BROWNING VERSION, THE (director: Anthony Asquith; screenwriter: Terence Rattigan/based on the play by Rattigan; cinematographer: Desmond Dickinson; editor: John D. Guthridge; music: Arnold Bax, Kenneth Essex; cast: Michael Redgrave (Andrew Crocker-Harris), Jean Kent (Millie Crocker-Harris), Nigel Patrick (Frank Hunter), Wilfrid Hyde-White (Frobisher), Brian Smith (Taplow), Bill Travers (Fletcher); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating:NR; producers: Earl St. John/Teddy Baird; Universal-International; 1951-UK)

"It's a blues pic for teachers that lays down some hope in the end."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

An English "kitchen sink" drama that plays like Goodbye, Mr. Chips for the downtrodden. Director Anthony Asquith ("The Final"/"The Winslow Boy"/"Quiet Wedding") keeps this musty Terence Rattigan adaptation of his own one-act play bittersweet and far from musty, as it compellingly becomes a struggle over a once scholastic dreamer's repression and redemption. Michael Redgrave's dignified moving performance as Andrew Crocker-Harris, the middle-aged classics schoolmaster with a bum ticker whom the headmaster (Wilfrid Hyde-White) forces to retire over health issues. Crocker teaches at an elite private boarding school (think Harrow!). On the eve of his retirement, Crocker becomes self-reflexive envisioning himself as a failure for retiring without a pension, deeply scarred by his unfaithful younger wife Millie (Jean Kent) who has an affair with the popular younger chemistry teacher (Nigel Patrick), and is detested by both his students for being a tyrant and by his colleagues (who in a derogatory way call him Crock) for being a prig. However, an act of kindness by one of his former apathetic students named Taplow (Brian Smith), who presents the beaten down teach with a gift of Browning's translation of Agamemnon, a work he cherishes, gets the professor's juices flowing again and allows him to confront his life failures and start behaving more human.

It's a blues pic for teachers that lays down some hope in the end as it presents a touching genteel humanistic portrait of the anxiety-driven pitiful Crocker-Harris, who is faced with uncertainly as he prepares to move on to a new teaching post in the country with lower pay and take residence in a less prestigious school.

The glimmer of hope comes at the climax, as the stuffy teacher speaks at the end-of-term ceremony. Crocker-Harris apologizes during his heartfelt speech for having failed to reach his students. It moves the students to offer him a spontaneous burst of applause, which at least leaves him with a moment of triumph before his bitter departure.

Redgrave won the Best Actor award and Rattigan the writing prize at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival. In 1994, Mike Figgis directed a new film version starring Albert Finney. But Redgrave's performance remains the gold standard, even from such great actors as John Gielgud, Peter Cushing and Ian Holm performing the same role on television and from Eric Portman (the film's first choice) who performed the role on the London stage.

REVIEWED ON 4/14/2010       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"