Friday, August 26, 2011

'A Walk in the Spring Rain'

Tonight I am watching a movie that was partially filmed in my hometown.

The picture is "A Walk in the Spring Rain." It was shot in Knoxville, Cades Cove and Gatlinburg, Tenn., in 1969 and stars Fritz Weaver, Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn. Aside from getting to see a beautiful Bergman in the twilight of her career, and glimpses of what several familiar locations looked like 40 years ago, there's not much to say.

This movie could have been something of a classic. According to the Turner Classic Movies website, Bergman was intrigued by the film because she liked the story, wanted to work with Quinn again (they'd starred together in "The Visit" five years earlier) and had complained that few film roles were then being written for women of her age (she was 54 at the time).

The film focuses on a professor (Weaver) and his wife (Bergman) who travel to the Great Smoky Mountains so the professor can write a book during a year-long sabbatical. Quinn plays the man who rents the couple a home. He also falls in love with Bergman.

"A Walk in the Spring Rain" is an old-fashioned film even for 1970. In an era of raging sexual revolution ("The Graduate," for example, looks like soft porn compared to this), the film treats the extra-marital affair rather conservatively. Bergman was radiant even in middle age and Weaver and Quinn do the best they can. But the movie suffers from a weak script and careless direction by Guy Green, best known as being the cameraman for David Lean on "Great Expectations" and "Oliver Twist." One neat cultural note is that actor and martial arts legend Bruce Lee choreographed the fight scene between Quinn and his "son" (Tom Fielding, aka Tom Holland).

Gatlinburg was already beginning to become cluttered with the touristy clap-trap for which it's famous (yes, the Old Smoky Candy Kitchen is still there) and Ayres Hall on the UT campus looks exactly the same! (I wonder if the heat and air actually worked back then.) The Smokies are beautiful in any decade.

"A Walk in the Spring Rain" premiered in Knoxville at the Tennessee Theatre on April 9, 1970. Bergman sat next to Rachel Maddux, the author of the novel on which the film is based. Bergman later remembered that Maddux kept saying things like "What is this?" during the screening and at one point went to the restroom and cried.

Bergman wrote in her memoirs: "I went after her and tried to comfort her...The film had been a good try. We'd started off with such high hopes. I thought maybe we could do a film with that elusive feeling which 'Brief Encounter' [1945] had. We'd worked hard. We'd done our best and at the end of it we'd made Rachel Maddux cry."

I have had a crush on Ingrid Bergman since I first saw "Casablanca" as a kid. This film could have been so much more, a touching tale of broken dreams and middle-age regret. But as it is, it's a wasted opportunity, a classic example of a director biting off less than he could chew.

With this cast, he should have had a goldmine. Instead, he fell down the shaft.

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Blogger Dewayne said...


2:20 PM  

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