Cast & Crew
James Robertson Justice
The Facts of Life : After an uncharacteristic loss at his weekly bridge game, Henry Garnet confesses to his cronies that he is distracted over difficulties at home with his son Nicky and describes recent events: A few weeks earlier, the Garnets watch nineteen-year-old Nicky compete at an amateur tennis tournament where coach Branksome informs them that Nicky could be offered a university varsity position if he plays in a tennis tournament in Monte Carlo. Although Mrs. Garnet is enthusiastic, Henry is taken aback, feeling that Nicky is too young to visit the exotic city unchaperoned. Despite his wife's pleas, Henry adamantly refuses to change his mind. A few days later on the drive to the airport to catch the flight for Monte Carlo, Nicky is surprised when his father confides that he had great difficulty convincing Mrs. Garnet to allow Nicky to make the trip. Henry then counsels Nicky that if he does not gamble, lend money or consort with strange women, he will be fine. After successfully competing in the tennis tournament, Nicky spends his final evening in Monte Carlo at a swanky club where he is immediately captivated by the roulette table and soon wins 95,000 francs. A beautiful blonde, Jeanne, asks Nicky if she might borrow ten thousand francs and, later, returns as promised to repay the loan in full. When Jeanne learns that Nicky has had little time in the city and will return to London the next morning, she offers to take him to the town's most famous club. There, the couple enjoys several hours of entertainment and dancing before Nicky escorts Jeanne to her hotel. Realizing that his own hotel closed at midnight, Nicky hesitantly accepts Jeanne's offer to sleep on her sofa. A few hours later, a noise awakens Nicky, who watches with amazement as Jeanne creeps out of her room and steals the money from his pants pocket, then hides it in a vase. After Jeanne goes back to bed, Nicky retrieves the money and returns to sleep. The next morning, Nicky bids Jeanne farewell and later, onboard the plane home, tells a friend about his evening. When the young man wonders if Nicky retrieved all of his winnings, Nick counts the bills and realizes that he has several thousand additional francs leading his friend to suggest the vase must have served as Jeanne's safety box. In the present at the club, Henry asks for advice, declaring his counsel has made him appear foolish to his son. Laughing, Henry's friends suggest that he forget the entire affair and accept that Nicky is simply born lucky.
The Alien Corn : On his twenty-first birthday, George Bland startles his family by announcing his plans to leave Oxford and study piano. Despite severe criticism from his father Sir Frederick and the offer of a lucrative partnership in his uncle John's business, George declares he could never be happy without music in his life. Hoping to help George, with whom she is in love, his cousin Paula suggests a plan to Frederick wherein George would study music for two years, then meet with a competent, unprejudiced person who would determine if he shows any real promise. If so, George would be allowed to continue his chosen career, but if not, he must agree to return and assume his place in the family empire. Frederick reluctantly agrees and George soon departs for Paris. Nearly two years later, Paula visits George in his small Paris apartment where he has been practicing ten hours a day, and informs him that she has asked famed concert pianist Lea Market to hear his trial recital. Despairing that he will never notice her feelings for him, Paula asks George what he would do if he could not play the piano and he declares he has no idea. The next month, Miss Market meets George and the Blands at their home where George performs diligently. Afterward, Miss Market bluntly informs George that he lacks soul and fire and that "not in a thousand years" could he ever hope to be a competent musician. Although utterly shattered, George asks Miss Market to play for him and she obliges before departing. Sensing his son's distress, Frederick comforts him, but George insists he will honor his vow and give up the piano completely. Later, Paula finds George in the study holding a hunting rifle and reacts with alarm, but he assures her he is simply practicing his new vocation as a country gentleman. George then promises Paula to join her and the family at a cricket game in a few moments. As Paula leaves the house, she hears a gunshot and returns to find George dead. At the inquest, a jury declares the death accidental as no one can conceive that anyone would kill themselves over not being able to play the piano.
