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  1. #1
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    This has always been one of my favourite British films and recently, I was able to obtain the original 1950 novel by A J Cronin on which it was based. I bought the book because I wanted to find out how much the film differed from it.



    For those who are not familiar with the VistaVision and Technicolor film, here is a short synopsis:



    THE SPANISH GARDENER is a kind of very unusual, but superbly made and acted, eternal triangle story. A middle aged diplomat at the British Consul in Madrid, Harrington Brande (Michael Hordern) is posted to a sleepy Spanish coastal town on the Costa Brava. His wife has left him and all he has is his eleven years old son Nicholas (Jon Whiteley), on whom he dotes and of whom he is so possessive, that he will not allow Nicholas to go to school or to make any friends, even of boys his own age. He just wants the boy all to himself. When Brande hires Jose (Dirk Bogarde) as a gardener for the villa, Jose and the lonely Nicholas become firm friends from their first meeting, much to the consternation of the insanely jealous Brande, who goes to much trouble to destroy the relationship between his son and the gardener, even to the extent of framing the gardener for theft and having him arrested and sent to jail!



    Dirk Bogarde and Jon Whiteley are happily reunited here, four years after making Hunted together. During the course of that production, Jon grew to love Bogarde dearly and the little boy was inconsolable when they had to part at the end of shooting the film. The happiness on their faces as they are reunited in The Spanish Gardener is plain to see. The film was made on location in Spain and at Pinewood Studios in England and directed by Philip Leacock.



    It now appears that the film kept mostly close to the book, except that in the book, Nicholas and his father were Americans and in the film, Nicholas was Scottish and his father English. The ending in the book is very different to the film, too. In the book, Jose doesn't jump from the train on his way to court and escape into the mountains, he jumps and is killed and Nicholas, rightly blaming his father for everything, is never the same with his father again and loses all love for him. It's a very sad ending, whereas the film ending is more upbeat.



    One very well written scene in Chapter 15 of the book that wasn't in the film is where Nicholas, at his insanely jealous father's request, is examined in his bedroom by his father's doctor friend, who questions him, in as friendly but probing way as possible, about his relationship with Jose, whom Nicholas admits that he loves. He tries to get Nicholas to admit to letting Jose have sexual intimacy with him when he and the gardener went fishing in the mountains and when he spent the night with Jose in his bed at his house...something that Nicholas will not admit to.



    Perhaps this scene was either cut from the finished film or was never filmed in the first place. The censors were so very strict in those days. I was amazed to find a scene as suggestive as this in a novel written 54 years ago.



    Does anyone know why the film ending was so different to that of the novel? I think the ending in the novel would have been far more realistic as the ending for the film.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    In the book isn't it the father attracted to Jose in the subtext?

  3. #3
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    You may be right about that, but I'm not going to spend another week reading the novel to check it out. As far as I recall though, the father is alright with the gardener until he finds that his son and the gardener have become friends. Then he seems to go off his rocker with jealously.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    The ending may have been down to Rank, who often took J. Arthur's Methodist principles into account when promoting a film. Also Phil Leacock (who has The Kidnappers showing on Thursday) was a bit of a specialist in dealing with child actors and may have wanted a more positive ending with the father learning the error of his ways.



    Bogarde's private life has led to a bit of over-analysis of the relationship between father, son and gardener.

  5. #5
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    Well, DB7, that sounds a plausible enough reason to me for the changed ending. Other than the changed ending and a couple of minor changes regarding the nationality of father and son, this must be one of a very few films where the screenwriters didn't change the narrative of the novel completely. Perhaps in this case, they decided that they couldn't really improve on the novel, which was so well written and seemed to be perfect screen material.

  6. #6
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    Watching The Spanish Gardener on Channel 4 this afternoon, I noticed that the print was a pretty worn copy, full of scratches; mutilated cue marks all over the place at the end of each reel; the beginnings and ends of reels much the worse for wear and the presence of far too many of the bane of today's projectionists, the sellotape splice, making the picture jump up and down as they ran through the telecine gate and causing plops on the sound as the joins passed the sound head.



    Added to that the fact that the sides of the credits were chopped off, just about fitting Dirk Bogarde's name onto the screen, and it's obvious that whoever supplied Channel 4 with this copy (no doubt transferred to video for them) would say this is the best version they could get hold of to transfer to video for television showing. Only the fact that it was filmed in high definition VistaVision helped make the shortcomings of the presentation less evident.



    Channel 4 have run this copy about three times now...the last time only 13 months ago, so it's a pity that this is the only copy they can be supplied with by Carlton or Rank or whoever supplied it to them. I do hope that if it is ever released on DVD, it is remastered from the original VistaVision negative and in its correct ratio of 1.85:1. It would certainly look much better without all the scratches; sellotape splices and mutilated cue marks.



