T. S. Eliot's "The Famile
Reunion" and other Shows
By Michael de la Bedoyere
IHAVE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF THE ABSENCE ON HOLIDAY OF OUR THEATRE AND FILM CRITIC TO ESCAPE FOR A FEW HOURS FROM THE INCREDIBILITIES OF POLITICS IN ORDER TO FIND A REFUGE IN THE RATIONAL WORLD OF FICTION, IN THE COURSE OF TWO DAYS I HAVE SEEN TWO PLAYS AND TWO FILMS.
It is absurd, I suppose, to try to find any connecting link between four shows chosen haphazard, yet the habit of writing leading articles in which many passing events are fitted together to point a moral dies hard, and I cannot escape it.
I must apologise to Mr T. S. Eliot .for including The Family Reunion In this haphazard catalogue, whose other units are The Sign of the Cross, Naples au Raiser de Feu, and The Man in Half Moon Street. Yet it is important for us all to try to
grasp certain criteria by which to judge of good and bad, for, until we do so, we shall go round in circles over this guess Hon of what is or is not decent in drama and, consequently, of censorship, whether religious or official.
IT is impossible adequately to notice I Eliot's play without having read it, and this I have not had time to do. Frankly, I could not keep up with the second act at all. I did not get its meaning, nor did my mind work quickly enough to 1 sep pace with the torrent of obscure conceptions. With, I imagine, the greater part of the audience, sympathised with the character who confessed that he was beginning to feel that there was something to understand, but doubted whether be was agile enough to make the effort.
Despite this, not a moment dragged. Why? Because one was tremendously aware that the story-teller was struggling to convey something which he was sure was worth trying to say. In this effort he was magnificently served by his own power over words, which came to us in a sparkling string of cold, polished, rigidly-shaped, hard images which could be enjoyed even though the link that bound them together was Invisible. He Wee equally well served by the setting, the costumes, the grouping, the diction or the players, all of which expressed that ruthless., unyielding form as characteristic of Eliot's writing as of Wyndham Lewis's art—of which I was all the time reminded.
AS I understand it, Eliot was attempting to describe the reality of the human soul, utterly alone, yet the form of a body related to other bodies that make up the social world, and therefore participating in the fate of the race, country, family, and normally also bounded by the unimportant accidents of space and time.
Harry, Lord Monchensey (Michael Redgravel has returned to Wishwood, the family seat, after a long absence. He meets again his mother, a cousin, and a number of aunts and uncles. While he was away he performed an act of fallen man of which he understood the implications. From then onwards he lived alone in a world apart from his fellow men, a " nether " world. He has still to learn more about the act, and this he does through the help of a cousin and an aunt who also have some insight into the " nether " world and its relations to the events of the " hither" world which absorbs the attention of his other relatives. The act was the murder of his wife (or possibly only the desire of her death), an act set in the social history of his family and partaking thus of the fallen nature of the whole race, Lord Monchensey's soul alone bears the full significance and therefore guilt of the sin which pursuing Furies are avenging. I did not follow the mode of expiation through which the Furies for once live up to their name, Eumenides (kindly ones), and turn into " bright angels."
FOR me it was evening of glimpses, glimpses into the world of spiritual realities, into original sin, into expiation. Into the tremendous loneliness of the smut in the presence of God, into the make-believe of daily life, Such an experience even though so slightly participated in—will give, as it were, a new dimension to Mass next Sunday. No more need be said.
LET me take next The Sign of the Cross. which is being revived at the Carlton in order to cash in on the dislike of Christianity-persecuting Germany. Holywood films can scarcely be said to have story-tellers, for they are invented for the sole purpose of selling as widely as possible. Thus their meaning is accidental and piecemeal. Nothing could be nobler than the plot in this
instance, but the meaning is to be found in the cashing-in appeal to vulgarity and garishness, in an insistence upon eroticism and, above all, in a horrible playing up to popular sadism. To use a story of the early Christian martyrs under Nero, however moral and religious in Itself, for such vile purposes seems to me to be stooping as low as is possible. It was a disgusting business that filled me with nausea. If I were censor I would not hesitate to forbid the exhibition of this film.
MOW comes a rather slight French
film (at Studio One) called Naples au Raiser de Feu. I have called It neutral because yip simplicity and sincerity with which it is told just about balances the commonplace nature of the tale. It is moral enough, in the censor's sense. A pretty slut of a girl lives by enticing weak men, and comes to a bad end—probably temporarily. (Hollywood would have killed her or sent he: to prison, but in doing so would not have made a ha'p'orth to the moral quality of the story). There is pleasant Italian music sung by Tino Rossi, and a few beautiful shots of Naples, and little attempt to moralise. So that while one's imagination is unnecessarily disturbed, one is left with a slightly deepened conviction that it is disgusting to make a fool of oneself over the first pretty face one sees—which, as far as it goes, is a conviction worth deepening. Hollywoo d, by artificialising the Incidents and heavily pointing the moral would have made it either banal or vicious.
Lastly, The Man in flalf Moon Street can reasonably be dragged into this galere, because there is also supposed to be a moral in Barre Lyndon's thriller, The moral is that it doesn't pay to try to find the secret of cheating death, even if you do it for the sake of science with a capital S. John Thackeray (Leslie Banks) has discovered this secret, but it has cost him—or rather his victims—eight murders in 90 years of life and a good deal rof discomfort. In the end Scotland Yard get him, he suddenly ages because of his inability to obtain his treatment, he destroys the books containing his life's work and he sees the errors of his ways. All of which as a moral story leaves one completely unimpressed, because it is perfectly evident that the moral did not matter two pins to the writer. His sole concern was to construct a novel and ingenious thriller with plenty of dramatic moments. In this he has succeeded. The play is completely banal but a brilliant thriller, every moment of which I enjoyed. Had the moral pointed the other way, the play would not have become immoral.
The Family Reunion—Weatmlnster. The Alan In Hail Moon Street—New. Naples as Balser de Feu—Studio One. The sign of the cross—Carlton.