Welcome to #WeekendMovie!
I’ll recommend some of my favorite films weekly(ish) and tell you what I think makes them memorable. Most reviews will have slight spoilers, but I’ll never ruin a twist or reveal the ending of any movie.
I’ll provide links for more information and to where you can stream or purchase DVDs of the film. Some of the links will be affiliate links which means that if you use these links your purchase will help support this blog (at no extra cost to you).
The inaugural #WeekendMovie is
Goodbye Again (1961).
Director: Anatole Litvak
Filmed on Location, in Paris, France
Ms. Bergman’s Wardrobe by Dior
Score: Georges Auric
Soundtrack: Goodbye Again, United Artists Records
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Yves Montand, Anthony Perkins, Diahann Carroll
This production is notable on several fronts. It was adapted from the novel Aimez-vous Brahms? By Françoise Sagan, the teenaged novelist who had scandalized Europe three years earlier with her first book, Bonjour Tristesse.
Second, Anthony Perkins made this film just after his career-making performance as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s shocking Psycho (1960). A smart move to avoid being typecast, no doubt, and it worked. For his work in this film Perkins won the award for Best Actor of 1961 at the Cannes Film Festival.
Third, the film features singer/actress Diahann Carroll in a speaking part. Carroll would become the first African-American female star of a network television show (Julia, 1968) and “the first black bitch on television,” in the 1980’s television soap Dynasty. Hollywood still hadn’t progressed past the stage where black actors were put into (usually musical) scenes that could be cut from films to be played in the south. Integrated casts were
Also, much of the featured score is original jazz riffs of actual Brahms’ compositions, the first time I’m aware of this happening for a film. Musical score experts please correct me if I’m wrong. Check out this excellent summary of the story behind the film’s music. I found the soundtrack underwhelming except for two or three songs, but you can listen and judge for yourself here.
This American film was made in Paris because it dealt with topics that were too scandalizing for American audiences at the time. Themes like Extra-marital sex, pre-marital sex, inter-racial conversations, and older women dating younger men. Horrors. Hollywood hadn’t progressed much further than the 30s and 40s when black actors would be inserted in a random musical scene that could be cut when the movie played in the south. Granted, the 1950s brought all-black films like Carmen Jones, but a black person and a white person having a conversation on American film? A sly reference to an interracial dalliance? In 1961 Hollywood would never.
But I digress.
Ingrid Bergman plays Paula Tessier, a 40-year-old divorceé with an interior design business and a lover Rogér (Yves Montand) who treats her badly. She’s not at all convincing when she talks with her disapproving young maid about the importance of freedom, insisting that she has no desire to see other men even though he is obviously seeing other women. “Some freedom,” says Gaby.
Paula, in her bathrobe, must spend their fifth anniversary — of which Roget is oblivious — alone in her apartment.
Paula soon meets Phillip, the 25-year-old son of a wealthy American client. Phillip falls immediately and unreservedly in love with Paula and is prepared to abandon his fledgling legal career to pursue her.
Paula resists, while Rogér, played to perfection by Montand, beds every girl he sees, and calls them all “Maisie.” A real prince. Montand’s performance here is perfection. He embodies the cosmopolitan roué from the top of his hair to the tip of his toes. His resting horndog face is a wonder to behold.
He takes Paula completely for granted, canceling dates at the last minute, taking off for dirty weekends with his Maisie of the moment, while Paula sits placidly at home pretending not to care.
Young Phillip finally cracks Paula’s reserve with an invitation to a Brahms concert, but while she sits next to him in the theater, it’s Rogér that she’s thinking of. She won’t hold Phillip’s hand during the concert and refuses to have dinner with him afterward because she expects Rogér to return from a trip that evening.
“And if he doesn’t show up? Asks Phillip.
“Then I’ll have dinner alone,” replies Paula.
“He must be quite a man to deserve such devotion, such blind self-sacrifice,” says Phillip.
He forces her to question her relationship, and more painfully, he makes her question Rogét’s love for her. Needless to say, the evening doesn’t end well, but the scene does. The scene exposes the true depth of Phillip’s feelings for her. He’s not playing or looking for sex. He loves her.
Things come to a head during a dinner party that Phillip’s mother throws to celebrate the completion of the decorating project. Paula and Rogér are both invited and for once, Rogér keeps a date and shows up. He acts like a spoiled brat because he finds the crowd old and boring. He’s not out at a hot club with hot jazz playing and hot young couples dancing til dawn. It’s an older old money crowd where conversation, not dancing is the prized skill. This isn’t Rogér’s scene and he can’t even be polite about it to please his partner. He acts like such a boor it’s hard to understand what Paula sees in him. For the thousandth time.
Rogér’s boredom evaporates when Phillip, who had been in London on business, arrives unexpectedly and sits next to Paula during dinner and flirts with her during coffee.
Paula is politely mortified. Until that moment Phillip’s infatuation with her was a private matter, but now he was making it public, and openly challenging her lover at the same time.
