So I wrote at some length the other day about how I was looking forward seeing That Forsyte Woman after having read about Greer Garson and Errol Flynn's surprisingly cordial relationship on the set. I watched it before bed last night, which for me means I pressed play at 5 am so I apologize if I'm hazy on any of the details. The crux of the Garson birthday post came down to one question: "Will the Garson-Flynn off-screen camaraderie shine through and make it more worthwhile than I’m led to expect?" Well, yes and no.
If you are curious about THAT FORSYTE WOMAN in relation to other adaptations of The Forsyte Saga this article will not answer any of your questions.
This piece was written in 2010 before I had any meetings with the Forsytes outside of this film. I have since surrounded myself with Forsytes and will at some point create a new post based not only around this 1949 film but both the 1967 and 2003 mini-series and Galsworthy's original text.
That's a bit of a project so it may be some time yet. I do however invite you to continue reading the post below with explanation that it views the 1949 MGM film entirely as a stand-alone work.
I had never watched this movie before, nor had I ever read the original Galsworthy or watched the later mini-series based upon it. My expectations were based entirely upon the cast, namely Garson, Flynn, Walter Pidgeon, Robert Young and Janet Leigh.
Because of those names I was expecting the occasional moment of, well, not exactly zaniness, but more of a glint in either Garson or especially Flynn's eye. No, that wasn't there except maybe occasionally from black sheep Walter Pidgeon, otherwise That Forsyte Woman took itself very seriously throughout, too much so in fact. But what was interesting, and perhaps attributable to the Garson-Flynn camaraderie that I was so curious about, was that Errol Flynn actually gave the stand out performance in That Forsyte Woman.
Cast totally against type, far from his usual charmer, Flynn plays filthy rich serious minded Soames Forsyte, who at least by appearances sake is the only Forsyte left that actually does anything to sustain the families abundant fortune. In fact he and cousin Jolyon (Pidgeon) seem to be the only men left in the family under 60. While it likely would have made more sense to cast Flynn as ne'er do well Jolyon and Pidgeon as S.O.B. Soames that would have evaporated the most interesting element of the movie: Flynn.
Never cracking a smile throughout Soames buys whatever he wants including his wife, Irene (Garson), who has been quite up front about never having been in love with him in the first place. Soames doesn't care, he wants her and as the old story goes figures she'll fall for him over time. The successful Soames, well-manicured and more attentive to his wife than I would have expected, is however still a bit of a jerk.
His replies to others are short, often cutting, he has no patience for anyone and he's not too shy to let them know. He's most interesting in bidding for Irene's affections, though Soames also shows us his worst moment one on one with Irene when he wrongly accuses her of forgetting their anniversary. While humorless Flynn's Soames is by no means a bad person, just one who'd be difficult to get along with, and much to my surprise Errol Flynn, who I like as an actor and love as a force of personality is all about the former without resorting to the latter as Soames Forsyte.
That Forsyte Woman is basically a love triangle with a few extra sides. Soames loves Irene, June (Janet Leigh) loves Philip Bosinney (a smarmy Robert Young), Philip loves Irene and Irene loves Philip, but that can't happen because of June, and, oh yeah, Jolyon also falls for Irene.
Yep, Greer Garson has the attention of all the men in the room while Janet Leigh is related to most of them and too young to be more than a passing fad for Philip. Garson's Irene tolerates Soames and resists Philip best she can completely for the sake of June who has become her favorite Forsyte family member. Complicating matters for Irene are her occasional run-ins with the polite Jolyon who has been completely ostracized from the rest of the Forsyte clan but wants to at least get to know his daughter again. That daughter is June.
While for obvious reasons That Forsyte Woman is billed as a Garson-Flynn film, as the title suggests the film really revolves around Greer Garson. In fact, co-billed Flynn's role is subordinate and there's no reason not to mentally file this as just another Garson-Pidgeon entry, though at the same time Flynn is so different and excellent at being different that the idea has sort of settled into my head that he's stolen this one.
Overall not a great movie though and while I don't like to rate the films I watch when they're far from outstanding I at least feel the responsibility to warn it's not for everyone. If I had a four star scale this would probably rate itself two, no more than 2 and a half. But chalk up a four or a hair under for Flynn on a personal note.
Knowing what I know now (in mid-2012) part of me wishes I had waited to write this. The problem is that I'm still not ready to do so.
Having watched the 1967 series three times since; begun the 2003 series; and finding myself approximately halfway through "A Man of Property" in Galsworthy's original text, this 1949 MGM film suffers badly by comparison.
It is the least substantial version of the Forsytes.
But because I came to the Forsytes through the 1949 film I am glad that I captured my original thoughts about it. I don't know how helpful they will be to anyone but myself, though I expect it will serve its purpose if this is your first meeting of the Forsytes as well.
If it is, I will say that it is well worth forging ahead and getting to know them better. There is much more to the story!
Lou Ann says
Enjoyed your comments on That Forsythe Woman. I love the movie and especially love Flynn’s performance – one of his best I think.
Thanks for your insight.
Cliff Aliperti says
Thank you, Lou Ann. I actually hadn’t even planned on writing about That Forsyte Woman when I watched it, but was so pleasantly surprised and energized after watching it that I couldn’t contain myself! As a big fan of Flynn’s better known adventure movies I was very skeptical going in but wound up being extremely impressed by him. I’d written about Captain Blood a few weeks prior to this and plan to post more about Flynn’s films in coming months.
We’re linking to your article for Greer Garson Tuesday at SeminalCinemaOutfit.com
Keep up the good work!
Cliff Aliperti says
Thanks, guys, I appreciate the kind words, and the link, of course.
Post is here for others who’d like to visit it: http://seminalcinemaoutfit.com/2014/10/15/forsyte-bennett/
Ruth Daigneault says
I realize this is ten years since your review was written, but I did enjoy reading it and certainly think this was Flynn’s best performance ever. Something happened in the dialogue that doesn’t appear to have been picked up by anyone but me, wee anywhere I’ve read, that is. In the scene where Soames and Irene are getting ready for a party, Soames calls her over to fix his tie. While she’s doing it, he tries to pull her closer, but she pulls back saying she can’t fix the tie when she’s that close. Soames says “Why can’t you be like other men’s wives? Everyone has noticed how you behave. I imagine even Soames has noticed.” I may have a few words mixed up, but without question, Flynn makes a goof-up in his line. I would be hard-pressed to think this was correct.
Soames says that even the servants have noticed
Terrific review, and it’s too bad this movie derogates from Galsworthy’s trilogy because the Forsyte Saga is such a joy to read. Greer Garson projects this sober glamour that’s really fascinating but it’s all wasted because she’s forced to act with Robert Young who’s atrocious. All of the American actors here are terrible except Janet Leigh (though she’s much too lovely to be June, who I read as a wealthy young magpie rather than a pretty young thing). And Errol Flynn is a small revelation, he makes Soames look substantial and by the end I felt sorry for him, poor egomaniac. The big difference here is in the trilogy Soames is guilty of heinous behavior in a moment of heat (which propels the whole story) and that’s not even hinted at in the movie…