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Friday, 16 May 2014

Classic Film Review: Enchanted April (1935)

Enchanted April tells the story of two women who meet in a women's club and decide to rent a castle in Italy to get away from their respective husbands. Lotty (Ann Harding) persuaded her husband Mellersh (Frank Morgan) to write a book under a pseudonym but then he moved to a studio and she barely sees him any more. Unbeknown to her, he has been getting close to Lady Caroline Dester (Jane Baxter), coincidentally one of the women who comes to join Lotty in the castle after she puts an advert in the paper. When Mellersh finds out where Lady Caroline has gone, he resolves to follow her, not knowing he's also going to see his wife. The woman Lotty initially sets off to Italy with is Rose (Katharine Alexander), married to the opinionated Henry (Reginald Owen). Henry also sets off to join Rose while the fourth woman of the bunch is Mrs Fisher (Jessie Ralph).

That preamble may make it seem like a packed film but, really, very little happens. It's only just over an hour long but it felt twice that. It's full of little scenes which might have worked well in the book or in the stage play this was adapted from but on film they just feel disjointed. There's very little real conflict during the main body of the film, aside from Mrs Fisher's skirmishes with Lotty and Rose but even those are resolved far too weakly. Despite that, I have to say that Mrs Fisher was probably my favourite character. When Mellersh arrives, I rather feel that the writers missed the opportunity to make the awkwardness more effective. There was no real climax, no proper fallout. I came away wondering why I'd spent any time with these characters.

Most important, perhaps, is that some of the actors are incredibly ill-fitted in their roles. Ann Harding's performance is disastrous: while she attempts to Lotty as a dreamy, ditzy woman, it's completely over-played and she just comes across as silly. I didn't particularly care about the shock coming her way. As for Reginald Owen as Henry... Well, I just wanted to slap him. There's a fine line between an amusing character and the most irritating thing on screen but he leapt over it, sadly enough because I know he's a very good actor under other circumstances. The bath scene was amusing but it would've been better had it been slightly under-played. Every time he came on screen I wanted to switch off.

Enchanted April had an excellent premise but didn't deliver in terms of script or acting. There were some funny moments but it was practically devoid of tension. Better performances may have saved it but maybe not.

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