Rogér acts like he doesn’t care at the table, but cuts short their stay by insisting that they leave barely five minutes after coffee is served. It doesn’t even occur to him that this is a dinner celebrating Paula’s work, he is as always, only thinking of himself.
The moment he’s in the car he starts berating Paula, who hasn’t done anything except to be admired by another man.
“If you’re going to do the young master’s bedroom, why not do the young master? Makes the work so much more interesting.”
It’s a wonder he doesn’t choke on his own hypocrisy. I would have beaten him with my Dior evening bag. Paula looks at him with such incredulous rage it’s hard to fathom how she doesn’t start screaming at him with an annotated list.
Fuming, Rogét dumps Paula in a huff in front of her apartment and speeds off without a proper goodbye, even though he’s leaving for 10 days on an actual business trip the next day. Paula is stupid enough to be upset at this.
Phillip drives up before Paula can enter her building, having followed them in his car. He begs her to get into his car so they can talk, which she does. Phillip confesses that he returned from London because of a letter she wrote him. They have a passionate kiss in the car and Paula flees up to her apartment.
The kiss and her response to it unnerve Paula. She is so frightened of giving in to Phillip that the next day she rushes to the airport to beg Roger to take her with him on his business trip. For once, Roger is telling the truth when he says that he can’t take her because he will be with colleagues.
“Get rid of that boy,” he tells her. “He bothers you.
He sure does.
Paula resists. It’s hard to understand why she wants so badly to be faithful to such a careless and faithless lover. Even in 1960, she should have been seeing other men — even her maid is telling her she’s being a fool.
Paula tries to end Phillip’s constant devotion by telling him that there can’t be anything between them, ever. He winds up drinking his heartbreak away at a bar where we see an impossibly young Diahnne Carroll sing a jazzed up version of the Brahms theme that plays all through the film, and one other song.
Unlike most other American films of the time, she shares a conversation with Perkins, one of the White lead actors in the film. Black performers were often cast in isolated (usually musical) scenes in films so that the scenes could be removed to play in the South, and had limited to no interaction with the white cast. This practice had started to change in the late 1950s with films like The Defiant Ones and The Blackboard Jungle. Carroll’s conversation with Perkins between songs is quite a thing for her and for director Anatole Litvak.
But I digress.
Of course, Paula winds up in bed with Phillip, and it’s clear from the first post-coital shot of her face, that this “boy” as they’ve been calling him, has bothered her very well. Despite the semi-darkness, she looks gorgeous and glowing, her hair down and a laugh at her lips when she looks at Roger’s mask on the wall across the room. Even the music has changed. From the staid Brahms, the music has shifted to a modern be-bop jazz riff that Phillip has put on the turntable.
It’s not until we see her with her hair down and smiling with Phillip in her kitchen the morning after that we realize how much she’s been playing the part of the proper married lady with Roget. Her staid chignon, her serious suits and matronly pearls all make her seem twenty years older. After one night with Phillip she looks like a woman of 30.
At first glance, the film seems to be a story about a woman choosing between two men. But it’s much more than that. Paula is beautiful, successful and single, and she stands between two worlds. The traditional one where men have all the rights and have all the fun, and the modern world where women can enjoy a sexual freedom outside of marriage with whomever they please (Paula’s friends aren’t scandalized by her long-standing arrangement with Roget, they are scandalized when she makes the same arrangement with a younger man.
This is a woman stuck between two eras, and the weight of oppression is such that she can’t even grab her own freedom when it’s there for the taking. Phillip’s age and his passion represent life, freedom and options, something the old rules, the old way of life, doesn’t give her.
Paula sleeps with a man she’s not married to (remember this is the early 1960’s, before the pill, women’s lib, and women’s rights) but she acts like she’s married to him. Why? Because sexism. Ageism. Double standards. The story illustrates how societal strictures made women participants in our own oppression.
The romance with Phillip may or may not last, but he makes her happy. He truly loves her and appreciates her. He adores her. To Rogér she’s like a half-forgotten necktie that he wears sometimes.
Their blossoming romance is hit hard by reality when the Paula and Phillip take a weekend trip. They run into a family they know, and the questioning looks and rude comments are terrible. Paula is so upset she runs away to her room cutting the evening short.
What does Paula do? Who does she choose? Can she choose her own happiness over “propriety?”
Perkins’s performance is the standout here, especially so watching it all these years after he’s become defined by his role as Norman Bates in Psycho icon. He is believable and his mad passion and emotional volatility deeply affecting.
Bergman is perfection as the sophisticated, ladylike modern woman who values propriety more than her own happiness, and Yves Montand is perfectly nauseating (that is to say perfect) as the faithless horndog that moms everywhere warn their daughters about.
For some reason, this film is nearly impossible to find on disc or for streaming. I found one copy of the DVD which and almost no streaming options. I found one free stream, linked below. I’m not sure how long it will be there. If you find other sources please let me know in the comments.
The soundtrack is also available on Spotify.