23 June 2012 | wilvram
Wolfit memorable, but film wastes opportunities
One of several big screen adaptations of du Maurier's TRILBY, this was notable for utilising the author's original illustrations in costume, and to some extent, settings. It also had the benefit of a characteristically flamboyant and forceful performance from the great Donald Wolfit. He's able to engender a small degree of sympathy for the grubby and boorish Svengali (including his frustration, as a classical musician, with Trilby's continual rendering of a rather wan little ditty, 'Alice, Where Art Though?' later to form the aptly dowdy signature tune to OPEN ALL HOURS). He's compelling whenever the film focuses on him, despite more than a touch of Frankie Howerd in places. Unfortunately it concentrates rather too much in the early stages on the ageing English art students, and not helped by some crude editing, the story doesn't grip as it should. Hildegarde Neff brings beauty, intelligence and a sense of vulnerability to Trilby, but she comes over as about as Irish as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, whose sublime lyric soprano tones are heard on the soundtrack. Terence Morgan can make little impact as Billy, and despite being good to look at, with the colour and atmosphere of the early Hammer horrors, the whole enterprise is lacking in drive, with too many short scenes on cramped sets. The finale at Covent Garden where Svengali dramatically relinquishes his hold on Trilby is especially disappointingly handled, with the director failing to build any tension or sense of occasion, then allowing what remains to fall flat.
One of those films that has its moments, but falls firmly into the 'could have been so much better' category.