The Spanish Gardener (1956)
I had every intention of watching "A Tale of Two Cities" last night, but after getting cozy in bed with some grapefruit juice, turning off the lights and pressing "play" I realized that Netflix had replaced my damaged "A Tale of Two Cities" DVD with.... ANOTHER damaged DVD!! I tried watching the first twenty minutes, regardless of the screen freezing every few minutes, but I just couldn't watch a movie this way. I'm sending it back again and hopefully the next disc will finally work!
So I dragged myself out of bed and got my laptop to watch "The Spanish Gardener" on YouTube. (Link)
The film is about a stiff British foreign diplomat (Michael Hordern) who has basically secluded his son (Jon Whiteley) from contact with other people, in a selfish move to keep him to himself. He doesn't go to school or play with other kids, and since his mother doesn't live with them, his only adult role model is his stuffed-shirt father. All this changes when they move into a Spanish villa and take on a gardener, played wonderfully by Dirk Bogarde.
I wasn't as impressed with this film as I was with the other three Dirk Bogarde films I've watched so far, but this had nothing to do with his performance. There were just a couple little things that bothered me. First, the film is about the "Spanish" gardener, but he's actually British. In fact, everyone in Spain is British. They are slightly tanned, but speak with perfect upper crust British accents. When a director decides that he is not going to make all of his actors speak with accents, I think he should also decide to relocate the setting of the film. This could have easily taken place on the English countryside. Just a few tweaks in the plot about the father's profession and it would have worked ship-shape. But anyway, this didn't bother me THAT much, just a little bit at the beginning (and gave me a chance to voice my stupid pet peeve about fake accents in film)
Something else, however, DID bother me a lot. I feel so awful saying this, but it seems like I really don't like child actors from the 1950's that much. There's just something about them that irks me, especially when they are like 8 or 9 year olds, the toddlers are a little easier to take.
It just so happens that the main character in this movie is not Dirk Bogarde or Michael Hordern, but Jon Whiteley. He's actually the same kid who was in Hunted, the Dirk Bogarde film I watched two nights ago. But this movie was made about 4 years later, giving Jon ample time to grow into that awkward child-actor phase that seems to get on my nerves.
In so many ways, this movie reminded me of Shane. First of all, they both center around a young boy's idolatry of a hired man. Also, they both have child actors that kind of get on my nerves, AND they both feature said child actor cooing the hired man's name over and over and over. "Shaaane, come back Shaaaane" or "Jose! Jose! Come back Jose!" Okay, I get it- their names are Shane and Jose! Sheesh.
I really like the kids in 1930's and 40's films, like Jackie Cooper, Margaret O'Brien, Natalie Wood, Scotty Beckett and Virginia Wiedler. But when the 50's came in, they started hiring kids that have too much of a pretense of wide-eyed innocence and not enough character. All of the kids I mentioned, from the 30's and 40's, had personalities and some chutzpah. I guess it fits in the bigger picture of 1950's life, with suburbia, Leave it to Beaver, pearls, a new conservatism and Spam.
A little disclaimer before I continue: Yes, there are some really good 1950's child actors so please excuse my generalization. Also, I think that Jon Whiteley's performance in Hunted was stellar, I just wasn't fond of him in this film.
Despite my overwhelming wish throughout the film that the boy would just magically disappear, I actually enjoyed the movie. Michael Hordern gave an excellent performance as the boy's stodgy and emotionally stunted father. I kept trying to place him throughout the first 30 minutes or so before I realized that he is Jacob Marley in the 1951 "A Christmas Carol"! I've never seen him in anything else, and I was pleasantly surprised to see him here.
Dirk Bogarde's role as the Spanish gardener Jose worked really well, regardless of his accent. He played the part with a very even temper and self-assuredness that fit him like a glove. In a particularly melodramatic part of the film (I won't give any more details because it is near the end) Dirk Bogarde overcomes the heavy-handed direction and stirring music, being very understated and calm.
One of the most interesting contrasts throughout the film is between Jose and the father. Whenever even-keeled, relaxed, tanned and athletic Jose is standing next to the father - pale, ancy, agitated and jealous - you can see who has the upper hand, regardless of wealth, social stature or position. This poor gardener is more of a man, and has more love for life than the rich aristocrat.