|The Passionate Stranger|
UK 1-sheet poster
|Directed by||Muriel Box|
|Produced by||Peter Rogers|
|Written by||Muriel Box|
|Music by||Humphrey Searle|
|Distributed by||British Lion Films|
The Passionate Stranger (U.S. A Novel Affair) is a 1957 British drama film, directed by Muriel Box and starring Margaret Leighton and Ralph Richardson. It uses the film within a film device, with the "real" part of the plot shot in black-and-white and the "fictional" element in colour. The interior scenes were shot at Shepperton Studios, with location filming taking place at Chilworth, Surrey.
Box stated that the film was intended "to debunk the sentimental novel...a mild satire on romance as opposed to reality, and the unhappy consequences of confusing the two".
Carlo, an Italian man walks up the drive of an English country mansion with a letter inviting him to come as a chauffeur. The mistress of the house knows nothing of the letter.
Judith Wynter (Leighton) is a novelist who pens torrid escapist romantic fiction for the popular women's market, although in real life she is a respectable, unassuming woman, happily married to husband Roger (Richardson) who has been stricken with polio that leaves him immobile. She uses people she knows and situations she encounters as the raw material for her fictional flights of fancy. Recovering from a bout of writer's block, Judith pens the rough draft of her latest novel. Titled The Passionate Stranger, her latest work is a lurid tale of a bored and unsatisfied woman, with a pompous, disabled husband she despises, who embarks on a wild affair with her Italian chauffeur and finds herself expecting his child, resulting in the husband dismissing the chauffeur, who vows revenge, and matters escalate melodramatically towards a deadly conclusion.
The Wynters' new Italian chauffeur Carlo (Carlo Giustini) stumbles on the manuscript, reads it, and jumps to the conclusion that it is wish fulfillment on Judith's part. Assuming that she harbours a repressed passion for him, he begins trying to signal to her that he knows and understands. To Judith's bewilderment and horror, he starts to attempt to recreate situations and conversations from the novel. Feeling extremely uncomfortable, she brushes off his attentions and he becomes confused and angry. Meanwhile, Roger is fully aware of the situation and revels in his amusement at his wife's excruciating embarrassment and Carlo's absurdly misinformed assumptions.
In the fictional option the chauffeur is driving the mistress back from her piano recital at the Royal Festival Hall in London when a tyre bursts. They are obliged to rent rooms in a small village pub. When she phones her husband Lord Hathaway he is very cold and is only concerned about his need for the car in the next morning. Lady Hathaway decides to join the chauffeur at a local fete where they dance together. Mario seduces her at the end of the evening. When they return Lord Hathaway wishes to fire Mario. Lord Hathaway is shocked when after a faint the doctor informs Lord Hathaway that his wife is pregnant. When she confesses it is Mario's he suggest that they dismiss him and raise the child as their own. Mario learns through his lover, the maid, that Lady Hathaway is pregnant. She says she is to loyal to her husband to leave him so Mario plots to kill him, sabotaging his wheelchair. He tricks him into heading to the summerhouse which involves a slope. Lady Hathaway finds him floating in the lake.
Back in reality, having read this passionate story, Carlo puts sugar in the petrol tank hoping the car will break down. It does but his plan goes wrong as Lady Wynter refuses to leave the car. A friend passes and takes her home leaving Carlo with the useless car. when he eventually reaches the pub where Lady Wynter was taken he establishes there is a dance in the village but it is in the British Legion not in a meadow as in the fiction. He cannot persuade her to leave the pub. He finds the dance boring on his own. When they go home Lady W tells her husband that the pub landlord spotted Carlo wandering around the garden in the dark.
When Carlo proclaims his love and stresses her husband's inability to have children se says he is quite wrong: they have two boys away at boarding school who are returning the next day. Lady W wishes Carlo fired but Lord W says no.
When a wheelchair ends in the lake Lady W at first thinks Carlo has enacted the plot but in fact her son ran it into the lake and Carlo has rescued him. Lady W is most grateful. Carlo expresses his undying love to her.
Then, he sadly leaves. He runs to catch his bus, sits down and finds himself next to the maid. Looks pass between them, and Carlo looks thoughtful. The picture ends, and the viewer is left wondering whether perhaps he wasn't quite as in love with Lady W as he thought, and whether, again perhaps, something might happen between him and the maid.
Leighton's casting was announced in May, 1956.
New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther understood the writers' intention, but described the premise as "thin and even tedious" and remarked that the lengthy central fantasy sequence "is so ponderous, and it so completely outweighs the little black-and-white whimsy that surrounds it, that it drags down the whole idea." He did, however, concede that "thanks to adroit performances by Miss Leighton and Sir Ralph...this little bit of nonsense from Muriel and Sydney Box is not quite as flimsy and pretentious as it may at first sound." Allmovie described the film as "something of a comic precursor to The French Lieutenant's Woman". Sky Movies commented that "Ralph Richardson delivers more than the script can reasonably expect."
- Spicer, Andrew (5 September 2006). Sydney Box. ISBN 9780719059995.
- Sydney Box Spicer, Andrew. Manchester University Press, 2006, p.162 ISBN 0-7190-5999-2
- "Margaret Leighton Set for New British Pic". Variety. June 1956. p. 14.
- The Passionate Stranger Crowther, Bosley. New York Times, 28-08-1957. Retrieved 30-10-2010
- "A Novel Affair (1957) - Trailers, Reviews, Synopsis, Showtimes and Cast". AllMovie. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
- "The Passionate Stranger - Sky Movies HD". Skymovies.sky.com. 8 August 2003. Retrieved 25 June 2014.