The anthology film began as early as the 1920s in Germany and achieved a modicum of fame during the 1940s and 1950s. TALES OF MANHATTAN (1942) dramatizes the adventures of several people who come in contact with a certain tuxedo jacket. DEAD OF NIGHT (1945), a British horror anthology, involves intersecting stories of people who meet at an English country house. Many consider DEAD OF NIGHT the inspiration for the Amicus Studios portmanteau horror films of the 1960s and 1970s. FULL HOUSE features five stories written by O. Henry and introduced by John Steinbeck. Beginning with DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS in 1965, Amicus Productions made several anthology horror films including TORTURE GARDEN, ASYLUM, and VAULT OF HORROR. Neil Simon made the anthology comedies PLAZA SUITE (1971) and CALIFORNIA SUITE (1978). In 1995, Quentin Tarantino and three other directors made FOUR ROOMS which center on a hotel on New Year’s Eve. V/H/S (2012), its sequels, and THE ABCs OF DEATH (2012) use the anthology format for their horror-filled tales as well. Even this film, QUARTET, was followed in 1950 by TRIO, a set of three Maugham tales also introduced by the author.
Top: Maugham from QUARTET.
Bottom: Steinbeck from FULL HOUSE.
Introduced by W. Somerset Maugham, QUARTET tells four of the author’s stories. All four are set primarily in Britain, but cover a variety of subjects. The first, THE FACTS OF LIFE stars Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford, and Mai Zetterling in the story of a college student who travels to Monte Carlo for a tennis tournament and forgets all the advice his stuffy father gives him. Against Dad’s wishes, he gambles, lends money, and gets involved with a woman. We’re curious how these missteps will affect the young man. Will he fall prey to his vices or emerge from his adventures unscathed?
“I’ll stay away from women tomorrow, ok Dad?”
THE ALIEN CORN stars Dirk Bogarde as a young man from a wealthy family who dreams of becoming a concert pianist. He has just graduated from Oxford, so naturally his family has plans for him. Bogarde surprises them and the girl who loves him (Honor Blackman) when he mentions his musical desires, but they work out a bargain. Bogarde will study the piano in a French garret for two years. At the end of that time, he will play before a professional pianist. If that pianist thinks he shows promise, Bogarde will continue with his dream. If not, he will begin a career in law or politics as his family wishes. Bogarde does a wonderful job of expressing his passion for music. We watch him practice and dream and we root for him. As with the rest of the stories in this group, THE ALIEN CORN has a solid cast and an unexpected ending.
“Carry on, Pussy.”
In the third segment, THE KITE, George Cole plays Herbert Sunbury, a man with an unusual hobby. He loves kites. He and his parents, Hermione Baddeley and Mervyn Johns spend every Saturday afternoon at the park flying kites and many hours the rest of the week designing a special kite of their own. When he meets a girl who thinks his kite-flying is immature and silly, George must decide where his priorities lie. This story surprised me. I thought it might be the comic relief segment of the film, but it was a lot deeper than I originally thought. The cast of veteran character actors including Bernard Lee elevated what could have been an average story to something more.
Go fly a kite.
Lastly, THE COLONEL’S LADY, directed by Ken Annakin tells the story of a dutiful wife (Nora Swinburne) who writes a book. The romantic and sensual tale of a doomed love affair is a surprise hit and booksellers can’t keep it on the shelves. Her stuffy, self-important husband (Cecil Parker) can’t be bothered to read it. He’s too busy drinking at his club and nuzzling his mistress to pay attention to his wife until people begin to theorize that the love story may be her own. Now the colonel takes notice. This last story shows the most restraint and Nora Swinburne does a lovely job as the ignored wife. As with all four stories, the ending might surprise you.
“My wife has thoughts of her own?”
QUARTET boasts a wonderful cast of British character actors and short stories that hold your interest. Maugham has a way with angst as do the players. I’m a big fan of anthology films and this is a good one.