“The Moon and Sixpence,” Albert Lewin’s version of W. Somerset Maugham's novel is intelligent, literate, and extremely well acted by two of Hollywood’s most gifted character actors, Herbert Marshall and George Sanders, both blessed with powerful, resonant voices that lend themselves easily to voice-overs, cerebral monologues, and lengthy dialogue scenes.
George Sanders, still best known for his Oscar-winning performance in “All About Eve” (as the cynical and manipulative theater critic) plays Charles Strickland, a staid London broker whose goal and passion in life is to become an accomplished artist. The tale is inspired by the life of the French artist Paul Gauguin.
Committed to his inner calling, Strickland pursues his dream to the extent of sacrificing everything else in his existence. In his mind, his goal justifies the means to be used, legit as well as illegit ones.
Moving out of the chilly and depressing and suffocating England for Paris, he leaves his wife and family, betrays his friends and colleagues, and becomes utterly single-minded in his artistic pyrsuit.
Though he becomes a brilliant painter, Strickland is not a sympathetic characterr–until he is forced to confront himself on the threshold of death, when he moves to Tahiti, where, initially he leaves a hedonistic life until he is smitten by a young, goregous local girl.
Herbert Marshall plays Somerset Maugham (as he would later in the 1946 Oscar-nominated film, “The Razor's Edge,” starring Tyrone Power), who narrates the story as he attempts to make some sense of and give some order to Strickland's immoral ways.
As writer and director Lewin (who later became a successful producer), shows his own fascination with all things exotics, from the feline statuaries to the obscure poetry readings to the gorgeous landscape (shot in yellow-brownish color).
Most of the film is in black-and-white, as was the norm in Hollywood of the 1940s, but some sequences (the Tahiti in the last reel), the painings, and the closing images, which depict a fire that destructs the artist’s work and his own life, are in bright colors.
Reportedly, “The Moon and Sixpence” was one of the few movies based on his work that the demanding novelist Maugham really liked.
However, decades later, seen from a feminist perspective, some of Strickland’s monologues about women's “typical” conduct and “unrealistic” expectations and demands of men are critically dubious.
Scoring of Dramatic or Comedy Picture: Dimitri Tiomkin
Oscar Awards: None
The winner of the Scoring Oscar was Alfred Newman (the most-nominated artist in Academy’s history) for “The Song of Bernadette.”
George Sanders as Charles Strickland
Herbert Marshall as Geoffrey Wolfe
Doris Dudley as Blanche Stroeve
Steven Geray as Dirk Stroeve
Eric Blore as Capt. Nichols
Florence Bates as Tiara Johnson
Albert Basserman as Doctor Coutras
Robert Greig as Maitland Butler
Kenneth Hunter as Col. MacAndrew
Molly Lamont as Mrs. Strickland
Irene Tedrow as Mrs. MacAndrew
Heather Thatcher as Rose Waterford
Elena Verdugo as Ata
Running time: 89 Minutes.
Directed by Albert Lewin,
Screenplay by Albert Lewin and W. Somerset Maugham.
Released by UA in 1943
DVD: July 12, 2005