Overnight Sensation (1984)

US / 28 minutes / color / Bloom Dir & Pr: Jon N. Bloom Scr: Craig Buck Story: “The Colonel’s Lady” (1947; Creatures of Circumstance) by W. Somerset Maugham Cine: James Glennon Cast: Robert Loggia, Louise Fletcher, Shari Belafonte-Harper, Parley Baer, Lee Garlington, Vincent Guastaferro, Ed Bakey, Kirk Scott, Marcelo Tubert, Mary Woronov, Joanne Dusseau, Eric Poppick.

I’m beginning to think that W. Somerset Maugham is a sort of unsung hero of film noir. A couple of his novels gave rise to SECRET AGENT (1936) and the much later CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944), while his play The Letter (1927) spawned The Letter (1929), The LETTER (1940) and The UNFAITHFUL (1947). His story “Pearls” (1927; vt “A String of Beads”) sparked several TV pieces, including A String of Beads (1953 TVM), which I recently covered on this site. I’m sure more will turn up as this site grows.

Robert Loggia as George.

Overnight Sensation is a loose adaptation of a Maugham story that I haven’t read. (Thanks to an unfortunate encounter with his Cakes and Ale [1930; vt The Skeleton in the Cupboard], which bored me silly when I was about 14, I’ve grossly underread Maugham, something I should rectify.) To be honest, aside from the Maugham connection, its connection to the noir ethos is tenuous at best until the final moments, when the true ironic horror of the situation is revealed. (I’m going to Continue reading

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A String of Beads (1954 TVM)

US / 25 minutes / bw / Everest, CBS Dir: William Cameron Menzies Pr: William Frye, Ronald Colman Scr: Don Ettlinger Story: “Pearls” (1927 in Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan; vt “A String of Beads”) by W. Somerset Maugham Cine: George E. Diskant Cast: Angela Lansbury, Ronald Colman, Brenda Forbes, Ron Randell, Nigel Bruce, George Macready, Sean McClory, Sarah Selby, Ben Wright, Dorothy Green.

Angela Lansbury as Joan.

An unnamed diner (Colman) sees Joan Robinson (Lansbury) arriving at a table on the far side of the restaurant where he’s seated with his lovely companion Laura Green), and takes the opportunity to tell Laura about Joan’s backstory.

Joan was governess to the family of pretentious socialite Edythe Livingstone (Forbes). Invited to one of Edythe’s parties to make up the numbers, Joan wore her string of cultured pearls—worth at most fifteen shillings. Star party guest and renowned gems expert Count Borselli (Macready) for fun told the assembled snobs that the pearls were, in his educated opinion, worth at least £60,000. At once Society, including her employer, assumed Joan was in reality not the working-class orphan she claimed to be but an aristocrat fallen on hard times.

Ronald Colman as the narrator.

When the truth emerges Continue reading

Letter, The (1929)

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A shot in the night, a faithless wife, a vengeful woman and a damning billet-doux!
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US / 61 minutes / bw / Paramount Famous Lasky Dir: Jean de Limur Pr: Monta Bell Scr: Garrett Fort Story: The Letter (1927 play) by W. Somerset Maugham Cine: George Folsey Cast: Jeanne Eagels, Reginald Owen, Herbert Marshall, Irene Brown (i.e., Irene Browne), O.P. Heggie, Lady Tsen Mei, Tamaki Yoshiwara.

The Letter 1929 - 0

This is the first screen adaptation of Maugham’s famous stage play; it was remade in 1940 as the far better known movie The LETTER, dir William Wyler, with Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall and James Stephenson. (Intriguingly, Marshall played the adulterous lover in the first version, the wronged husband in the second.) Until 2011 the 1929 adaptation was effectively a lost movie, all of it that survived being a nitrate work print (which you can view here); but in that year it was restored and released as part of the Warner Archive Collection. I’ve included a couple of screengrabs from the work print below to give you an idea of the near-miraculous job the restorers have done.

We’re on a Singapore rubber plantation, and a wonderful long approach shot takes us through the plantation to a bungalow room where Leslie Crosbie (Eagels) is Continue reading