  7. #7
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    I suppose the TV companies are very reluctant to spend the money on striking new prints, even if actually possible to do. The DVD boom is good as it forces a modicum of quality control, use of correct aspect ratio, not cutting the edge of frame off, etc. which we have all suffered from on VHS copies.

    Looking at the Spanish Gardener again after so many years I thought it stood up very well, with good performances all round and pleasant locations before spain became modernised like the rest of the world.

  8. #8
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    Yes, Stormvogel, it's an actor's piece, beautifully done all round and of a kind that wouldn't be made today. Slightly changed from the novel...although not too much. The novel suggested that there may have been a far more intimate relationship between the gardener and the young boy than the film depicted and that the father's jealousy of the gardener's friendship with his young son was because the father wanted the gardener for himself. Pretty strong stuff for a novel written as early as 1950. But Rank made sure that any such connotations that were suggested in the novel were removed entirely from their 1956 film version.

  9. #9
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    Great film. I was disappointed it was in fullscreen, where the ratio should have been 1.85:1, according to IMDB. (This was the Optimum release, btw, in the Dirk Bogarde Collection.)



    The washed-out colours didn't really bother me; on the contrary, it reminded me pleasantly of the look of the P&P films of the 1940s.



    Interesting decision not to have any of the Spanish characters actually speaking in a Spanish accent. It threw me at first, but I got used to it.



    What really made it was the cast. Not often you get to see Michael Hordern in such a prominent role, so that was quite a pleasure. A very moving performance. Jon Whiteley is of course a legend. Next time I'm in Oxford I'm thinking of finding a way to conveniently bump into him! And I really enjoyed Cyril Cusack's performance; again, an actor you don't often get the chance to see in a (relatively) large role.



    Last night's entertainment was a toss-up between this and The Sleeping Tiger, neither of which I'd seen before. I guess I chose wisely!



    Btw, director Philip Leacock's an interesting character. Never heard of him before, but I see from IMDB he later went to America and spent the rest of his career directing TV shows. Put me in mind of the similar career of Sidney Hayers.

  10. #10
    Super Moderator Country: UK christoph404's Avatar
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    Bogarde went back to Spain a few years later to make the western "The Singer Not the Song" He plays a Mexican bandit with an English accent! That too is dissapointingly only available in a full screen DVD format and not in its original Cinemascope ratio. I would say the two films deserve a DVD release in their original format, perhaps the original negatives are lost or there is not suitable source material to do so?

  11. #11
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    I seem to be in the minority concerning The Spanish Gardener--all the reviewers raved about it--but that’s often my case.



    Years ago, I picked up a pocketbook version and the back cover encouraged readers to see the movie, starring Dirk Bogarde, et al. I assumed that Bogarde was playing the mediocre, possessive consul, Harrington Brande, and every time I read the book after that(about three), I pictured Bogarde in that role.



    At thirty-five, he was perhaps a tad young for consul (or was he?), but certainly too old to be playing Jose, a nineteen-year-old Spanish youth.



    My other problem with the film was that they deviated from the way Dr. Cronin killed off Jose—wasn’t he run over by a train? In the movie, they ‘happied it up’ and Jose lives. But, in the 1950s, they preferred happy endings—no suicides—the murderer couldn’t get away with it, etc. Even Alfred Hitchcock, in his series, after the killer seems to have outmaneuvered the dimwitted police detective, had to come back with his last monologue to explain that the killer soon tripped himself/herself up.



    Bogarde was one of my favorite actors, of any nationality, but I liked him better playing neurotic, psychotic, or downright villainous parts (Damn the Defiant, for one). Catch him in The Damned, for instance, where he sells his soul to the Nazis right after they came to power.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    I couldn’t imagine Dirk Bogarde in the Harrington Brande role, but Michael Hodern was just right for it. As with many novel to film adaptations in those days, things were altered somewhat. In the novel, Harrington and his young son Nicholas were Americans, but Rank changed them to English and Scottish respectively...which worked better. At the insistence of the then eleven years old Jon Whiteley’s parents, Rank also tried to eradicate from the film any references in the novel about the hinted at sexual relationship between Jose and Nicholas, even to the extent of removing the scene in chapter 15 of the novel where, at Brande’s insistence, the doctor tries to persuade Nicholas to admit that the boy and Jose were having a sexual relationship.



    But, even with all this cutting, the scenes in the film of the gardener and the boy together still came across as ambiguous, while the possessiveness and jealousy of the father toward his young son came across on the screen as bordering on the incestuous. Rank also changed the unhappy ending in the novel, where Jose is killed leaping from the train in his escape attempt and Nicholas blames his father for Jose’s death and refuses to have anything more to do with his father, to a happier one where Jose is only wounded and the father learns his lesson about not being so jealous and possessive with his son in future.

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