Adaptations of three short stories by W. Somerset Maugham comprise this anthology film where the celebrated author introduces each segment of the film in front of the camera.Adaptations of three short stories by W. Somerset Maugham comprise this anthology film where the celebrated author introduces each segment of the film in front of the camera.Adaptations of three short stories by W. Somerset Maugham comprise this anthology film where the celebrated author introduces each segment of the film in front of the camera.
A set of three half hour movies, each based on a short story by W. Somerset Maugham, who also comes on screen to introduce them to us (like Hitchcock did in his 1950s television work). You have to accept the idea that these are short films, without connection, and enjoy them one by one. They don't have time to develop like a full movie, but they make a smaller statement quickly. And each is directed, acted, filmed, etc. etc. by a separate crew and cast. Follow along:
The Ant and the Grasshopper
This has the potential for the most complex and rich of the three shorts, involving two brothers, one who works steadily and honorably at his job (the ant, I suppose) and the other who is a cad and a scoundrel of some innocent sort, but who gets ahead by the end through some leap of daring (the grasshopper, surely). It's a mischievous and clever story, a bit too clever by half, but really well acted. The plot reminds me of the O'Henry kind of storytelling where there is a small kernel of observation and cleverness, but in a lighthearted way (nothing too Chekov or Raymond Carver going on here). But well done, well done.
This was for me the best of the three. At first it's a silly tale about a woman who talks so much on a cruise she drives everyone batty, but then, when the ship stops at port and the cast gets reduced to just a half dozen people, we get a tight ensemble playing out of issues of loneliness, love, kindness, and the power of implication. By that I mean, what this segment doesn't say is what it's all about. The writer, Maugham, and the screenwriter, Arthur Macrae, both are in top form.
The tone is great--utterly chipper in its clever humor--and it's filmed in a smilier way, with some playful expressionist filming. And it's nicely contained, a film on a small ship on a voyage. And of course, the men who seem to prefer silence can get none of it on this little vessel, from which there's no escape.
"We'll just ignore her," says one man.
"Well, you can't ignore Niagara," says another.
You have to pay attention, because the quips and one-liners are fast and fluid. For example, when the poor young Frenchman, the steward, is commanded to have a romance with the woman, another officer whispers in his ear that he'll get "danger money" for the duty, a reference to high risk jobs in the war getting higher pay. And there are digs about the English and the French, and so on. Great stuff, increasingly complex, and a touching ambiguous (perfectly ambiguous) ending.
Gigolo and Gigolette
There are two themes to this one. The first echoes Maugham's comments at the start, that some people are drawn to do senselessly dangerous work because the money is there, even if they eventually get hurt or die because of it. This time it is a high dive act (eighty feet up, into a pool of water five feet deep). Which brings us to the second theme: love or money. The diver is a woman, and her boyfriend is deeply in love with her. But he loves money, too, and he begins to push her to dive twice a night even if she isn't quite up to it, because the money is there.
It's well done, if a bit simpler. What really works in this tale is the actual fear you have for the diver. Well filmed, tightly edited.
- Aug 24, 2011