Perfect Strangers (1945 film)

Perfect Strangers (United States title: Vacation from Marriage), is a 1945 drama film made by London Films. It stars Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr as a married couple whose relationship is shaken by their service in the Second World War. The supporting cast includes Glynis Johns, Ann Todd and Roland Culver. It was produced and directed by Alexander Korda from a screenplay by Clemence Dane and Anthony Pelissier based on a story by Clemence Dane. Dane won the Academy Award for Best Story. The music score was by Clifton Parker and the cinematography by Georges Périnal.[1]

Perfect Strangers
Perfect Strangers FilmPoster.jpeg
A poster with the film's US title: Vacation from Marriage
Directed byAlexander Korda
Produced byAlexander Korda
Screenplay byClemence Dane
Anthony Pelissier
Story byClemence Dane
StarringRobert Donat
Deborah Kerr
Music byClifton Parker
CinematographyGeorges Périnal
Edited byEdward B. Jarvis
Production
company
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • 15 October 1945 (1945-10-15) (London)
Running time
102 minutes (UK)
93 minutes (US)
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
LanguageEnglish

PlotEdit

Robert and Cathy Wilson are a timid married couple in 1940 London. He is a bookkeeper, she a bored housewife. However, their tedium-filled lives are drastically changed by the war. He enlists in the Royal Navy, while she joins the Wrens. During the three years the couple are apart (their shore leaves never coincide), they are transformed, each becoming much more self-confident.

Cathy's assertive new friend, Dizzy Clayton, helps her break out of her shell. She begins going out with Dizzy's cousin, naval architect Richard, who falls in love with her. However, she remains faithful (if unenthusiastically) to her husband.

Meanwhile, Robert toughens up on sea duty and in time becomes a petty officer. His hands are badly burned when his ship is sunk, but he stoically rows in the lifeboat for five days without complaint. He recuperates in a hospital, tended by Elena, a beautiful nurse. On the last night of his stay, he asks her out to dinner. He is attracted to her, but she informs him that she lost her beloved husband only six months earlier, kisses him, and leaves.

Robert and Cathy both receive ten-day leaves, but each dreads being reunited with the dowdy spouse each remembers and being forced back into the dreary life they shared.

Cathy cannot bring herself to return to her flat, where Robert is waiting. Instead, she phones Robert and asks him to talk with her on more neutral ground, blurting out that she wants to leave him. He is furious. They meet on the street, in the pitch dark of the blackout. Robert readily agrees to a divorce, to her surprise, telling her that he was going to ask her for one. They go to the neighbourhood pub to discuss the divorce and for the first time in three years they each get a good look at the transformation in the other.

Throughout the film, they have been talking to their new friends about their life together, and now they revisit those issues and talk honestly to each other about the past. They find that if they are "perfect strangers" now, they did not know each other very well before. For Cathy, the hated view from their flat, all walls and smoking chimneys, is a symbol of their lives before the war. They dance with each other, for the first time, and are clearly attracted. Dizzy and Robert's friend 'Scotty' meet them in the pub. Both are stunned. Dizzy thinks Cathy is crazy. Scotty calls Cathy a pin-up, but the compliment goes wrong when he shares—at some length—Robert's unflattering descriptions of the 'old' Cathy. She is insulted and furious. It hardens her heart and she walks out as the pub closes. Outside, waiting in vain for a taxi in the bombed-out intersection, the argument continues—they even fight over where the shops were located. In the end, Scotty goes to his billet, leaving Robert on the street, thinking (in a voiceover). The girls go to the flat, where Cathy wistfully tells Dizzy about how she and Robert met. Robert returns to retrieve his gear and finds Cathy sitting in the window. The sky is bright with early morning light, and beyond the shattered houses, the vista toward the river and beyond is broken only by a church steeple. The high walls are gone.

“You've certainly got the view you always wanted.” Robert says.

“Miles and miles of it,” Cathy replies. “But oh Robert, the desolation.”

“Poor old London.,” he says. “Well, we'll just have to build it up again.”

“It will take years and years.” she says.

“But what of that Cathy,” he answers, smiling. “We're young.”

They embrace, passionately.

CastEdit

Cast notes

  • Deborah Kerr made her MGM debut in this film. MGM had purchased half of her contract after her performance in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, in which she played three roles. MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer is supposed to have said "That girl's a star" upon seeing her performance in Perfect Strangers, and she was soon an established MGM property.[2]
  • This was Robert Donat's last film for MGM.[2]
  • Roger Moore made his uncredited film debut in Perfect Strangers.

