Saturday, July 2, 2016

Corridor of Mirrors (1948)

Corridor of Mirrors is a fascinating 1948 British gothic melodrama with perhaps just the faintest hint of film noir (enough to get it included in the 14th Annual San Francisco Film Noir Festival in 2016 anyway).

Mifanwy Conway (Edana Romney) has a wonderful husband and two lovely children and she is certainly not lacking for money. She seems to be very happily married. So why is she setting off to London to see her lover? It’s a complicated story, told mostly in flashback. She does meet her lover, at Madame Tussaud's wax museum, but she doesn’t meet him in the way you might expect. He’s one of the exhibits.

Seven years earlier Mifanwy was a high-spirited girl and a fixture in the night club scene. She and her friends belong to the infamous set known as the Bright Young Things. They live for pleasure and for parties and most of all they enjoy thumbing their noses at their parents.

It’s probably inevitable that her path will eventually cross that of Paul Mangin (Eric Portman). Mangin is an artist, fabulously rich and notoriously eccentric. Mifanwy thinks this will be a harmless romantic diversion, another way to deal with boredom. Mangin however seems to be fascinated by her to the point of obsession.

Mangin claims to have been born 400 years too late. He should have been born 400 years earlier. He should have lived in the Italy of the Borgias. It’s not all that uncommon to feel that way but Paul Mangin takes the idea very seriously indeed. In fact he does live in the Italy of the Borgias - he has recreated the past in his palatial home.

Mifanwy is the woman he has been waiting for. He has been waiting for her all his life. Women expect men to say such things but Mifanwy begins to suspect that in this case it is literally true. Mifanwy still thinks she can keep things on the level of a casual love affair but it is clear that to Paul there is nothing remotely casual about it.

There are plenty of bizarre plot twists to come and I won’t spoil the movie by revealing any more. Suffice to say that this is a movie that likes to surprise us and it throws plenty of ideas at us.

Star Edana Romney co-wrote the ambitious screenplay, based on a novel by Christopher Massie. 

This was the first feature film directed by Terence Young. Young went on to considerable success in the 60s helming three Bond movies (including the best of them all, From Russia with Love). 

The style of Corridor of Mirrors is unapologetically arty. This might irritate some viewers but there was probably no other way to handle this material. The story flirts with gothic horror and also with fantasy and the danger with this is that it could have subsided into whimsy or jokiness - in this case the artiness certainly works far better than whimsy or comedy would have. It also gives Young and cinematographer AndrĂ© Thomas the opportunity to indulge themselves in all manner of arty effects. Although it’s a British film it was for some reason shot in a French studio. 

Edana Romney looks striking and exotic and this is essential. The film could not have worked otherwise. As for her acting, she never really manages to make Mifanwy sympathetic and at times her character’s motivations are rather obscure. Fortunately this doesn’t really matter - what does matter is that despite his obsessiveness we should feel some sympathy for Paul Mangin and Eric Portman has no difficulty in achieving this. He also performs the more difficult feat of making Mangin seem like a man who might be mad without ever making him absurd. Had he seemed ridiculous for even a moment the entire film would have collapsed. 

The DVD cover artwork proudly tells us that this was Christopher Lee’s film debut. And so it was. But don’t get too excited - he has no more than a bit part. 

Simply Media’s DVD offers a good transfer. Image quality is excellent; sound quality is acceptable.

Corridor of Mirrors is a bewildering mishmash of genres and influences. It’s easy to point to the movie’s flaws but they don’t really matter. This is a breathtakingly ambitious and wildly strange movie that takes risks and if the risks don’t always come off the wonder of it is that more often than not they do come off. Very highly recommended.

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