Classic Film Guide

Story of Three Loves, The (1953)

Co-directed by Vincente Minnelli (Gigi (1958)), the middle segment & Gottfried Reinhardt, the first and third segments, with some adaptation and writing credited to George Froeschel (Mrs. Miniver (1942)), this three part film tells different stories thinly connected by at least one person from each as a passenger on an ocean liner: three time Oscar nominee James Mason, twice nominated Leslie Caron, and three time Best Actor nominee Kirk Douglas. The first segment features Mason as a ballet producer who discovers a true artist in weak hearted Moira Shearer; the second (and weakest) segment has Caron playing a nanny who is temporarily romanced by Farley Granger; the third, the longest & best segment, finds Douglas perfectly cast as an athletic, intense man that becomes involved with Pier Angeli’s character, after she'd attempted suicide. Overall, this anthology is only slightly above average, but it does include performances from several other fairly well known character actors: four time Best Supporting Actress nominee Agnes Moorehead; Ethel Barrymore (None But the Lonely Heart (1944)), Zsa Zsa Gabor & Ricky Nelson; and Richard Anderson, respectively.

The film begins with Charles Coutray (Mason) being approached by a fan whose words cause him to reflect on the greatest ballet artist he'd ever known. Each of the rest of the segments begin this way also, with Caron and then Douglas reflecting on something from their recent pasts. At the end of each segment, the film returns to this passenger and segues to the next, with the return to Douglas's character ending it. Coutray remembers Paula Woodward (Shearer), the niece of an ex-prima ballerina (Moorehead), whom he saw auditioning one day for one of his ballets. Woodward's ability to capture the moment, in effect becoming one with the music to represent the very art itself, was spoiled when she fell to the floor, whereupon he returned to his conversation and preparatory work. We then learn from her doctor through a scene with her aunt that Paula has a weak heart which makes it impossible for her to pursue her dream, so she gives it up. Later, she watches from a box, failing (if she was even attempting) to conceal her melancholy as she watches the ballet's opening night. Long after everyone has left, she awakens from her daze to realize that it's over, but decides to venture onto the stage. She then performs a capella, her interpretation of the ballet's "Rhapsody On a Theme of Paganini". Unknown to her, Coutray has witnessed it and is captivated. Though she is hesitant, he persuades her to return with him to his studio apartment where, after changing into costume, she performs again. It's a life fulfilling experience for both of them, and they briefly kiss. But, as he starts to make plans for her future on stage while she is presumably changing back into her fancy clothes, Paula sneaks out and runs home to tell her aunt what had transpired. Back on the cruise ship, Coutray’s face expresses his loss.

Caron's character overhears another woman lamenting the fact that she's a governess, which harkens the mademoiselle back to the last day & night when she was taking care of a wealthy couple's son Tommy (Nelson). The boy is frustrated by all the school work, and the mademoiselle, and wishes he were ten years older. When another boy challenges his courage saying the pampered student would be too scared to go see an old woman thought to be a witch, Tommy takes him up on it and ends up meeting Mrs. Hazel Pennicott (Barrymore). Pennicott is aware of the rumors about her witchcraft, and after learning about Tommy's desire to be older, offers to help him like Cinderella's Fairy Godmother did. She tells him how to use a red ribbon she gives him to transform himself into a young man until midnight that evening. Impatient to try it out, he rushes home and offends the mademoiselle who exits his bedroom in tears. He then becomes Thomas (Granger), who briefly flirts with a woman (Gabor) in the hotel's bar, before he finds the mademoiselle's book of poetry in the garden. He reads a passage out loud as he hadn't been able to as an eleven year old, and the nearby mademoiselle hears him. They have a brief, innocent romance before the bell begins to toll and Thomas must rush home, but not before promising to meet her at the station the next day. Of course, he does but he's eleven again. Before he can tell her anything, his father (Hayden Rorke, uncredited, from TV's I Dream of Jeannie) pulls him onto their departing train. Pennicott, who's also there, has a few words with the mademoiselle and then gives her the other half of the red ribbon. Back on the ocean liner, Caron's character is pensive, then must retrieve the windblown ribbon she'd been fingering.

Pierre Narval (Douglas) hears a man say "people often don't know what they want, and they're darn lucky if they ever find out, and some never do". This causes him to remember the day he rescued Nina Burkhardt (Angeli) from the Seine, the river in Paris she'd jumped into to kill herself. Later, when he visits her at the hospital, he learns that her husband was killed in a concentration camp. He also learns that she'd once been a ski jumper at Innsbruck. When she says "it's all about balance and timing", it gives him and idea. We learn that he used to be a great trapeze artist until he'd failed to catch his partner, that had fallen in love with him and thus lost her concentration. Anderson plays his piano playing brother in a family (including his "girlfriend") which otherwise doesn't seem to support Pierre's desire to return, after two years, to the sport of his passion. However, given the opportunity to begin a whole new life for herself, Nina arrives to submit herself to Pierre's patient tutelage. She's a quick learner and soon they are ready to schedule an exhibition before the circus's money men. Unfortunately, Nina's past catches up with her - a man who knew her husband arrives and gives her a package, which causes her to lay in her bed quietly, responding to no one. Eventually, Pierre learns the source of her guilt and the real reason for her attempted suicide, he also declares his devotion to her. When he returns to the trapeze, he is in his street clothes, though he can't resist doing a few stunts with his "catcher" Jacques (Ken Anderson, uncredited). Nina arrives and it is decided that "the show must go on". Now they must run through their routine for Legay (Steven Geray, uncredited) et al to be signed as an act but, of course, Jacques informs Pierre that Nina's timing isn't what it once was. Some climactic acrobatics follow, but I'm not telling you how this segment, or the film itself, ends either.

Though I've given much of the plot above, I've also (intentionally) left out some key, concluding elements from each segment such that your viewing of this film will not be completely "spoiled".  Plus, though I've included this film in the "obscure" section of my website because of the lack of Internet reviews available for it, it did receive an Academy Award nomination for Color Art Direction-Set Decoration.

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