Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
1955 Version: Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1, languages: English Digital Mono [CC], subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, double side-single layer, 28 chapters, Production Notes, Bonus Trailers, 1999 Version Making-Of Featurette, Talent Files, rated NR, 105 min., $24.95, street date 5/16/2000.
1999 Special Edition: Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], subtitles: English, single side-dual layer, 28 chapters, rated R, 101 min., $27.95, street date 5/16/2000.
1995 Version: Directed by Edward Dmytryk. Starring Van Johnson, Deborah Kerr, John Mills, Peter Cushing, Michael Goodliffe, Stephen Murray.
From the novel by Graham Greene comes this story of star-crossed lovers whose short affair begins and ends as tumultuously as the war that is its backdrop.
In England during the second World War, Sarah Miles (Deborah Kerr) is the bored wife of a British civil servent. When Mr. Miles introduces her to American writer Maurice Bendrix (Van Johnson) at one of the couple's cocktail parties, she is unable to deny her attraction to him, or to resist his interest in her.
Almost as quickly as the two become deeply involved, spinning their dreams into plans for a long future together, Sarah mysteriously brings their affair to an end. With the help of a private detective (Albert Parks), Maurice sets out to find out why: did Sarah never love Maurice, or did she love him too much?
1999 Version: Directed by Neil Jordan. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea, Ian Hart, Jason Isaacs.
Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Actress-Julianne Moore, Best Cinematography, 2000.
From the acclaimed director of The Crying Game and Interview With The Vampire comes a romantic story of desire and betrayal. The setting is war-torn England, 1939. Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore) is married to Henry (Stephen Rea), a man she loves but with whom she shares no intimacy. When she meets Maurice Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes), the two have an immediate attraction for each other and embark on a torrid affair. Their passion is as earth-shattering as the bombs that explode around them, until the day Sarah mysteriously and abruptly walks out of Maurice's life. Two years later, Maurice runs into Henry, who confides his suspicions of Sarah's infidelity. Fueled by his own jealousy and desperate to solve the mystery surrounding the end of their own romance, Maurice agrees to help. His investigation not only re-ignites his love for Sarah but also leads him to discover a devastating secret which will change their lives forever.
Here's a conundrum: when confronted with different versions of the same story, which should I watch first? This happened when I received copies of two different tellings of The End of the Affair; one is from 1955 and the other comes from 1999. I had never seen either, and in fact I knew almost nothing about the story, so which should I make my initial entry into the saga?
I went with the earlier version as my first experience for one reason: I thought it'd be easier for me to go from old to new than vice versa. I was afraid I'd make too many negative assessments of the 1955 edition based on the more modern techniques in the 1999 one, so I decided it'd make for a smoother transition if I went from past to present.
As such, I popped in the 1955 release and gave it a look. At first I was dispirited because the film looked as though it would be a pretty bland romance, and though its setting in World War II-era Britain should have interested me - that period has always been one that I've studied - it didn't seem enough to make the story work for me.
However, the plot took off in a surprising direction pretty quickly, and what started out as a ho-hum love story became more compelling as complications arose. These matters get explained through the remainder of the film, and it really more closely resembles a mystery for the most part; I was fairly interested to see how matters would evolve. The film concludes in a way that seemed satisfying and appropriate.
All in all, I found the 1955 version of TEOTA to offer a fairly enjoyable experience that was more compelling that I expected. I figure I would have liked it much more, however, were it not for the bland presences of our lead actors, Deborah Kerr (as Sarah Miles) and Van Johnson (as Maurice Bendrix). Neither provides the depth and strength of character to manifest the complicated natures of these two characters. Kerr works up a storm to try to make Sarah appropriately mysterious and broad, but she just looks shifty most of the time, and Johnson simply seems like a big lug who should be out arm-wrestling someone; he doesn't possess anywhere near the depth needed to convey the conflicting emotions in Bendrix.
A strong supporting cast helps make the film more effective. Peter Cushing is good as Sarah's bland husband Henry; Cushing makes the character believably mushy but not an unlikable simp. Michael Goodliffe also contributes a fine turn as bitter anti-religious crusader Smythe, and John Mills provides an absolutely fantastic piece of work as somewhat scatter-brained but still effective private investigator Parkis; in his few minutes of screen time, he imbues Parkis with more life and character than Kerr and Johnson can muster combined. (Oddly, both the case of this DVD and IMDB claim the character's name is "Parks"; however, the credits clearly say "Parkis".)
