Foreign Field, A: Starring Alec Guinness, Jeanne Moreau, Lauren Bacall

 

Conceived as a star vehicle for Alec Guinness, A Foreign Field is a painfully slow, sentimental comedy-melodrama about three WWII veterans revisiting the site of their combat at its 50th anniversary.

In subject matter and humor, this all-star film aims at the “senior citizens” crowd, viewers who unfortunately seldom go to the movies anymore. Technically pedestrian, the film is probably more suitable for TV and video than for theatrical release.

A Foreign Field begins as a comic tale of Amos (Alec Guinness) and Cyril (Leo McKern), two British vets, who had heroically participated in the D-Day landing and now return to Normandy for the first time in 50 years. Their “mission” is twofold: to visit the grave of a wartime buddy who died in action, and to look up Angelique (Jeanne Moreau), the French girl Cyril was enamored of back in l944.

At their hotel, they run into Waldo (John Randolph), an American vet traveling with his bickering daughter (Geraldine Chaplin) and her CPA husband (Edward Herrmann). To their surprise and dismay, the two Brits realize that the Yank is out there for the same reason: revisit Angelique, who had seduced him too. Lauren Bacall, a mysterious lady who appears to be an American widow, stays at the same hotel and rounds up the group.

Utterly predictable, TV writer Roy Clarke’s script consists of brief scenes in which each of the characters makes revelations about his/her past and share some painful and joyful memories. In the first half-an-hour, the healthy, if obvious, humor, is based on the rivalry between the Brits and the Yank, which is meant to reflect the mutual distrust between the Allies in l944. But as the tale unfolds, it loses its humor and shamelessly goes after pathos-and slapstick.

Clarke’s material would work better in the theater or TV, where its contrived dialogue might serve as the basis for juicy acting. In this movie, however, the impressive international cast is wasted on a schmaltzy story.

It’s always a pleasure to see Alec Guinness, who does some marvelous things (mostly gestures) as the long-time wounded, mentally retarded vet. But most of the other actors play cliched parts rather than well-rounded individuals. This is particularly the case of Geraldine Chaplin and Edward Herrmann who are typecast as an uptight and unpleasant couple. The only reason for their existence is to make the older actors appear more sympathetic.

As the retired prostitute who now lives in a home, Jeanne Moreau manages to bring some life to her stereotypical role, which includes a rendition of Edith Piaf’s famous song, “La vie en rose.” Lauren Bacall, who plays a boozy widow whose national identity constitutes the film’s only genuine mystery, looks elegant, but she is given nothing memorable to do or to say.

Charles Sturridge, who established some reputation as helmer of the prestigious TV series Brideshead Revisited and showed some talent in his screen version of E.M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread, exhibits here an unaccountably draggy, unmodulated style. His mise en scene is sluggish and unimaginative: most of the scenes are poorly shaped and badly lighted. Using for the most part frontal camera, Sturridge’s strategy of tackling scenes directly results in a schematic film that lacks any visual distinction, subtlety or nuance.

A Fingertip Film production. Produced by Martyn Auty, Steve Lanning. Executive producer, Richard Brooke.

Directed by Charles Sturridge.

Screenplay, Roy Clarke. Editor, John Bloom; art direction, Dominic Masters.

Cast

Running time: 90 min.

Amos………….Alec Guinness
Cyril………….Leo McKern
Waldo……….John Randolph
Angelique……Jeanne Moreau
Lisa………..Lauren Bacall
Beverley…Geraldine Chaplin
Ralph……..Edward Herrmann