A quick read of his profile on IMDB.com clarifies it: he was the man that producer Albert Broccoli hired to direct the very first James Bond picture, Dr. No (1962). Apparently, his work was good enough to have him back not once but twice, and he delivered both From Russia With Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965) to the silver screen. Though he went on from the Bond franchise to direct sixteen other features, none of them achieved the kind of recognition given the spy property. Though I’ve not found it confirmed in reading this morning, it looks like the decision to move on from Bond was his own; since he passed in 1994, there’s no way of knowing (at this point) whether that was a solid career move or not.
1948’s Corridor Of Mirrors serves as the director’s debut motion picture. Though it wasn’t her first film, actress Edana Romney is billed as being ‘introduced’ to audiences with the feature; and she’s also credited as having worked on its screenplay, which apparently owes original inspiration to the novel of the same name (by Chris Massie). Interestingly enough, screen legend Christopher Lee also makes his first cinema appearance (in a small role), and he’s the only one to go on from this to great notoriety.
I bring up these firsts not so much because they’re trivial, but I can’t help but wonder if so much inexperience resulted in Corridor’s narrative flaws. It isn’t a bad film – it’s actually quite good at times, though it stumbles through sequences a bit too long – but I thought it struggled to find a singular rhythm with which to tell its central story, one of potentially star-crossed lovers who keep finding themselves across time and yet can’t quite seem to make their relationship work. Is theirs a shared destiny? Or are they somehow cursed by Fate? The film never quite answers clearly, and I wonder if the nebulousness was by design?
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “Eric Portman plays an artist obsessed with the past. He surrounds himself with Renaissance artwork, infatuated with the notion that he and his lover are reincarnations of the lovers in a centuries-old painting. Portman’s delusions have deadly consequences.”
Warning: film scripts inspired by novels rarely get it right, and I’ve always argued this is because what makes a book memorable isn’t always what makes a film equally mesmerizing. Ideas that work in one’s head don’t always translate cleanly to film, and a less talented storyteller runs the risk of alienating not one potential audience for a feature but two – the literary and the moviegoers. Think of it as a tale of two cities.
At times, Corridor Of Mirrors feels like it’s trying to lift symbolism from one medium and translate it into visual imagery. Namely, Paul Mangin has built himself a veritable castle that feels lifted from centuries ago and transported to 1940’s Europe; and the Corridor from the title is an impressive set piece that secretly conceals (behind mirrored doors) faceless female mannequins all decked out in regal fashion. Clearly, the man is obsessed with not only trying to recreate an era but also his own controlled society, one including his beloved Mifanwy (played by Romney) who will remain forever at his side exactly as he believes he remembers her from the past. He’s convinced himself that the two of them are trapped within a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ style tragedy that can only be averted if the lady swears her love eternal to him.
As you might guess, that’s not quite what transpires.
Sadly, the script – of which she’s credited as one writer – never puts a bow on some of these small points. While there are a few hints – and viewers can draw their own conclusions based on their interpretations – I’ve always been more of a “you tell me” person because then I can legitimately react to the developments instead of force fit them into my beliefs. Clearly, there’s a potential psychosis at play here … but Mifanwy should’ve seen that coming the minute she stepped into the man’s castle!
I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that Barbara Mullen practically steals the picture from its two stars in the performance of Veronica, a seemingly wayward crazy woman Mangin’s given safe haven to in his expansive estate. Here, she serves as a kind of narrative antithesis: while Mangin remains crisply composed throughout every one of his scenes (even when faced with tragedy), Veronica appears always visibly struggling to keep it together. Even her hair looks like it’s on the verge of exploding! Clearly, living a life out of time has taken a toll on the woman’s psyche, and we learn before all is said and done that some folks – as Jack Nicholson once said on film – “can’t handle the truth.”
However, I felt inexperience played a hand in what may’ve been a lot of director Young’s thematic choices. There isn’t much nuance in here – several sequences are, simply put, far longer than they need to be – and Romney’s skills (or lack thereof) as an actress give some moments a bit of naivety when perhaps a bit of maturity was needed. As a consequence, the Fantasy elements here don’t appear all that fantastical, playing out more like a set of deliberate plot points when a softer touch may’ve worked better. Portman’s work carries much of the film, and there’s a lot of risk investing so much of the story with a character who may or may not be an elegant version of Hannibal Lechter.
There’s no denying it’s all great to look at. I’m just not convinced – in the end – there was all that much to think about.
Corridors Of Mirrors (1948) was produced by Apollo. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being handled by the reliable Cohen Media Group. As for the technical specifications? This newly restored print is very good indeed, and the enhanced definition certainly highlights the film’s noir inspirations. As for the special features? Nada. Zip. Zilch. Honestly, it would’ve been nice to have something here, as the finished product doesn’t quite hit the ball out of the park, if you catch my meaning from my review.
Mildly recommended. Corridor Of Mirrors is a film that’s difficult to recommend if for no other reason than it kinda/sorta seems to struggle with what it ultimately wants to be. Is it a magical and romantic Fantasy? Is it a tragedy? Is it a psychological examination of love gone bad? Is it Film Noir? Clearly the Terence Young picture grasps at an awful lot of straws, but for me it worked best when it ignored its self-perpetuating melodrama and just asked ‘What if?’ At 96 minutes, it’s too long to be an episode of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, but a slimmer cut would’ve made for a dynamite installment of that show … and maybe even a more coherent experience.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Cohen Media Group provided me with a Blu-ray of Corridor Of Mirrors (1948) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.