The Kite : Visitor Ned Preston is directed by the governor of the prison to meet with a new inmate, Herbert Sunbury, who has been incarcerated for his refusal to support his wife after she destroyed his kite. Ned finds Herbert an affable but stubborn young man and, curious, returns to the governor who tells him Herbert's story: Years earlier, Samuel and Beatrice Sunbury present their young son Herbert with a kite that soon becomes an obsession for the boy. Samuel also becomes addicted to kite flying and as Herbert grows into adulthood, father and son take to designing and flying kites on the commons every weekend. Dismayed when Herbert begins dating pretty Betty Baker, Beatrice repeatedly attempts to break up the relationship, but Herbert assures his mother that he will always remain close to his parents. Nevertheless, when Herbert announces his engagement to Betty, Beatrice insists that if the marriage proceeds, she will forbid Herbert access to the super kite that he recently designed with his parents' financial support. Herbert nevertheless marries Betty and gives up flying kites for a short time. Soon, however, Herbert's longing returns and he joins Samuel and Beatrice back on the commons for their weekly kite flying. Later at home, Betty scolds Herbert for his childish hobby and neglect of her, but Herbert announces his determination to resume his hobby. Over the next few weeks, Betty grows anxious over the time Herbert spends on kites and insists that he give it up once and for all. When Herbert refuses, a frustrated Betty demands that he leave. Angry, Herbert returns home, declaring to a pleased Beatrice that he will never forgive Betty. Samuel reminds Herbert that he is obliged to support Betty and his son agrees despite Beatrice's strong opposition. A few days later, Betty meets Herbert to apologize and ask him to return home, but he refuses. That evening, a reporter stops at the Sunburys to inquire about the super kite, which Herbert offers to show him. Upon going to the shed, however, Herbert is horrified to find the kite in shreds and angrily races off to accuse Betty. She admits to destroying the kite, prompting Herbert to vow never to give her a penny again. In the present, the warden says Herbert's refusal to support Betty eventually led to his arrest and until he changes, there is nothing that can be done for him. On his way home, Ned wonders how Herbert and Betty's story might end: Ned visits Betty to ask her if she would take Herbert back, to which she replies she doubts her husband would agree to return. Ned then offers her secret counsel. Soon after, Herbert is freed despite insisting he will never support Betty. He goes to the common where, to his surprise and delight, he spots Betty flying a kite and the couple is reunited.
The Colonel's Lady : Bombastic barrister Colonel George Peregrine is surprised to discover that his drab wife Evie has published a slender book of poetry under her maiden name. Promising to read it, George nevertheless puts the book aside. On the train to work, a business associate, unaware that Evie is the book's author, comments to George that his wife's book club championed the book, which, he notes with delight, is rather risqué. Startled, George pretends to be familiar with the work, but does not reveal that his wife wrote it. That evening George meets with his mistress Daphne and apologizes for not seeing her for a week. Daphne asks if it is true that Evie is the author of the poetry book and admits a critic friend gave her a copy. George brushes aside her interest, but over the next several days, finds, to his increasing annoyance, that Evie's publication has rapidly become a bestseller and the talk of the town. A friend at his club introduces George to premiere literary critic Henry Dashwood who, unaware of George and Evie's relationship, raves about the volume, especially its "naked earthy passion" contrasted with deep, heart-rending tragedy. The next morning Evie asks George if he will attend a party that night being thrown by her editor and he grudgingly agrees. At the party, George is put off by the attention given Evie and astonished when he overhears two women gushing over the book and wondering how the author's husband tolerates it. At home, George looks for the book, unaware that Evie has taken it back. Unable to find his copy, George goes to a bookstore only to learn the book, which the bookseller describes as "sexy stuff," is sold out. George then recalls that Daphne has a copy and goes to her apartment. Although amused that George has still not read the book, Daphne describes the long narrative poem, told in the first person, about a middle-aged married woman who falls in love with a dashing younger man. When the young man pleads with the woman to run away with him, she refuses, believing they can never be happy. The young man remains constant and the couple's love grows. Just as the woman decides to go away with her lover, however, he is killed and the woman remains an unhappy housewife. Daphne doubts the story is fiction, but George refuses to believe Evie is capable of infidelity. George's doubts grow, however, and he visits friend and associate Henry Blane to ask if he should investigate Evie as he is too affronted and fearful to confront her directly. Henry advises George to ignore the book, as George wonders what any man could possibly see in Evie. At home, Evie, sensing that George has learned about the book's contents, apologizes and George indignantly demands to know the identity of her lover. To his amazement, Evie replies that her lover is George as he once was when they were first in love, until her inability to have a child turned him away from her. Evie confesses her fear of losing such cherished memories forced her to write them down and although she felt old as she wrote, she regarded his love as eternally young. Deeply moved, George embraces his wife.
James Robertson Justice
J. H. Roberts
W. Somerset Maugham
A. Charles Knott
W. T. Partleton
J. Arthur Rank
W. S. Salter
Brian C. Sewell
R. C. Sherriff
Quartet (1948) - Quartet (1949)
Still, a cat-licking-the-cream quality emerges from beneath the modest, gentlemanly demeanor of the on-screen author. Maugham (1874-1965) was one of the most commercially successful authors ever. His novels, short stories, plays, and more than 100 film and TV adaptations made him one of the wealthiest and most widely known of writers, and naturally earned him the disdain of the literary and critical establishments, who dismissed him as hopelessly middlebrow. Among his remarks in Quartet is a passage from his autobiographical The Summing Up: "In my twenties the critics said I was brutal, in my thirties they said I was flippant, in my forties they said I was cynical, in my fifties they said I was incompetent and then in my sixties they said I was superficial."
