Saturday, December 21, 2013

Stream an enticing little 67-year-old "classic," Maurice Elvey's tough/tender BEWARE OF PITY

Adapted by a trio of screenwriters from the fairly famous novel by Stefan Zweig, and directed by a fellow whose work I had not before encountered, Maurice Elvey, who between the years of 1913 and 1957, managed to direct several films almost every single year (his IMDB directing credits total 196), BEWARE OF PITY, released in 1946, may be one of his more famous. Perhaps it did not do well at the box-office, however, because, after this one, Elvey (shown below) did not make another movie for five full years.

Featuring a stellar cast -- Lili Palmer, Cedric Hardwicke and Gladys Cooper -- with some excellent supporting work from Linden Travers and Ernest Thesiger, the movie takes the form almost entirely of a flashback, in which a older military man tells a young recruit, who is trying to disengage himself from a girl he does not love, to "beware of pity," and then explains why and what he means by this. Initially, because the story tells of  a beauti-ful young woman (Miss Palmer, below) con-fined to a wheelchair, and the callow young lieutenant who "befriends" her, we assume this will be a fairly simple, if not simplistic warning about pity leading to behavior that has bitter consequences.

But, no: The movie (as does, I expect, Zweig's novel, unread by me) has more on its mind than merely this. With the appearance of the Palmer character's kindly but stern, no-nonsense physician in one of Mr. Hardwicke's reliably fine performances (the actor is shown below, bottom), and later the entrance of the doctor's wife (a lovely turn by Miss Cooper, below, top), the story expands its definition of pity, taking it into the realm of necessary and productive empathy.

Along the way, the tale tackles other themes, from class to societal hypocrisy, the military mind and more and so never loses our interest. There is a caveat here, however, and that concerns the performances of the film's two leads. I've long been a fan of Ms Palmer, but perhaps had never seen her in anything this early in her career. In any case, she overacts rather too fiercely at times, and this, together with some genuinely unattractive parts of her character, combine to make the movie a sometimes uphill haul.

Ditto her co-star, another actor I had never noticed till now, Albert Lieven (shown above, left), who also plays a not-very-likable character in a rather cardboard manner. Together, these two fail to generate any sparks (of course, they're not really supposed to, but they sure as hell could have been more interesting to watch) and so leave it to the rest of the cast to manage that. Fortunately, the supporting players do, with Palmer's helper/companion, played by Miss Travers (above, right), far and away the most appealing of the bunch.

The film, in a fairly good transfer that streams pretty well, still manages to pack a quiet punch -- doing something from which Hollywood seems to still and forever shy away. It will leave you thoughtful and sad, but not, I think, depressed. Beware of Pity, running 102 minutes, is too intelligent for that. You can catch it now via Netflix streaming. (here's the link) or on Amazon Instant Video.

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