This is an excellent film with a great deal of nuance. The script, which is taken carefully from John Galsworthy's first novel in The Forsyte Saga, The Man of Property, deals only with the marriage of Soames and Irene (whereas the 1967 and 2001 BBC series covered The Man of Property (1906), Indian Summer of a Forsyte (1918), In Chancery (1920), Awakening (1920) and To Let (1921), and A Modern Comedy (1928)). The story of Irene and Soames' marriage is fraught with problems in the novel - Irene has an affair with Philip, and Soames rapes Irene - issues the film could only suggest (or raise the ire of the censors!). But the hints are there; it only takes a little imagination to understand exactly what is going on.
Errol Flynn was borrowed from Warner Brothers to play Young Jolyon Forsyte (the role that ultimately went to Walter Pidgeon). (In exchange, Jack Warner got William Powell for Life with Father (AFI catalog). Once at MGM, Flynn refused to play young Jolyon. He was then offered the role of Bosinney; again he refused. Flynn wanted to play Soames - a drastic change from his usual swashbuckling roles (TCM article). MGM finally agreed, and Flynn gave an impressive performance as a man who is involved only with the financial value of everyone and everything in his life. Once finished with this film, he was back to Warners, again making westerns and swashbucklers. It's amusing that he ends up in the video of the MGM 25th Anniversary Lunch, chatting happily with Greer Garson. Jack Warner must have been furious!
Greer Garson is intriging as a woman who is torn between an unhappy marriage and financial security. Irene is down to her last cent - she can only survive teaching piano, and her only client is her landlady. Soames' campaign to win her (he enlists the help of the landlady) catches her at a low point in her life and she succumbs. Likewise, Philip catches her as she begins to doubt her decision to marry Soames; it seems that her love for Philip really is a remembrance of the love she lost many years before. She comments that Philip is much like that idealist and untidy young man. Irene is a woman who wants to be strong, but often lets herself be led, against her better judgement.
Philip, however, comes off as thoughtless, at the least, and insincere at most. He pursues June when he first meets her; likewise, he is hot on the heels of Irene after their first encounter. We felt that, once Irene accedes to his advances, he will fall in love with someone else. We found it difficult to believe Philip, much less sympathize with him, he is so flighty.
Janet Leigh is lovely as June. She plays a genuinely nice girl, who is blasted into anger by betrayal. The character certainly deserves better than Philip! Ms. Leigh literally burst into stardom after Norma Shearer saw her photo on her father's desk at the ski resort where he worked. Her first film, The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947) starred her opposite MGM heartthrob Van Johnson, and she starred in a succession of films afterwards, including Little Women (1949), Holiday Affair (1949), Angels in the Outfield (1951), and Scaramouche (1952). But it was Psycho (1960) that most people remember today. Among my personal favorites is her performance in The Manchurian Candidate (1962). (In a recent discussion of the film, William Friedkin posited that Rosie is a double agent. I'm never going to watch that movie again in the same way!) Ms. Leigh was married 4 times, most famously to the father of her daughters Kelly and Jamie Lee, Tony Curtis (the marriage lasted 11 years). She wrote four books (two novels, a memoir, and a book about Psycho). By the 1960s, she was making frequent television appearances (including another of my favorite, the sadistic Miss Diketon in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Concrete Overcoat Affair). She died in 2004, aged 77, three years after the death of her fourth husband, Robert Brandt - they had been married for 38 years.
This was the last filmed performance of Harry Davenport (Old Jolyon Forsyte), a remarkable character actor who is probably most remembered as Grandpa in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and Dr. Meade in Gone with the Wind (1939) [Two films would be released after this: Tell it to the Judge (1949) and Riding High (1950)]. The descendant of a long line of actors, Mr. Davenport began his career at the age of five (he was born in 1866). By 1894, he was appearing on Broadway. By 1934, he had appeared in 37 Broadway plays. His film career began in 1913; he transitioned from silents to talkies, and spent much of his sound film career playing kindly grandfathers and professional men. In 1913, he co-founded (with Eddie Foy) the Actors' Equity Association. When his marriage to his first wife ended after three years, he married actress Phyllis Rankin - they were together for 33 years, until her death in 1934. They had three children together (Harry also had a daughter with his first wife, and Phyllis had a son - who would become the father of Arthur Rankin, Jr.). Mr. Davenport died of a heart attack in 1949, at the age of 83 - he was in the process of securing a new screen role when he died.
With exquisite costumes by Walter Plunkett (for the women) and Valles (for the men), lush technicolor photography by Joseph Ruttenberg, and art direction by Cedric Gibbons and Daniel Cathcart, this is a truly beautiful film. While the New York Times review was not kind to anyone but Ms. Garson, we enjoyed the film immensely. (It opened at Radio City Music Hall - definitely a prestige venue!). We'll leave you with the trailer, for a quick look at this lovely film.