Nobody ever accused him of being sentimental. He was born in Paris, spent most of his life outside England, yet lived there long enough to reap the benefits of a miserable, emotionally isolated childhood and young manhood. He was an emotional expatriate as well as a literal one, a sharp-eyed observer, so much so that he was actually recruited into real-life World War I espionage an experience he incorporated, like everything else, into his fiction. Externally, the four stories in Quartet are different. Yet all seem to be delivered from the same vantage point -- that of a sharp-eyed sniper engaged in guerrilla warfare against stuffy, suffocating aspects of English life. They also have in common what can most softly be described as a wary view of women, although his women here aren't as fierce as in his novels Of Human Bondage and The Razor's Edge.
All four stories The Facts of Life, The Alien Corn, The Kite, The Colonel's Lady -- were scripted by R.C. Sherriff (himself a playwright, Sherriff had the good sense to retain much of Maugham's dialogue), with four different directors. Three of the stories are stylish anecdotes. The Facts of Life (director: Ralph Smart) is little more than a vignette: Basil Radford's clubman is wracked with anxiety at the idea of his collegiate son (Jack Watling) going to Monte Carlo for a tennis tournament, certain that the boy will be ensnared. He is, by Mai Zetterling's gold-digger, who hones in on him during a casino interlude like a heat-seeking missile. But a surprise ending confounds some (especially the old man) and delights others. The secondary aspect of the tennis story hook provides the suite of stories with its match-point metaphor, with men on one side of the net and women on the other.
The skies darken in The Alien Corn (director: Harold French). It centers on an aspiring concert pianist played by a soulful, intense young Dirk Bogarde. His wealthy family is nudging him toward the family business. His would-be fiancée (Honor Blackman) is nudging him toward marriage. Neither is a direction in which he wants to go. So he strikes a bargain. He'll isolate himself in Paris for two years studying the piano. Then he'll sit for an audition, at the end of which he'll either be validated, and keep going, or forget his dreams and yield to the expectations of those around him. Blackman does well in the ungrateful role of the genteel but stifling fiancée, relentlessly steering the man she loves to what for him would be bourgeois hell.
Bogarde is affecting in a role more difficult than initially apparent. Laudably, he and director French bring to their gauging of the sound of his pianism the precise degree of rightness without which the story would collapse his Chopin is good, and replete with conviction, but just audibly heavy-handed enough to suggest that the young man's sensitivity of soul may not extend to his fingertips. Magnificent is the only word for Francoise Rosay's dignified, seasoned concert professional, brought on to render judgment. In every flicker of her eyes we believe she is a worldly, experienced figure, both sentient and commanding. So magisterial is she that the way matters play out after she renders her verdict seems almost anti-climactic. When she leaves the room, something leaves the picture.
The Kite (director: Arthur Crabtree) takes another dim view of marriage. It opens comedically, even farcically, with a newly married clerk (George Cole) in jail for leaving and refusing to support his new wife (Susan Shaw) because she destroyed his prize kite. Too dim to realize that in marrying a domineering woman, he was in part replicating the female model provided by his engulfing mother (a pungent caricature by Hermione Baddeley), he returns home, dismissing marriage as a bad idea, never to be embraced again. This is music to the ears of his mother, delighted to have her boy home again, assuring him that his room is ready and that he can go right on replicating his boyhood, wings (or in this case, kite) unclipped. Sensing that such a pronounced flight from the horrors of marriage would not win audience favor, Sherriff rewrote the ending, reuniting the young couple, far from convincingly. Still, Cole as the lower middle-class Peter Pan remains engaging in his obtuseness.
Not that he's any match in the obtuseness department to Cecil Parker's smug old Blimp in The Colonel's Lady (director Ken Annakin). It never occurs to Taylor's fogbound harrumpher why he gets little sympathy from his cronies at his club, or even his mistress, when he sputters with outrage upon discovering that the author of London's biggest erotic best-seller since Lady Chatterley's Lover is his mousy wife. Shocked out of his complacency and his obliviousness to the woman he's been married to for years, he's perhaps most insufferable when, asked by his lawyer whether he wants a divorce on the grounds that she must have cuckolded him, he replies, "Certainly not," on the grounds that he's been inconvenienced enough and that she runs the house seamlessly.
