, but I will now. She said: 

Quote

Rattigan is a repressed romanticist, and incidentally, a very good writer.

I would have to look, but I think there is talk of Rattigan in the Rand bios, too. If we really dig, I bet we can find even more stuff.

Michael

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52 minutes ago, Brant Gaede said:

I wouldn't call it gushing--not the way she gushed over some others, Capuletti for instance.

Brant,

Ah, come on. Gimme some poetic license, will ya'?

:)

Think from the perspective of a writer aspiring to mastery who started cutting his teeth on Rand. She calls another writer "a very good writer." What do you think he's going to think? That's a gush, fer keeeriiiiiissssakes.

Besides, I've earned my poetic license the hard way.

:)

Michael

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