Wednesday, April 6, 2022
The Captain’s Paradise (1953)
Captain Henry St. James (Guinness) is the captain of a ferry boat which sails back and forth between Gibraltar and Spanish Morocco. Henry St. James has spent his life searching for the secret of happiness. Now he has found that secret. The secret is not to find the perfect woman. The perfect woman does not exist. In order to achieve perfect connubial bliss you just need to find two women. He has found two women who, between them, provide everything a man could want. In Gibraltar he has Maud (Celia Johnson). She is the model of English middle-class domesticity. His life with Maud is safe, secure, comfortable and utterly respectable. On his return from his latest voyage he brings her a present. It’s the kind of romantic gift that is sure to delight any decent middle-class Englishwoman -a new vacuum cleaner. Maud is beside herself with excitement.
In Spanish Morocco he has Nita (Yvonne de Carlo). Nita is Spanish. She is fiery, tempestuous, passionate and very very sexy. Nita is the sort of woman who would appreciate a vacuum cleaner as a gift. She wouldn’t know what to do with such a contraption. She’s the kind of girl who’d prefer to be given naughty lingerie. Nita was born to love, not to cook and clean.
And of course the evil day comes when Maud decides to fly over to Spanish Morocco to surprise her husband and the two women are inevitably going to meet.
The opening scene with the firing squad is definitely not what you expect in a comedy.
Guinness is good, as he always is in such roles. Celia Johnson has the obviously less glamorous role but she does well with it, especially when Maud starts to develop a sense of adventure. Yvonne de Carlo has immense fun as Nita - she really is outrageous, and outrageously good. I had no idea Miss de Carlo was so adept at comedy. Incidentally much of her dialogue is in Spanish. The two lead actresses dominate the movie.
An amusing sidelight is that in the original script St. James was married to both women. In the movie itself his relationship to Nita is rather vague. Clearly they’re living together as man and wife but sometimes it’s implied that they’re married and sometimes it’s implied that she’s his mistress. In 1953 film-makers had to be ridiculously careful about such subject matter if they wanted their movie released in the US and oddly enough it appears that a man having a mistress was considered less shocking than bigamy.
I have no problems in principle with sophisticated comedies that try to have a bit of emotional nuance but a comedy has to be, first and foremost, funny. The Captain’s Paradise is gently amusing but doesn’t quite have enough comic spark. It’s worth a look but it’s a lesser Alec Guinness comedy.