The short story has a bittersweet comic ending, with the husband wondering what the other m an saw in her. The film rewrites this to a less bleak view, as Nora Swinburne's long-suffering spouse tells her outraged husband that the lover of her fictional best-seller is him, in his younger, more passionate days. Another less than idyllic view of marriage as the death of passion, made palatable by Swinburne's quiet, dignified, simpatico character, and by Parker at least having the grace to squirm with shame when he learns the truth. Parker and Swinburne get most of the emotive dimension in the stylish, idiomatically assured Quartet and handle it flawlessly. Bogarde and Rosay shine, too. Still, it's Maugham himself, smiling like a Cheshire cat, who looms largest over the lot.
Producer: Antony Darnborough
Directors: Ken Annakin, (segment "The Colonel's Lady"), Arthur Crabtree (segment "The Kite"), Harold French (segment "The Alien Corn"), Ralph Smart (segment "The Facts of Life")
Screenplay: R.C. Sherriff; W. Somerset Maugham (stories "The Alien Corn," "The Colonel's Lady," "The Facts of Life," "The Kite")
Cinematography: Ray Elton; Reginald H. Wyer (segment "The Colonel's Lady")
Music: John Greenwood
Film Editing: Jean Barker, A. Charles Knott
Cast: W. Somerset Maugham (himself, host), Basil Radford (Henry Garnet, segment "The Facts of Life"), Naunton Wayne (Leslie, segment "The Facts of Life"), Ian Fleming (Ralph, segment "The Facts of Life"), Jack Raine (Thomas, segment "The Facts of Life"), Angela Baddeley (Mrs. Garnet, segment "The Facts of Life"), James Robertson Justice (Branksome, segment "The Facts of Life"), Jack Watling (Nicky, segment "The Facts of Life"), Nigel Buchanan (John, segment "The Facts of Life"), Mai Zetterling (Jeanne, segment "The Facts of Life"), Dirk Bogarde (George Bland, segment "The Alien Corn").
by Jay Carr
The Summing Up, W. Somerset Maugham, Penguin, 1946
Somerset Maugham: A Life, Jeffrey Meyers, Knopf, 2004
Somerset Maugham, Anthony Curtis, Macmillan, 1977
So You Wanna Be a Director?, Ken Annakin, Tomahawk Press, 2001
The Cinema of Dirk Bogarde, Margaret Hinxman and Susan d'Arcy, Literary Services & Production, London, 1974
Quartet (1948) - Quartet (1949)
The opening title credit reads: "W. Somerset Maugham's Quartet." The opening cast credits are listed alphabetically, and the closing cast credits are organized under each story title. The onscreen directors' credit states: "The four stories directed by" followed by each director's name. In the film's opening scene of a library, a voice-over prologue states: "The start of this film is not an actor or an actress, but a writer. And those of us who helped to make it take pleasure in paying tribute to him. William Somerset Maugham was born in Paris in 1874, is the author of twenty-four novels, twenty-four plays and upwards of 100 short stories. This is what he says about his life and work."
Maugham then appears, first standing at a bookcase, then seated behind a desk and, addressing the camera, explains that his short stories are inspired by events and people from his life. Maugham concludes his statement by saying: "To tell you the truth, fact and fiction are so intermingled in my work that now, looking back, I can hardly distinguish one from the other. In my twenties, the critics said I was brutal, in my thirties they said I was flippant, in my forties they said I was cynical, in my fifties they said I was incompetent and then in my sixties they said I was superficial. I went my own way with a shrug of the shoulders, following the path I had traced and trying with my work to fill out the pattern of life I had made for myself." The voice-over narration resumes over a shot of a book open to the title page of the first short story. The narrator introduces the segment, then reads the first few opening lines of the story. Each story is introduced in this manner. The director for each episode is listed on the story title page. At the film's conclusion, Maugham returns in a brief epilogue in which he thanks the audience.
According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, five stories were originally considered for the production, with the film title to be Quintet. The story "Red" was eventually dropped and the new title assigned. The PCA approved the first three episodes without comment, but refused to approve "The Colonel's Lady," recommending that the adulterous relationship between "Colonel George Peregrine" and "Daphne" be removed. The story remained unchanged and the PCA gave their seal of approval without further comment. Quartet is listed in the copyright catalog with the incorrect number of LP2468. Although J. Arthur Rank Productions had an office situated within Universal Studios, the studio was not involved in the production of Quartet.
The success of Quartet inspired two follow-up films, the J. Arthur Rank production Trio in 1950 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50) and the 1952 Paramount film Encore. These films each featured three stories by Maugham and the author appeared to introduce the films and the individual stories.