Friday, March 8, 2013

Noel Coward’s The Astonished Heart


The Astonished Heart was made in 1949 and released to movie houses in March 1950.  I find it very interesting that this movie was a commercial failure because I consider it one of the best classic films I have ever seen.  The Astonished Heart really is a good movie and I recommend it.  This movie is based on a ten cycle play titled Tonight At 8:30, written by Noel Coward.  The 1945 movie Brief Encounter was also adapted from the play Tonight At 8:30.  Brief Encounter, however was a success at the box office, so go figure.

The Astonished Heart stars Noel Coward in one of his rare appearances on screen.  Noel Coward plays the part of Dr. Christian Faber.  The movie also stars Celia Johnson as Barbara Faber, Margaret Leighton as Leanora Vail, Joyce Carey as Susan Birch, and Graham Payne as Tim Verney.  The movie was directed by Terence Fisher.


The Astonished Heart begins near the end of the story and is told in flashbacks.  When the movie starts Barbara is making a phone call to someone named Leanora telling her to come right away because something has happened  to Chris and he is asking for her.  You have no idea who Chris is or why Leanora is upset.  From there the story unfolds has Barbara sits by the window looking out into the rainy night.  


One rainy day while out shopping, Barbara Faber runs into her friend Leanora from her school days.  The two women have not seen each other since graduation seventeen years earlier, but they pick up where their friendship left off as if the many years had not passed.  Barbara invites Leanora to her home where she is introduced to Barbara’s husband Dr. Christian Faber.  Dr, Faber is a noted psychiatrist.  Upon meeting Barbara’s husband Leanora takes an immediate dislike to Christian because he barely acknowledged her before leaving the room.  Leanora is a very beautiful woman who is used to men reacting positively to her.  When Christian barely noticed her Leanora was inwardly bothered by it and it didn’t matter that Christian is Barbara’s husband.  What mattered to Leanora was that Christian is a man and he should have been taken in by her just as any man would.  Leanora decides to get back at Christian by making him fall in love with her. 
Christian and Barbara have been married for twelve years and he loves his wife.  The couple live an ordinary life but it is a happy one.  Barbara leaves for an extended visit to take care of her and dos not return for some time.  As a result Barbara cannot attend a play she was scheduled to see with Leanora, so Barbara calls Christian and asks him to give the tickets to their friend Tim so they he can take Leanora to see the play.  Tim has already left to go elsewhere though.  Christian cannot find anyone else to take Leanora to the play so he feels obliged to take his wife’s place.  BIG MISTAKE!

Christain has such a great time out with Leanora that he takes her out again.  Leanora has completely charmed Christian and she is doing it on purpose to get back at him for brushing her off when they initially met.  At first Christian is having fun with it, but then he ends up falling very deeply in love with Leanora.  Christian cannot stay away from her and looks forward to spending his evenings with her.


Christian is keeps falling more deeply in love with Leanora and cannot be without her.  Every time Christian is with Leanora she is looking even more lovely, casting her spell over him.  I started to wonder when the heck Barbara was coming home.  I understand that Barbara  went off to take care of her mother, but it wasn’t as if it were a life or death illness.  Barbara should have returned home a lot sooner 


Noel Coward was openly gay in real life, but I think he played the part of a man obsessed with a woman very well.  The kissing scenes in this movie are not what we are used to seeing today, but still done very well for that time period.  I read one review where the person did not think Noel Coward was right for this role, but I totally disagree.  I loved Noel Coward as Christian Faber.  If this movie is ever remade I would LOVE to see Richard Armitage cast as Christian and Romola Garai as Leanora.   


Barbara FINALLY returns home.  When she arrives Christian is not at home which is very unusual.  Barbara checks Christian's appointment diary to see if it can tell her where he is, and this is Barbara’s first clue that something is terribly wrong.  

Christian comes home very late one night after spending the evening with Leanora.  Barbara confronts Christian and he does not deny anything.  What is really strange about Barbara though is that she is acting really calm and collected.  Barbara even tells Christian to go away for a while and take Leanora with him and get it out of his system.  I could not believe it.  Barbara was distressed, of course, but she did not yell, scream or even cry, which is very bizarre.  Christian is very apologetic about what happened, but the fact is he is madly in love with Leanora and he can't help how he feels now.   Christian takes up his wife’s offer to go away with Leanora to see if their relationship would eventually fizzle out.  Barbara also decided to go away for awhile.  I thought to myself, didn’t Barbara already go away and that is how Christian got into this mess?  Barbara’s entire behavior is so weird.  My LEO pride would never allow me to throw a tantrum either if, God forbid, I found out that my husband was in love with another woman.  However,  there is no way I would suggest that he go away with the other woman to get it out of his system. 

Christian and Leanora go away together and seem to be having a wonderful time.  Eventually though, Leanora starts seeing another man.  Christian senses something is wrong in their relationship and catches Leanora telling lies.  Leanora admits that she is seeing a male friend of hers.
Christian is eaten up with jealousy now.  Leanora has become his entire world and he cannot live without her.  One night Christian and Leanora have it out one final time.  The scene is really pathetic and sad.  You can clearly see that Christian is emotionally falling apart and about to have a nervous breakdown.  Christian desperately wants Leanora to love him but she doesn’t and admits it to Christian.  Christian has to face the fact that his life is now ruined.  He cannot go back to Barbara because his love for Leanora is branded in his heart.  In a complete mental daze, Christian goes out into the night wondering around aimlessly for hours.  What happens next takes you back to where the movie started and you find out what happened to Christian.  You will have to watch the movie yourself if you want to know.  The Astonished Heart is a very tragic film that shows how fragile human emotions can be. 
Dr. Christian Faber was a very self assured and strong man before Leanora appeared in his life.  It is not nice to play with a person's feelings.  I've known people (men & women) who found themselves in situations like this.  Do not play around with people's emotions and psyche like this because the effects can be tragic as it is in this movie.
 Margaret Leighton

Margaret Leighton looks a lot like Ruth Warrick in this movie and I had to look at the credits again to see who was playing Leanora Vail.

 Noel Coward

Noel Coward came up with the name for this movie from the following Bible verse. 

“The Lord shall smite thee with madness and blindness and astonishment of heart.”
Deuteronomy 28:28.

Old-Fashioned Charm

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