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If Winter Comes (1947), the story of an innocent man accused of being the illegitimate father of a young woman's child, was based on the book by A.S.M. Hutchinson and had been made into a silent film in 1923 by Fox Studios. The 1947 version updated the story from the First to the Second World War. It was originally to be a re-teaming of Robert Donat and Greer Garson, who had been so successful in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), and was to be filmed at Alexander Korda's Denham, England studios. When Donat became unavailable, MGM's reliable Walter Pidgeon took over his role, Greer Garson's part went to Deborah Kerr, and production was moved to MGM's studios in Culver City, California.
Hollywood gossip columnists always love a good feud, and if they can't find one, they make one up, as was the case with Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr. Articles began to appear in the papers that Garson, thirteen years older than Kerr, was angered that she had been replaced by the younger woman. Kerr dismissed the rumors, saying, "The idea of a feud between us was pure poppycock - or rather, gossip writers' fabrication - the stuff their dreams were made on. Greer was going great guns all through the time of my contract with Metro, and our friendship has lasted from that time to the present day."
Angela Lansbury, as Walter Pidgeon's shrewish wife, had been making a name for herself in Hollywood. She had already proved herself capable of playing a variety of characters, beginning when she was only eighteen, when she appeared as the scheming maid in Gaslight (1944). Her portrayal of the sweet, innocent, and ultimately tragic Sybil Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) ironically got her the role in If Winter Comes. Margaret Wander Bonnano wrote in her biography of Lansbury, "Strangely, she was cast because director Victor Saville had been impressed with her performance as Sybil in Dorian Gray. It is hard to find two screen characters who are further apart either in age or in temperament than Sybil Vane and Mabel Sabre. Twenty-two-year-old Angela was aged nearly fifteen years to look middle-aged, but it was sheer professional acting technique that created the illusion of being thirty-five. In his review, Thomas M. Pryor of the New York Times remarked, 'Angela Lansbury is quite believable and proper as the distrusting wife.'"
Newcomer Janet Leigh, who had been discovered by MGM's former top actress, Norma Shearer, remembered her time shooting the film in her autobiography, "In the spring of 1947, I was cast in my second picture, If Winter Comes, starring Walter Pidgeon, Deborah Kerr, and Angela Lansbury. The role was Effie, a poor English waif who gets pregnant by a local village boy before he leaves for the war...Very dramatic, and very English. The studio hired the niece of Sir C. Aubrey Smith to tutor me. I have a good ear, but accents just don't come easily...We read several New Yorker magazines from cover to cover, practicing intonations and inflections, so that the accent would become a familiar and natural part of my speech. We did not read the lines from the script, thus preventing any built-in interpretation. We must have pulled it off, since Victor Saville, the director, wasn't aware of my actual heritage until late in the shooting. The majority of my scenes were with Walter Pidgeon and what a distinguished actor and person he proved to be! He also sponsored me for membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and I was accepted about six months later. That was a proud moment."
While Janet Leigh's character was pregnant in the film, it was Deborah Kerr who was pregnant in real life. By the time filming ended in late summer, 1947, she was five months along. Her daughter Melanie was born December 27th.
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: Victor Saville
Screenplay: A.S.M. Hutchinson (novel), Marguerite Roberts, Arthur Wimperis
Cinematography: George Folsey
Film Editing: Ferris Webster
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters
Music: Herbert Stothart
Cast: Walter Pidgeon (Mark Sabre), Deborah Kerr (Nona Tybar), Angela Lansbury (Mabel Sabre), Binnie Barnes (Natalie Bagshaw), Janet Leigh (Effie Bright), Dame May Whitty (Mrs. Perch).
BW-97m. Closed captioning.
by Lorraine LoBianco
Deborah Kerr by Eric Braun
There Really Was A Hollywood by Janet Leigh
Angela Lansbury: A Biography by Margaret Wander Bonnano