If Winter Comes (1947)
Directed by (twice Oscar nominated producer) Victor Saville this A.S.M. Hutchinson novel was adapted by Marguerite Roberts and Arthur Wimperis (Mrs. Miniver (1942)) into an average drama about a kind man whose actions are misinterpreted in his small conservative English town at the beginning of World War II. This man is a writer whose outspoken patriotic views earn him a great deal of respect in his community before circumstances and his own weaknesses conspire to tarnish his reputation. Walter Pidgeon perhaps a bit miscast plays this lead role of Mark Sabre; Angela Lansbury plays his shrewish wife Mabel. Deborah Kerr plays Nona the love of Mark’s life who before he’d married Mabel inexplicably married a richer man Tony Tyber (Hugh French) while abroad. Binnie Barnes plays Mabel’s best friend and town gossip Natalie Bagshaw. Janet Leigh (in only her second film) plays Effie Bright a young girl whose acquaintance with Mark is misconstrued by others. Mark treats her like the daughter he doesn’t have and even asks her to watch after an elderly friend of his Mrs. Perch (Dame May Whitty) when her son Freddie (Hughie Green) goes off to war. Unfortunately for Mark his publisher employer Mr. Fortune (Reginald Owen) and his partner Mr. Twyning (John Abbott) don’t like his liberal viewpoints so they’re desperately seeking a way to invoke the morals clause in his contract with them to fire him. Ironically Twyning’s son Harold (James Wethered) who was influenced to enlist by Mark’s patriotic editorials in Mr. Fargus’s (Victor Wood) newspaper is the one whose secretly been dating Effie.
René Ray & Virginia Keiley play Sarah & Rebecca dubbed ‘Low Jinks’ & ‘High Jinks’ respectively by Mark the delightful servants of the Sabre family. Rhys Williams plays Mr. Bright Effie’s religious father. Dennis Hoey represents one of the town’s voices a character who frequents the same pub as Mark Tiny Wilson. Elspeth Dudgeon plays Nona’s housekeeper and Ian Wolfe plays a doctor – both are uncredited.
Though it appears to others that Mark & Mabel Sabre are the perfect couple their marriage is a passionless one. In fact when Mark’s former sweetheart Nona returns to their small English town of Tidborough after three years away with husband Tony in tow his world is noticeably brightened even before he and she picnic together and restate their undying love for one another. Apparently Nona understands Mark’s writing and shares his viewpoints much more than Mabel ever did and she too is stuck in a passionless marriage with Tony. Mark & Nona begin to plan to leave their respective spouses before hers goes off to war and Nona feels that she must stay married to (and support) Tony. For her part Mabel had encouraged Mark to spend time with Nona in order to be sure that those “fires” were out. Later even though much the opposite is true Mabel convinces herself that she was right that Mark no longer cared for Nona. However when her husband acts differently even more distant than before per his guilty conscience (he still loves Nona) and Effie comes to live with them Mabel misreads the situation and leaves Mark. Effie turned to Mark because she’d been thrown out of the house by her pious father for being pregnant. Naturally Mark’s not the father but there’s an overabundance of circumstantial evidence to the contrary. When Effie receives a telegram that Mabel has named her a respondent (e.g. the baby is Mark’s) in divorce proceedings she commits suicide. Now all of Mark’s “enemies” have what they need to crucify him. Nicholas Joy plays Mr. Pettigrew a lawyer who represents Effie’s father in a hearing – proceedings against Mark who’s accused of killing her.
My main problem with this film besides the fact that it begins as one thing – a forbidden love between Mark & Nona – and makes a quick turn into something completely different is that the characters are unrealistic. Though Mark is flawed by his love for Nona it’s an unrequited one and his other actions are too saintly to be believable; he’s portrayed as a (near) lily-white altruistic “do good”-er of epic proportions. On the other hand those who would like to bring Mark down (his employers his wife Effie’s father etc.) are also too one dimensional – their motivations are too simple based on money or ill placed jealousy – such that (in the end) it feels rather contrived. If the film was released 50 years later it would appear to be a naive parable about our 42nd President!