The same negative comments cannot be made for the acting of the leads in the 1999 edition of The End of the Affair, for Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore are more than able to invest their parts with passion and drama. Unfortunately, I found that the alterations to the story made their work somewhat in vain.
Admittedly, it's tough to watch the same story told differently twice in a row, and that is literally how I viewed these films; I checked out the 1955 version, wrote my statements about it (I didn't want to wait and have my impressions of the 1999 film alter them) and I then took in the 1999 movie. When viewed in this manner, even if the second version improves upon the first, there's a natural tendency to see changes as being mistakes, as though the remake should exactly duplicate the original.
As such, I gave a lot of thought to my impressions of the 1999 edition and tried to reason out how the alterations affected the story. Make no mistake: while the story and most of the characters are the same, the 1999 version greatly changes the tale.
It's very difficult to describe these alterations without offering spoilers - something I try to avoid - but I'll try. Some changes are easy to discuss. For one, the 1955 movie takes place mainly in chronological order; a few flashbacks occur, but most of it goes in the natural sequence. This differs in the remake, which is almost entirely told in flashback. These memories jump from period to period, so the time frame is never consistent.
I disliked that change because it completely eliminated the drama from the piece. In the original, we see the story evolve and we don't know where it will go, but the remake essentially presents the pieces and backtracks to explain them. This greatly changes the tone of the movie; whereas the 1955 picture came across as a mystery and a documentation of a woman's exploration of faith, the 1999 version stands much more strongly as a conventional romance; the film echoes the "once in a lifetime love" grandeur of The English Patient.
The original definitely depicted the romance as being special, but that aspect seemed somewhat secondary to the story's investigation of the other matters; here the love excludes all else. Maybe this is a guy thing; I'd much rather watch a mystery than a romance, so I found the former to be more compelling. Nonetheless, I really do think the story works better in that context, as it makes the film more unique and separates it from the pack; the new version comes across as nothing more than a rip-off of The English Patient (a feeling intensified by the dour presence of Fiennes).
Characters differ in the new version as well. It eliminates some (like Sarah's mother) and transmogrifies others; Smythe transfers in name only, as this film's Smythe is actually a priest. (A priest appeared in the first version as well, but he and Smythe were somewhat indirect competitors, whereas no such duel exists here.) Smythe's birthmark also makes it into the new film, but it now appears on Parkis' son, and he and his father both enjoy much larger roles.
As Henry, Stephen Rea offers a very different interpretation of the part. Cushing's character was fairly milquetoast but warm and likable, whereas Rea's version is much colder and more distant. The 1999 film works much harder to justify the affair, probably because this edition puts a much greater emphasis on the romantic aspects of the story. In the original, the love affair almost seemed secondary to the other elements but here it's the primary - and almost only - focus.
Of course, since this is a modern telling, the love scenes are more numerous and more graphic than the mild kissing in the original. In and of itself, that wasn't a bad thing, though I didn't like the new emphasis on the affair itself; the problem stemmed from the fact that these changes really did overemphasize those aspects of the plot.
I could go on about additional changes, and while I'd like to do so because it would make it much easier for me to enumerate the reasons I disliked the remake, I'll stop to ensure I don't ruin the story for those who haven't seen it. Suffice it to say that I thought the original seemed more satisfying and complete, whereas the new one comes across more as a lush romantic epic without anything as profound. The first integrated the themes of faith and loves more effectively, whereas the remake involves them more as cheap gimmicks (particularly in regard to one huge difference between the two, something that involves Parkis' son's birthmark).
By the way, I have no personal idea which edition more closely mirrors the original Graham Greene novel, though I'd expect that the new one probably does; from what I've heard others say, it sounds as though the 1999 version sticks more closely to the novel. In my opinion, faithfulness to the book is irrelevant. Many people use the notion of how well a movie duplicates the work from which it is adapted as a sign of quality; they feel that the version that sticks to the original story the most closely has to be the best. I disagree; film and print are radically different media, and just because something works on the page doesn't mean it'll seem good on the screen. Whatever the case may be, I thought the 1955 version of TEOTA offered a more satisfying and compelling storyline. Moore and Fiennes act rings around Kerr and Johnson, but other than that, I prefer the original.
