UK / Two Cities – Cineguild / 96 minutes / 1945 in Technicolor
Writer: Noel Coward / Music: Richard Addinsell / Cinematography: Ronald Neame / Director: David Lean
Cast: Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, Margaret Rutherford, Hugh Wakefield, Joyce Carey, Jacqueline Clark
This is arguably Coward’s most brilliant and funniest film, made four years after the playwright wrote it – in a record six days – for its West End premiere. REX HARRISON and MARGARET RUTHERFORD came back to recreate their stage roles, with Coward allegedly telling Harrison after viewing David Lean’s film, “After me you’re the best light comedian in the world.”
Harrison plays Charles Condomine, a novelist who makes the unfortunate decision to invite a medium, Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford), into his home for a séance. Although the plan for the evening is for Condomine to expose the medium as a fake, things fail to go as imagined. The medium succeeds in conjuring up the writer’s first wife, Elvira (KAY HAMMOND), who is only visible to Charles.
Elvira’s presence soon makes Charles’ very-much-alive second wife, Ruth (CONSTANCE CUMMINGS), jealous, so when Elvira refuses to go back to the spirit world, Ruth enlists Madame Arcati’s help in disposing of her. Yet again things fail to go according to plan, though, and the characters’ problem is resolved in a way none of them could imagine.
Noel Coward’s script sparkles with his customary wit and style, and David Lean proves equally adept at comedy (he went on to film another stage hit, Hobson’s Choice, in 1954) as he was with drama (Lean followed this with another Coward adaptation, Brief Encounter).