Kevin Billington’s debut benefitted from a brief fad for classical music soundtracks, Elvira Madigan kicking off the fashion the year before, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which opened at the same time as Interlude, trumping everything in sight. And as luck would have it, this was not the only movie about an orchestra conductor, Counterpoint with Charlton Heston released in America a couple of months before this one opened in Britain.
What makes the movie so enjoyable is that overlaying the sumptuous love story is the angst of a mistress. It’s sweetly set in wonderful British locations, riverside inns, olde worlde hotels, trendy restaurants, a few flashes of swinging London, luxurious mansions. The solid backdrop for something as fragile as romance.
There could not be two more opposites to attract, the rich Oskar Werner (Jules and Jim, 1962) in full-on arrogant mode, all dark glasses and leather gloves with enough petulance to sink a barge, and journalist Barbara Ferris (off screens since the lamentable Catch Us If You Can three years before) who lives in a bedsit with a goldfish called Rover. He drives a Rolls-Royce convertible, she a Mini.
There are some very good touches. We first see the characters in mirrors. He plays a “concerto for wine glass and index finger.” There is the very serious British business of whether milk goes in first to a cup of tea.
The screenplay by Lee Langley and Irish playwright Hugh Leonard is sharp and often witty. “I want to marry you,” says Ferris, before conceding, “I just don’t want to be your wife.” There is clear realization of the nature of his personality in her remark, “Instead of being what you want, I’ll be what you’ve got.”
Even when emotion is expressed there is a feeling that a lot is still suppressed. Ferris goes from high excitement to high dudgeon and carries within the seed of fear, a character who spends as much time in terror as in love. This is exacerbated when she spots of Werner’s wife, stoically played by Virginia Maskell, at the hairdressers and “all of the sudden” the wife who has existed in her imagination “has a face.”
John Cleese and Donald Sutherland have decent cameos, the former in a bit of an in-joke as a PR man wanting to get into comedy (“satire – that’s my field”), the latter as the womanizing brother of Werner’s wife.
Oddly enough, the music – Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Dvorak, Brahms and Rachmaninov – acts in the same manner as Easy Rider the following year, as extensive interludes to the developing drama. Perhaps it is where Dennis Hopper got the idea.
It is very rounded for a romance, the acting excellent and the undernote of despair well-wrought.
4 thoughts on “Interlude (1966) ****”
You make some interesting points here. I haven’t seen this, though I’ve always been aware of it. There are a couple of confusing things for me. I was intrigued by your observation that this Interlude opened at the same time as 2001. I searched for the Monthly Film Bulletin review and found it in November 1968, a full year after it was classified by the BBFC. 2001 opened in May 1968, I think, and Elvira Madigan in mid-April 1968 in the UK at the Academy.
I note that IMDB suggests that Billington’s film is a remake of Douglas Sirk’s Interlude from 1957, which in turn was a remake of John Stahl’s When Tomorrow Comes (1939). Such remakes were common for Sirk and he remade other Stahl films for Universal. The script is listed to have been based on a James M. Cain story. Billington’s film has the same basic plot with a European conductor, a sick wife and a young woman he romances but it’s a Columbia production in the UK. What do you think? Is it the same property?
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According to Imdb Interlude had its world premiere in London in May 1968, the same month as 2001. I don’t think it was a success and probably struggled to get any kind of general release. I have been tracking release dates in Glasgow – Counterpoint opened in May, but 2001 didn’t appear till July. Interlude supported by To Sir With Love opened at the poorest of the city’s first run venues – Green’s Playhouse – in November. Elvira Madigan didn’t reach Glasgow till 1969.
It does sound suspiciously like the Sirk – and James M. Cain receives a credit – but there was another romantic subplot to the Sirk. It would be unusual for Columbia to be able to pick up an Universal property, but copyright on the original material could have elapsed, leaving the field free.
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Well, you’ve caught me out, I’ve not seen this one and you make a great case for it; if nothing else, it’s the answer to the trivia question of which film featured Sutherland and Cleese.
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Surprised they didn;t team again.