New This Week
Connecting Rooms and Love Among the Ruins are not films we tend to think of when we think of Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn, but both films have been newly released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber to remind us once again what extraordinary actresses these two legends were throughout their lives.
Connecting Rooms was a British film that was barely released in the U.S. in 1970 and the U.K. two years later, though it frequently shows up on British TV. Based on a flop British play called The Cellist by Marion Hart, it was originally intended for Anthony Mann (Bend of the River) in 1967, but put on hold after the director’s sudden death. It was taken over by writer-producer Franklin Gollings, who had done second unit work in the past. This would be his only directorial effort.
Filmed in 1969 when Davis was 61 and already past her horror film comeback in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and The Nanny, the film came her way when she was looking for something different. This seems to be a throwback to those domestic dramas she made after the success of 1950’s All About Eve such as Payment on Demand and Another Man’s Poison. Her character in this, though, is far more sympathetic. It is in fact, one of her rare kindly roles.
Davis was at her best playing selfish characters in films like Of Human Bondage, The Letter, and The Little Foxes, but now and then she could be equally effective playing a selfless character such as those in Now, Voyager and The Corn Is Green. Her role in Connecting Rooms is one of those. In it, she plays
a 50-year-old woman who still makes her living, meager though it may be, as a cellist. She lives in a dilapidated Bayswater boarding house.
Michael Redgrave, in his best role since The Browning Version, is a disgraced classics professor who takes a room in the building with a door between their apartments that refuses to stay closed. Alexis Kanner is an aspiring songwriter in his twenties who plays Davis for a fool while romancing both a French singer and an artist’s model in a local art school.
All three principals have secrets. Redgrave’s is that he has been falsely accused of pedophilia and dismissed from his school after thirty years and is not working for the British Museum as he says, but has taken a job as a janitor in the art school that Kanner’s girlfriend works in. Kanner’s is that he is seeing the two women behind Davis’s back. Davis’s secret is not revealed until the film’s closing scene, but it is a splendid one played in silence while those Bette Davis eyes do their thing. We see that the woman who has been so generous to others has even less of her own than we could have imagined, and Redgrave sees it too in a beautifully played fadeout.
Kay Walsh as a nosey landlady and Leo Genn as a colleague who turns his back on Redgrave lead the supporting cast.
Love Among the Ruins was a light comedy written for TV by James Costigan (Eleanor and Franklin) for Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in 1967, but not produced due to Lunt’s ill health. It was offered to Katharine Hepburn after her Emmy-nominated performance in 1973’s The Glass Menagerie. She agreed to do it because she loved the silliness of the script about a social climbing young man who sues a much older woman for breach of promise in 1911 London. She brought in both director George Cukor and co-star Laurence Olivier to play the barrister representing her in court, a former lover she no longer remembers.
Costigan’s script was expanded to fit a two-hour time frame. John Barry, who won one of his five Oscars for scoring Hepburn’s third Oscar winner The Lion in Winter, was brought in to do the score.
Cukor and Olivier had known each other since the 1920s, Hepburn had known both since the 1930s, and although she had by this time made eight previous films with Cukor, and been a witness to Olivier’s 1940 marriage to Vivien Leigh, she had never worked with the actor.
Hepburn owed her career to Cukor who cast her in her first film, A Bill of Divorcement, over Jill Edmund, Olivier’s first wife. He subsequently directed her in Little Women, Sylvia Scarlet, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper of the Flame, Adam’s Rib, and Pat and Mike. Twenty years later, Hepburn was attached to Travels with My Aunt for which she picked Cukor to direct her. Not happy with the script, she backed out but insisted Cukor remain, which he did when Maggie Smith was chosen to replace her.
Although Hepburn admired Olivier’s acting, she disliked him personally because of the way he treated Leigh, insisting she return to the stage with him after both her Oscar-winning performances in Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire instead of allowing her to take advantage of the Hollywood offers that were coming her way. By all accounts, however, the film was a happy experience for both. Olivier, in his biography, said that the six-week shoot was the happiest filmmaking experience of his life.
The film was a flop when it first appeared on TV, coming in 54th in the ratings out of 61 prime time programs shown that week. Actors and other Emmy voters, however, loved the film, awarding it four Emmys for Costigan, Cukor, Hepburn, and Olivier. Critics, on the other hand, were not as kind to the film.
Two years later, Cukor would direct Hepburn for the tenth time in another TV movie, The Corn Is Green, a remake of the 1945 Bette Davis film, for which Hepburn received yet another Emmy nomination. Two years after that, she would win her fourth Oscar for On Golden Pond on her twelfth nomination.
Olivier, the year after Love Among the Ruins, would receive his ninth Oscar nomination for Marathon Man and two years after that would receive his tenth and final Oscar nomination for The Boys from Brazil.
This week’s new releases include Guns Akimbo and The Rhythm Section.