ProductionEdit

Perfect Strangers was based on a story by Esther McCracken and a screen treatment by Arthur Wimperis. It was meant to be the first of what was supposed to be a number of co-productions between Alexander Korda and M-G-M made in Britain - other proposed projects included Lottie Dundasd with Vivien Leigh from a story by Edith Bagnold, a biopic of Robert Louis Stevenson starring Robert Donat, a version of War and Peace directed by Orson Welles and starring Korda's wife, Merle Oberon, Velvet Coat by GB Stern and an untitled Carol Reed project. Perfect Strangers was originally meant to star Donat and Oberon but by December 1943 Oberon had been replaced by Deborah Kerr, as Oberton was still in the USA. Wesley Ruggles was to come over from Hollywood to direct.[3]

By March 1944, the film was about to start filming at Denham Studios. Korda announced he would now make only 1-3 films per year, compared to the 12-16 he had previously intended to make.[4]

Shooting did not actually begin until May. The delay had come about for several reasons: the script was constantly rewritten to account for changes in the war, Ruggles fell ill with the flu shortly after he arrived in England, and Donat was involved in a play. Then Donat fell ill and Ruggles left the project after an argument with Korda.[5] It was the first feature Korda had directed since Rembrandt. Korda called the film an "allegory of England"; Donat referred to it as "a lyrical comedy".[6]

The film did some location shooting in Scotland, but was shot primarily in London.[7]

No subsequent films came from the agreement, because Korda bristled at being bossed around by MGM's head of production, Louis B. Mayer.[2][7]

ReceptionEdit

Box OfficeEdit

Perfect Strangers was a commercial success in both the UK and the US, where it was re-titled Vacation from Marriage.[2] It was one of the biggest hits at the British box office in 1945.[8] According to Kinematograph Weekly the 'biggest winners' at the box office in 1945 Britain were The Seventh Veil, with "runners up" being (in release order), Madonna of the Seven Moons, Old Acquaintance, Frenchman's Creek, Mrs Parkington, Arsenic and Old Lace, Meet Me in St Louis, A Song to Remember, Since You Went Away, Here Come the Waves, Tonight and Every Night, Hollywood Canteen, They Were Sisters, The Princess and the Pirate, The Adventures of Susan, National Velvet, Mrs Skefflington, I Live in Grosvenor Square, Nob Hill, Perfect Strangers, Valley of Decision, Conflict and Duffy's Tavern. British "runners up" were They Were Sisters, I Live in Grosvenor Square, Perfect Strangers, Madonna of the Seven Moons, Waterloo Road, Blithe Spirit, The Way to the Stars, I'll Be Your Sweetheart, Dead of Night, Waltz Time and Henry V.[9]

CriticalEdit

The New York Times called it "second grade Korda but [it] hit the mood of the moment with its theme of the marital problems of demobilization."[10]

Awards and honorsEdit

Clemence Dane won an Academy Award for Best Original Motion Picture Story for Perfect Strangers.[11]

ReferencesEdit

Notes

  1. ^ "AFI|Catalog Vacation from Marriage (1945)". catalog.afi.com. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Fristoe, Roger. "Vacation from Marriage (1945)" TCM.com
  3. ^ METRO OPENS ITS NEW HOME IN LONDON By C.A. LEJEUNE. New York Times 26 Dec 1943: X4.
  4. ^ BY WAY OF REPORT New York Times 26 Mar 1944: X3.
  5. ^ SPRING FINDS LONDON'S FILM STUDIOS ACTIVE: Shaw Satisfied With 'Caesar' Profile of Claude Rains -- Two Coming This Way By C.A. LEJEUNE. New York Times ]28 May 1944: X3.
  6. ^ LONDON MOVIE DOINGS: By C.A. LEJEUNE. New York Times (25 June 1944: X3.
  7. ^ a b "Notes" TCM.com
  8. ^ Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48, p 207
  9. ^ Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 232.
  10. ^ LONDON TAKES STOCK By C.A. LEJEUNE. New York Times 30 Dec 1945: 21.
  11. ^ "Vacation From Marriage" Academy Award Database, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Bibliography

  • Vermilye, Jerry. The Great British Films, Citadel Press, 1978. pp 82–84. ISBN 0-8065-0661-X

External linksEdit