The End of the Affair (1955) appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen version was reviewed for this article. Although acceptable for such an old movie, the picture sports a fair number of weaknesses.
Sharpness seems generally quite good, with only some mild instances of softness on occasion. Most of these appear due to the use of soft focus for shots of Kerr; this technique doesn't look to be utilized heavily - unlike in some Hitchcock movies - but it seems to make a slight difference and it casts many images of Kerr in a vaguely hazy light. I noticed no moiré effects or jagged edges, and artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV were extremely minor.
Print flaws were more of a concern. The film usually seemed fairly grainy, and speckling was a consistent nuisance. I also witnessed a fair number of scratches and spots, though these didn't occur with the frequency of the speckles. Black levels generally seemed deep and rich, though they could look a bit flat and gray at times. Shadow detail also varied; it usually was well-balanced and appropriate, but some scenes appeared somewhat washed-out and overly opaque. All in all, the 1955 version of the film seems eminently watchable and reasonably good but its flaws bring it down to "C"-level.
The monaural soundtrack also betrays a number of concerns. Dialogue appeared intelligible at all times but could sound rather rough and harsh; distortion wasn't severe but the speech seemed overly edgy. Music appeared flat and lifeless, with a small amount of the harshness that affected the dialogue; I thought the score seemed too bright and it lacked any low end. Effects were more convincing - though still fairly bland and thin - and they actually provide the film's sonic highlight; during an air raid scene, the bass response accorded the bombs and the planes is surprisingly strong. It doesn't make up for the soundtrack's flaws, but at least it added one nice aural moment.
The 1955 edition's DVD lacks much in the way of supplements. We find "Talent Files" for Kerr, Johnson, and director Dmytryk; as is typical of Columbia-Tristar releases, these are so brief that they're nearly useless. Trailers appear for the 1999 version of TEOTA, plus previews for other Dmytryk efforts Alvarez Kelly and The Caine Mutiny.
Finally, it also tosses in a decent five-minute featurette created for the 1999 version. This program packs a good amount of content into its brief running time; we hear some mildly interesting snippets of interviews with the director and the principal actors. Surprisingly, the DVD does not contain a booklet, which differs from most CTS packages; instead, it only offers a one-page listing of chapter stops.
The End of the Affair (1999) appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen version was reviewed for this article. (This setup is unusual for Columbia-Tristar DVDs; while they often provide both fullscreen and letterboxed versions, they almost always are on dual-sided discs. In this case, when you hit "play", you go to a menu that lets you select which you'd like.) The picture possesses some flaws, but most actually seem due to the style of photography and the transfer itself appears true to the director's intentions.
Sharpness can be variable but this looks to be the result of the photography. Many interior scenes feature a hazy, foggy look that lends a delicate softness to the image; the film seems to want to offer a light, fragile picture and this fuzziness contributes to that effect. For the most part, the sharpness seems just fine, but the fogginess can make it look rather soft at times. Moiré effects and jagged edges seemed absent, and I noted few instances of artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV.
The print itself appears clean and fresh; I detected no signs of grain, scratches, speckles or other flaws. Colors tend to be subdued but look accurate and well-saturated; the film offers some rich reds at times that work effectively. Black levels tend to also seem deep and dark, and shadow detail appeared clear and appropriately heavy. The softness can distract at times, but the image ultimately seems very good.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't the most ambitious, but it provided some effective audio at times. Perhaps not coincidentally, this mix's high points mirror those of the original film's soundtrack. The scenes in which planes bomb London are easily the best sonic portions of the mix. The bombers buzz around outside convincingly, and the explosions pack a serious punch; the really blast through nicely and surround the viewer with their effects. The remainder of the mix is much more modest; the score uses the front channels well and spreads to the rears to a limited degree, and the remainder of the track follows suit. I detected a decent forward soundstage and minor use of the rears for most of the track other than the bombing raids; with those exceptions, the audio seems fairly appropriately for the project but nothing terribly interesting.
