21 Days (aka 21 Days Later): Basil Dean’s Melodramatic Thriller, Starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier

Basil Dean directed the B-level thriller melodrama 21 Days (aka “21 Days Together”), based the 1919 play “The First and the Last” by John Galsworthy, starring Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier and Leslie Banks.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

21 Days
21 days poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

In this morality drama, Larry Durrant (Laurence Olivier) kills Henry Wallen (Esme Percy), the disreputable foreign husband of his lover Wanda (Vivien Leigh). Henry, long-missing, shows up at Wanda’s and threatens to kill her, and Larry accidentally kills him in  fight.

After stowing Henry’s corpse away in abandoned archway, Larry goes to his brother Keith (Leslie Banks), a brilliant attorney, for advice.  Keith wants him to leave the country for a while, and spare trouble, not spoiling his career by having a murderer for a brother.

However, Larry refuses to leave, and returns to the alley where he left the body, where he encounters John Evan (Hay Petrie), a former minister now bum. Evan picks up the gloves Larry had dropped, which leads to his arrest.

When Larry learns of Evan’s arrest, he considers himself a free man and decides to marry Wanda. On the day that Evan is sentenced to hang, Keith begs his brother to remain silent and let the condemned man die. Larry, set on doing the right thing, refuses and leaves for the police station.

Wanda then tells him of Evan’s demise from heart attack on his way to jail.

Producer Alexander Korda tooled 21 Days to be a star vehicle for Vivien Leigh, and principal photography took place in 1937 at Denham Film Studios.  But when Leigh won the Oscar as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), Korda shelved 21 Days for two years before releasing it to Columbia.

Vivien Leigh as Wanda Wallen
Laurence Olivier as Larry Durrant
Leslie Banks as Keith Durrant
Francis L. Sullivan as Mander
David Horne as Beavis
Hay Petrie as John Aloysius Evan
William Dewhurst as the Lord Chief Justice
Esme Percy as Henry Wallen
Frederick Lloyd as Swinton
Robert Newton as Tolly
Victor Rietti as Antonio


Directed by Basil Dean
Produced by Alexander Korda
Written by Graham Greene, Basil Dean, based on “The First and the Last” (short story and then play by John Galsworthy
Music by Muir Mathieson, John Greenwood
Cinematography Jan Stallich
Edited by Charles Crichton, William Hornbeck

Production company: London Film Productions, Ltd.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Release date: January 7, 1940

Running time: 72 minutes


TCM showed the movie on August 26, 2020 as part of tribute to Laurence Olivier.