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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Nov 2002
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    From imdb user comments:

    Rex Harrison plays a young man, Vivian, who thinks primarily of himself. He's somewhat witty, sort of daring, extremely unreliable. Though his character is tempered slightly as time goes on, as written the character is very obnoxious.

    I didn't go to Oxford, as Vivian does for a time. But I went to an Ivy League school and I knew many people like him: showoffs who thumbed their nose at convention but wanted, and generally had, the money convention brings. I was transported back not just to the time of the film but also a few decades back to the wise guy cutups of my own college years.

    Harrison does a good job. Indeed, he seems to be playing himself, though that was doubtless just fine acting. I like him in most of what I've seen, particularly in "Anna and the King of Siam" and the brilliant "Unfaithfully Yours." The rest of the cast is superb, too: His real-life wife of the time, Lilli Palmer is very charming. Playing an Austrian girl, she reminded me of Luise Rainer, sans music. Griffith Jones plays his ostensibly more stuffy friend. To me, he is infinitely more appealing in all regards. And Margaret Johnston is beauty and charm itself as Vivian's father's secretary.

    It would be interesting to show this on a double-bill with "Look Back in Anger." That was written as an antidote to the "mustn't forget about tea" movies and especially plays that had preceded it.

    Yet Jimmy Porter, its protagonist, comes across today just as badly as Harrison's character does. The acting in that film, too, is marvellous. But at the core of each is a character who is not just a boor: Jimmy and Vivian are really creeps, though we are not intended to think them so.

  2. #2
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    Infrequently seen, this superb film made towards the end of the war has Rex Harrison as a charming cad and Jean Kent, Lilli Palmer, and Margaret Johnston as the women in his life. In some respects, the film stands, to Sidney Gilliat's career as does the The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp to those of Powell and Pressburger. It follows the life of Vivian Kenway, the son of a prosperous Conservative MP (Godfrey Tearle), from armistice day in 1918, when he has escaped from the family home in his pyjamas to join the celebrations with the troops in central London to his reckless death during the German retreat in 1944.

    Most of the film is flashbacked, through the eyes of Jennifer Calthrop, who was once secretary to Vivian's father. He survives through a combination of charm, recklessness, and opportunism. He is sent down from Oxford, he destroys the marriage of his best friend, he rips off another, and wastes his own inheritance. At his worst, he shamefully exploits the young Rikki (Lilli Palmer) and her father who, as Jews, are desperate for her to escape from Austria and the incoming Nazis. He is contrite for moments, but never for long. Only when his father (Godfrey Tearle) is killed, is his self-centredness impacted. He ends up living from hand to mouth, as a door to door salesman, a car mechanic, and a dance-floor professional, presumably a gigolo as well. The Second World War rescues him from the threat of domesticity with Jennifer and, like George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman, he rides recklessly into battle, the last example of a dying breed. He has begun the film with a glass of lemonade, bought for him by a soldier, home from the front. He ends it with a bottle of Champagne in his hand; the war, like his life, has been a bit of a romp.

    Vivian Kenway was created by the prolific writer, Val Valentine, modelled on a musician of his acquaintance. The film was made in difficult circumstances and technically, it seems unremarkable, but its complex structure and the qualities of the writing, the acting, and the directing, are reminders of how British cinema could thoughtfully respond to the more complex routes that Hollywood was taking. The film's theme, that marks the end of an era in which the aristocracy can carry on regardless of social responsibility can now be seen as overly optimistic, but it does reveal how Britain saw itself at the time. Performances throughout are excellent. It is Harrison's finest performance, Godfrey Tearle is as professional as ever, Marie Lohr, as Vivian's Aunt, Lady Parks, is a joy to watch, Guy Middleton as Vivian's life-long friend and almost as great a scoundrel is at his best. Lilli Palmer as the young Austrian refugee who adores Vivian, is still emerging as an actor and her weaknesses are still apparent. Margaret Johnson (who married the agent Al Parker) acts in a different key, reflective and regretful, but then she is narrating the greater part of the story and relives it, as though the events of the last 25 years are taking place in the present. A magnificent film.

    Low contrast, modest quality DVD copies have been available via e-bay, from Greece. Now, there are copies available in Australia.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    It's is a bit of a mini-Blimp, but my problem with it is that I can't warm to Harrison's character even as a cad or rogue, he just seems a selfish so-and-so.

    Gilliat and Launder did produce/direct the occasional film where they seemed to get the tone wrong - Lady Godiva Rides Again being one I struggle with.

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