Quality appears consistently very good. Except for a couple of noticeably dubbed lines, the dialogue integrates nicely into the action and it seems clear and natural. Music is lush and smooth and appears well-recorded, and effects are clean and realistic, especially the aforementioned bombing raids. Sorry if I've gone on too much about those, but they really did make a huge difference; without their sonic marvels, I would have dropped my rating to a "B" or "B-", and even a "C+" was a possibility at one point. As it stands, the mix earns a solid "B+".
While this DVD doesn't quite qualify as a true special edition, it does feature a few interesting supplements. We get two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Neil Jordan. On the surface, this is a solid track. Jordan covers all of the appropriate subjects such as nuances of the story, the way the film compares and differs from the novel, and various technical aspects. He discusses all of these clearly and competently.
However, I didn't like this commentary for one simple reason: it's one of the few I've heard that make me see the film in question more negatively than I'd felt prior. Usually it works the opposite way; most of the time my enjoyment of a film grows when I listen to an audio commentary. Jordan's comments so frequently seem arrogant and smug, however, that his attitude made me much less fond of the picture. (For the record, I listened to the commentary after I wrote my review of the film itself, so Jordan's statements did not sway the opinions you already read.)
Jordan doesn't offer all that many annoying statements, but they are just enough to sour me on his attitude. He seems so in love with his creation that he comes across as rather obnoxious at times. I intensely disliked his chauvinistic comments about Americans; at one point, he indicates that he doesn't know if Americans understand why a disagreement isn't settled through violence, as though all of us shoot first and ask questions later. I think the fact Jordan's Irish - not exactly the most peaceful country you'll find - makes his condescension all the more egregious.
I also disliked Jordan's disdain of other works. He doesn't mention the original version of the film until 70 minutes into the commentary, and even then he quickly dismisses it. Some of his criticisms are valid - Van Johnson was completely wrong for the role - but his main reason for his opinion seems to stem from the ways that the 1955 film differs from the book. It seems that deviations are fine when Jordan does them - he mentions a few during the track - but unforgivable when performed by others. He even inserts another anti-American jab as well! Jordan seems rather self-infatuated and arrogant, and while his commentary was generally informative, its ultimate effect was negative.
(One final odd note about Jordan's commentary: at one point, he states that Parkis' son doesn't have a name in either the novel or the movie; instead, according to Jordan, younger Parkis is always called "my boy." I can't comment on the book but this is clearly not true about the film. In both the 1999 and 1955 versions, he is called "Lancelot"; in fact, both movies utilize the same joke (Parkis named him after the wrong knight). How in the world could the director mess up this fact? I'd only watched the movie twice and I knew his name was "Lancelot" - how could someone who wrote, filmed and rescreened the thing countless times not remember his character had a name?!)
The second commentary features actress Julianne Moore. This is a fairly bland affair but Moore includes some interesting remarks on occasion. For the most part, her discussion seems overly descriptive; she spends too much time essentially describing what we see on the screen. I also found that the track suffers from too many empty spots. Still, Moore does periodically say something compelling, and she offers enough insight into her craft to make the track worth a listen.
Some standard features round out the package. We find the same five-minute featurette that also appeared on the 1955 edition, and we get trailers for the 1999 version of TEOTA and The Remains of the Day. The usual useless "Talent Files" can be found; here we get entries for Jordan and the three main actors. Finally, some brief but decent production notes can be found in the DVD's booklet.
Although no one will mistake the 1955 production of The End of the Affair for a classic, I found it to be a provocative and compelling film, one that is weighed down only by poor acting from its leads. Though the 1999 remake doesn't suffer from the same problem, I thought it offered less effective pacing and seemed too interested in luring in the English Patient crowd with its not-so-hot love scenes.
Unsurprisingly, the newer film makes for a better DVD; it provides very good picture and sound and also includes some interesting supplements. The 1955 picture only gives us mediocre audio and image and skimps badly on the extras. As such, I can't really recommend either DVD; I liked the 1955 film but think the DVD itself is not too good, and while the 1999 movie's DVD is strong, the film itself is weak. If you're curious, you could go for a rental on either title, but I can't endorse more than that.
Current as of 5/9/2000
Official Site--Includes behind-the-scene production, video clips, trailers, and stills.
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