Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Joseph Cotten and Joan Fontaine
SEPTEMBER AFFAIR (1950). Director: William Dieterle.

When their plane to New York touches down near Naples for repairs, two strangers -- businessman David (Joseph Cotten) and concert pianist Manina (Joan Fontaine) -- decide to use the time to go sightseeing together, but miss their plane. They decide to continue sightseeing, then learn that the plane they were supposed to be on crashed, killing everyone aboard -- and they are listed in the paper as two of the victims. Unable to get a divorce from his wife, Catherine (Jessica Tandy), David importunes Manina to start a new life with him in Florence, where they rent or buy a villa with the aid of her teacher, Maria (Francoise Rosay). But will this merely be a brief if intense affair, and will the pull of the past prove too much to them?

A major problem with September Affair is the reaction the couple has to the news about the plane crash. They were on the plane, saw the passengers and some of the crew members, yet they never express the slightest pity for these people and their awful deaths, making them seem remarkably callous and self-absorbed. The plane crash and the deaths of over thirty people are simply an "opportunity" for these two losers. The shame of it is that just a brief moment of scripted compassion on their part would have made them more sympathetic and human. A bigger shame is that otherwise September Affair is not a terrible picture, although in the manner of soap operas it ignores certain realities such as remains and making a living. David writes Maria a check so she can cash it for him [considering the size of their palazzo it must have been a mighty sizable check], but he does it two days before the plane crash, making him seem positively prescient [or the check was post-dated].

On the plus side, Cotten and Fontaine, especially the latter, give very good performances, and Jessica Tandy [Adventures of a Young Man] nearly steals the picture as the confused, grieving wife. Robert Arthur also makes a positive impression as David's handsome, sensitive son [David is a selfish and terrible father, however.] The movie is drenched in romantic music, everything from "September Song" from Knickerbocker Holiday [an unofficial theme of the movie] to Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, which Manina plays in a concert. There are some beautiful Italian settings as well. A nice surprise is the appearance of Jimmy Lydon (Henry Aldrich) as a soldier in a restaurant who betrays a very pleasant voice when he sings "September Song" as Manina plays the piano. The frankly absurd ending seems forced by the production code of the period. William Dieterle also directed Love Letters with Joseph Cotten and many other movies.

Verdict: Lush and classy soap opera in many respects, but with a key flaw, confused and superficial script, and characters you sometimes may find it hard to root for. **1/2.

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