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In 1943, with considerable fanfare, it was announced that the MGM British Studios and Alexander Korda's London Films had signed a co-production deal that would include a number of projects including Perfect Strangers, which would be known in the U.S. as Vacation From Marriage (1945). The other proposed films ranged from a version of War and Peace to be directed by Orson Welles, with Merle Oberon (then Korda's wife) as star, to The Hardy Family in England. As it turned out, Vacation From Marriage was the only film to be made under the deal. Korda biographer Paul Tabori wrote that it was because Korda grew tired of "dancing attendance" on MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer and attending his lavish dinner parties. "To hell with roast goose," remarked Korda, restoring his London Films to its former independence.
Vacation From Marriage tells the story of an English couple (Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr) whose listless marriage is energized by the outbreak of World War II and romantic dalliances with others. Korda made the film under trying circumstances, struggling with his writers to create an acceptable script and taking on the role of director when his original choice, Wesley Ruggles, gave it up and returned to his native America. The movie was shot at London's Denham Studios during harrowing wartime conditions, which included a bomb that fell on the studio grounds, blasting the offices and dressing rooms and leaving Korda's script torn to shreds by flying glass.
The timely subject helped make Vacation From Marriage a commercial success in both Britain and the U.S., and Clemence Dane won an Oscar® for her original story. The film proved to be especially significant for its female players, who also included Ann Todd as a nurse and Glynis Johns as Kerr's service-woman pal. Korda and cinematographer Georges Perinal handled the actresses with special care, making them appear both believable and glamorous. Todd soon moved on to international stardom in The Seventh Veil (1945), and Johns quickly emerged as an outstanding character actress and leading lady.
Perhaps most importantly, the movie began Kerr's relationship with MGM, the studio that would bring her to America and Hollywood stardom. Because of her outstanding performance in multiple roles in the British-made The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), Ben Goetz, head of MGM in Britain, had bought half of her contract from European producer-director Gabriel Pascal. It was under this arrangement that Kerr made her MGM debut in Vacation From Marriage. Upon seeing the film, Louis B. Mayer was said to have exclaimed, "That girl's a star!" Soon Kerr was established as a leading MGM light, beginning with The Hucksters (1947) and continuing through such successes as Edward, My Son (1949), King Solomon's Mines (1950), Quo Vadis (1951) and Tea and Sympathy (1956).
Ironically, Vacation From Marriage was Donat's last film for MGM, where his achievements had included his Oscar®-winning performance in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939).
Producer/Director: Alexander Korda
Screenplay: Anthony Pelissier, Clemence Dane, from story by Dane
Art Direction: Vincent Korda
Cinematography: Georges Perinal
Editing: Edward B. Jarvis
Original Music: Clifton Parker
Cast: Robert Donat (Robert Wilson), Deborah Kerr (Catherine Wilson), Glynis Johns (Dizzy Clayton), Ann Todd (Elena), Roland Culver (Richard), Allan Jeayes (Commander).
BW-93m. Closed Captioning.
by Roger Fristoe