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Forgotten Films: Enchanted April (1991) and Without Love (1945)
By Nancy Young
Enchanted April (1992)
Whether April is glowing and warm or gray and drear--and around here it can be both--we hate to let the month go by without viewing these two films at some point, especially at the end of some sodden Saturday or as a bright spot on a Friday night. The 1992 film version of Elizabeth von Arnim's novel, Enchanted April, adapts itself particularly well to the former time slot, as it begins with the lackluster and ends with the luminous. And luminous is certainly the best descriptor of every performance from its intimate and stellar cast of Josie Lawrence, Miranda Richardson, Polly Walker, Joan Plowright (who earned an academy award nomination for her performance) Alfred Molina, Michael Kitchen, and Jim Broadbent.
For multitudes it's already a favorite, but, perhaps because of its modest U.S. theatrical release--though it was subsequently televised on Masterpiece Theater--I still encounter those who have yet to be captivated by it for the first time. It's a tale of redemption and renewal, lost love and new hopes as an Italian castle called "San Salvatore" works its magic on four disenchanted women. And it's positively breathtaking into the bargain.
Without Love (1945)
The settings of Without Love won't necessarily make you want to claw your way into the television in order to join Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in a DC townhouse, but the snappy script might keep you quoting for some time. Originally a Broadway play, with Hepburn's part written specifically for her, it has all the verve and vitality of the exceptional repartee that trademarked the Tracy-Hepburn film partnership--though it's very possible Keenan Wynn, playing Hepburn's sporadically inebriated cousin, may just pilfer the best lines in this film.
Spencer Tracy plays a scientist involved in secret government work, aimed at producing a breathing apparatus for high-flying WWII pilots. Through a chance meeting, he encounters both Hepburn's house, with the perfect basement for a covert laboratory, and Hepburn herself, a reclusive young widow who eventually presents herself as his perfect working partner. They marry "without love" or any desire or prospect of it--he "having had all the worst of it," she "having had all the best." Of course, the inevitable happens; but there's lots of fun acting, a little silliness, and an intelligent performance from a savvy, pre-sitcom Lucille Ball along the way to lend pleasant surprises, and a very satisfying watch.
As far as parental precautions--Enchanted April's only possible impediment is that a husband-wife reunion kissing scene(s) may cause some queasiness on the part of the young. Any innuendo in Without Love will probably be lost on those same young, and on many of the old as well.
Ben Hur (1959)
Though hardly in the "forgotten" arena, Ben Hur, chariot race, et al., is always worthy of a re-watch and yet one more accolade near Easter Sunday. Still one of Hollywood's classiest classics, there are, of course, some graphically violent scenes (you know, the ones the fifth-grade boys talked about gleefully the next day at school) and it's almost unremittingly intense--so tots should either skip scenes or skip watching altogether-- at least until the fifth grade. The rest of us probably still look away, anyhow.