by Freda Bruce Lockhart
QCENERY is the undoubted
star of both principal new pictures, The Song of Norway ("U", Casino Cinerama) and Ryan's Daughter ("AA", Empire): scenery and size, both width and size, they have in common—if not much else.
The former has the assets of greater novelty of scene, the music (considerably adapted) and new faces (among some old friends); and was directed and written for the screen by Andrew Stone.
"Ryan's Daughter" is, as everybody knows, the "epic" on which David Lean worked so many months in Ireland; with an original screenplay by Robert Bolt and starring Robert Mitchum, Trevor Howard, Sarah Miles and Christopher Jones.
Loving Norway deeply as I do, I found the result at once better and worse than that expectation. It is thrilling to see the gorgeous fjords and snowfields in huge scale close-up which gives the same illusion of being able to touch the great walls of mountain on either side, that the tourist has from one of the small fjord steamers.
Admittedly this is a prettified Norway. All that we see of Norway on the screen is true enough—the shining white boarded houses, high green patches, blue mountains and tideless still deep waters, most nostalgic of all, perhaps, the doughty little pale "Iceland" ponies.
But how the young Norwegians in their national dress are made to cavort! Exuberance may be a Norwegian characteristic, but not this hop-skipand-dance coyness.
'A similarly soft touch is applied to the admittedly not over-vigorous character and the music of Edward Grieg (Toralv Maurstad) whose career and loves provide the plot and the indoor settings in the salons and committee rooms of nineteenth century Scandinavia.
They are peopled with such famous figures of the Norwegian "renaissance" as the dramatists Ibsen (Frederick Jaeger), Bjornson (Harry Secombe) and Richard Nordraak (Frank Porretta), composer of Norway's national anthem. There are visits, too, to Hans Christian Andersen (Richard Wordsworth) in Copenhagen, and to Liszt (a remarkable likeness by Henry Gilbert) when Grieg scrapes up the fare to Rome.
Only three of Grieg's most hackneyed (though justifiably so) songs emerge recognisably, and the piano concerto and violin sonata. The rest of the music is reduced to the insipidity of old-fashioned operetta, omitting the rhythmic and dramatic riches and the haunting quality which pervade the great range of Grieg's songs.
Grieg's trolls from "Per Gynt" are represented by monstrous sub-Disney-esque cartoon heads poking over mountain tops or up from fjord waters.
Despite these reservations, the balance of reaction must be in the film's favour—for its scenery, its general pleasant ness as a super tourist poster, and for the introduction of two very welcome Scandinavian stars.
Toralv Maurstad, who plays Grieg, is one of Norway's leading actors and director of the Ny Teater, Oslo's municipal theatre. Slight, blond and agile he is everybody's notion of a Norwegian and plays a plausible and lively Grieg.
Christian Schollin is a beautiful young Swedish actress whom we have seen in "John Dear." She gives a highly intelligent and moving performance of great good sense as Grieg's first love, Therese Berg.
Forced by her father (Robert Morley) to give him up, she becomes an heiress who could solve Grieg's money problems. As Nina, the cousin who became his wife, Florence Henderson sings well but reminded me just enough of Jeanette Macdonald to emphasise the picture's old-fashioned likeness to the Macdonald-Eddy operetta films.
David Lean is arguably our finest director, and Ryan's Daughter, too, is a superb spectacle, with at least two outstanding performances. David Lean's great vision of spaces is familiar. We have known it in the air in "The Sound Barrier", in the desert sands with "Lawrence", in the Siberian snows (even if they were in Yugoslavia) with "Dr. Zhivago"!
Here he has stretched a strip of Irish coast to comparable dimensions with tell-tale footprints in the sand and a spectacular storm at sea.
Nevertheless '`Ryan's Daughter" bears all the marks of a picture which has taken too much time and trouble to make, and has been concocted as it went along to fit a scheme rather than a single vision.
Robert Mitchum as a modest, middle-aged village schoolmaster gives the best performance I have ever seen even this good actor give. He falls in love with and marries the publican's daughter (Sarah Miles).
Disappointed by her wedding night. she sells a drink to a beautiful young English major (Christopher Jones) and in no time at all is riding with him in an unlikely bowler and red shirt or lying with him on the grass with nothing on.
All this is so beautifully photographed that I suspect Mr. Lean of trying to make an Irish "Elvira Madigan". After the intermission, however, the new story (not necessarily less novelettish) turns to "The Troubles" and the vengeful ladies of the village.
Apart from the film's unfailing visual beauty (apart from the unfortunate John Mills as a woefully mis-shapen village idiot), parts of it are effective but they never hang together as a whole.
There remains the infallible Trevor Howard. I confess I had my doubts whether even he could make a good priest. He makes, of course, a marvellous one and is the only person who almost holds the picture together.