Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Captain's Paradise

I don’t know why, but it always comes as a surprise to find out that something or someone I thought I had discovered, had a prior life. Example? The hauntingly beautiful "Smoke Gets in your Eyes." I heard it for the first time in 1958, when The Platters version of the song topped the charts for weeks on end. Like so many of my friends, I thought it was a new tune, when, in fact,Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach wrote it for the 1933 operatta, Roberta. Bob Hope introduced it, but it was Paul Whiteman who scored with his rendition, as did three other artists. Who knew?

Many people think Nat King Cole introduced the tune (his version of the song was a 1940's hit), while those of you who are post-Platters babies probably discovered it within the body of a movie soundtrack. It’s been on a bunch of them, including Hearts in Atlantis, Smoke, American Graffiti and Four Weddings and a Funeral. So new, it’s not.

Mad Man fans may recognize the song from the AMC series’ pilot episode, which not only borrowed the tune, but the title. All of which is to say that there are a lot of people out there who would be surprised to learn that what they believed to be a new song, is actually a seventy-six-year-old classic.

But surprises come in all shapes and sizes. As a young girl, I was surprised to learn that some of the TV stars from my childhood days had once been big time movie stars― people like Lucille Ball, Dick Powell, Loretta Young and Ralph Bellamy.

A few actors and actresses are lucky enough to have careers that span fifty, sixty, even seventy years. As a result, they may be known for one thing by one generation, and another by another. Case in point: the late Sir Alec Guinness. Twenty-somethings may be surprised to learn that Sir Alec (aka Obi-Wan Kenobi) was a major stage and screen star long before the Wars, appearing in dozens of plays and motion pictures, Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he took home a Best Actor Oscar.

Guinness was said to be the director's good luck charm, and can be seen in some of Lean's most well-received works - Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia and A Passage to India among them. But Guinness was also in a number of smaller films, like The Lavender Hill Mob, The Ladykillers and my personal favorite, a sprightly British comedy called The Captain’s Paradise.

I was just a child when Paradise hit the big screen in 1953, but Pete, my long-time significant other, remembered it well, and would bring it up from time to time when the subject of what to give someone presented itself. Last month, faced with the task of choosing a staggering number of birthday, wedding and graduation cards and gifts, the world's worst chooser of gifts turned to her well-worn VHS copy of The Captain’s Paradise for a fresh perspective.

Sir Alec plays Captain Henry St. James, a ship’s captain who makes his living ferrying passengers back and forth from the British territory of Gibraltar to the Spanish-ruled Tangiers. Believing that no one woman could fulfill all of his – or any man’s needs, he becomes a bigamist, with a wife in every port. When in Gibraltar, he lives quietly with the domestically-inclined Maud, aptly played by Celia Johnson. You may remember her from the previously-reviewed Brief Encounter. Maud is the ideal homemaker, content, it seems, to cook and clean her way into her husband’s heart.

When in Tangiers, the captain comes home to Nita, played by Yvonne De Carlo. Nita is a hot little number, who, it appears, likes nothing more than to party her way through life, dancing, romancing and pleasing her man, without ever having to worry about dish pan hands.

Over the years, the Captain continues to live this double life, each wife unaware of the others existence. A captain’s paradise? Perhaps, but a paradise built on lies and assumptions: assumptions tested when the ever-thoughtful but careless captain unknowingly switches anniversary presents, giving Maud a bikini intended for Nita, and Nita an apron he bought for Maud.

What follows is a clever and thought-provoking conclusion that will have you questioning any pre-conceived notions about people, places, and preferences. To tell you anything more about the plot or predicament would ruin the fun. Suffice to say that life – and people, are unpredictable, because, as the good folks at Almond Joy have been known to say, “Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t.”

The Captain’s Paradise is a lovely way to discover or rediscover the talents of Sir Alec. Give it a shot. After watching it, you just may want to rethink this year’s Father’s Day gift.

Till the next time...

1 comment:

  1. Love your plot notes. I want to see everything, even MAD Men which I saw once and said I didn't care for it because it was too true and close to the bone, too reminding of what advertising was a couple of decades past, all the bad things really. Now I'll look again to remember what was also fun and exciting. DDB/FL