28 August 2009 | DavidW1947
Beautifully filmed, but toned down version, of the classic novel.
A beautifully filmed (in VistaVision and Technicolor) and very interesting character study. A sort of Eternal Triangle story where the three main characters are male. Adapted from A. J. Cronin's controversial 1950 novel of the same name, the plot concerns a middle aged diplomat at the British Consul in Madrid, Harrington Brande (Michael Hordern), who is posted to a sleepy coastal town on the Spanish Costa Brava. His wife has left him and all he has is his eleven years old son, Nicholas (played by eleven years old Jon Whiteley), on whom he dotes and of whom he is so possessive that he will not allow him to go to school or to make any friends at all, even of boys his own age. Brande wants his son all to himself. His excuse for this is that Nicholas is "delicate", having suffered a serious childhood illness and must be "protected." When Brande hires Jose (Dirk Bogarde) as a gardener for the villa, Jose and the lonely Nicholas become firm friends from their first meeting, much to the consternation of the insanely jealous Brande, who goes to much trouble to destroy the friendship between his son and the gardener.
At the time, Jon Whiteley's parents were concerned about the implied sexual relationship between Jose and Nicholas in Cronin's novel and were assured by the director, Philip Leacock and the producer and screenwriter, John Bryan, that "the darker side of Cronin's novel would be omitted and the film designed for family consumption." One scene from Chapter 15 of the novel that was cut entirely from the film was where, at Brande's insistence, his friend Professor Halevy (the character changed to Doctor Harvey for the film and played by Geoffrey Keen) has a "man to man" talk with Nicholas as the boy lays on his bed in his semi-darkened bedroom and talks to Nicholas about the boy's sexual feelings and tries to get him to admit to having a sexual relationship with Jose
especially when he and Jose went fishing together in the isolated countryside
something which, much to the consternation of Halevy, who is convinced that there is something of a sexual nature going on between them, Nicholas will not admit to. Even though all this was left out of the film, the film still comes across as ambiguous and the viewer is left to put their own interpretation on the relationships between Jose and Nicholas and between Nicholas and his very possessive father.
Overall, the performances are uniformly fine, only in one instance coming across as contrived
the scene where Nicholas runs into Jose's arms and sobs. Good as he was within his range, Jon Whiteley just couldn't handle this scene and comes across as the worst sounding and most unconvincing sobber in film history. Whether or not he could have handled the scene of the "man to man" talk about his character's sexual feelings and his feelings for Jose if it had been left in the film is a debatable point. Certainly, he had the right director in Philip Leacock to help him through such a scene, as it was Leacock who, three years earlier, had directed him in "The Kidnappers", for which Jon had won an Academy Award.