Errand-running housewife Celia Johnson (lovestruck daughter in The Holly and the Ivy) is helped out by Trevor Howard (deposed captain in Mutiny on the Bounty). They get to talking, and eventually it’s a weekly appointment, then outings to movies and the park, a gradual love affair. Both are married, and they finally break it off when he’s offered a job in Africa. After a messy parting at the train station where they first met, interrupted by a shrill acquaintance, Celia returns home to her boring life at home. Her husband: “You’ve been a long way away… thank you for coming back to me.” Katy doesn’t approve of affairs, didn’t find it too romantic.

A. Turner:

Billy Wilder found Alec’s friend, who loans the flat, so interesting that he made an entire film about just such a character: The Apartment. … Brief Encounter is also the principal link between the small-scale films of Lean’s early career with the widescreen epics of his final phase. The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Ryan’s Daughter, and A Passage to India each have central characters who are prone to a dreamy romanticism which borders on hysteria and hallucination. … Condemning Laura to a life of conformity and emotional suppression, Lean sets his own course towards the far horizon, where the English go out in the midday sun. Brief Encounter is not only Lean’s finest statement on the suffocating world into which he was born; it is also his train ticket out.

K. Brownlow:

But after [a flop preview], the film opened more widely, and a miracle happened. The public embraced it, people went to see it again and again, and it broke box-office records. In New York, it ran for eight months, and Johnson was not only voted best actress by the New York critics, she was nominated for an Oscar. David became the first director of a British film since Korda to be nominated, and he, Neame, and Havelock-Allan were also nominated for the screenplay.

The most perfect tourist movie ever. Spinster Katharine Hepburn vacations to Venice alone, not-so-secretly hoping to end up in a great romance with a handsome, exotic Italian man, and that’s exactly what happens when she meets shop owner Rossano Brazzi. Turns out he is married with grown children, so she is suspicious, but they have their great romance for a day or two, then she abruptly leaves for home. Movie looks like it was produced by the Venice tourism board, every shot a postcard.

D. Denby:

Lean’s technique has never been smoother and more tactful, never more supportive of a star giving a bravura performance in a difficult role. He takes his time, lets the movie breathe; Summertime’s principal drama is Jane’s changing state of mind… Jane drinks quite a bit, and she holds on to other couples, bravely offering to be the third or fifth wheel for an evening, then withdrawing at the first sign of resistance. She has the longtime defenses, the starts and hesitations and refusals of a person with too much pride to give up the loneliness she hates… The love affair itself may be formulaic, but Hepburn falling in love is a miracle. Her opening up to passion—she did it again and again in films—is the main reason she remained a star despite all her upper-class mannerisms and by-golly declarativeness. Suddenly, the heat comes up right through her cheekbones; her red hair seems to burn.

Charles Laughton is Hobson, self-important shoe salesman, who talks of getting his youngest daughters married, but not the severe elder daughter since she’s far too old. So she elopes with the underpaid cobbler from dad’s basement and opens their own shop, while dad falls further into drunken ruin, until the final reconciliation.

It’s a fine story, but also an excuse for Laughton to pull out every doughy facial expression in the book and Lean to have a bit of fun. My favorite scene combines the two, as a near-fatally drunk Hobson stupidly chases the moon’s reflection across street puddles and window glass.

The DVD extras told me that the movie was named after an expression – a “Hobson’s choice” is when you’re superficially given a choice that has already been decided for you, like when Laughton is offered the chance to become partners with his wayward daughter and traitor ex-employee, but his business and personal affairs have fallen so far without them, he has to accept. One of Laughton’s last films, the year before directing Night of the Hunter. Especially good was John Mills (Pip in Lean’s Great Expectations) as the shoemaker/unwitting husband. His wife/business manager is Brenda de Banzie of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much remake, and not-Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps remake.

“Do you think that we Hollanders who threw the sea out of our country will let the Germans have it? Better the sea.”

Pressburger’s first producer/director credit after a decade of writing in the movies – including Powell’s 49th Parallel, The Spy In Black and Contraband. Shot by Ronald Neame and edited (as was 49th Parallel) by David Lean. Early on were some wondrous airborne shots of the city below lit up by bombs and anti-aircraft fire – I couldn’t tell if it was stock footage or superior special effects.

A pip of a war thriller, more exciting than 49th Parallel. After a British bomber is shot down over Holland, the soldiers (who all parachuted to safety) have to find their stray comrade, contact the resistance and make their way to the border, nearly getting caught a bunch of times.

Note nazi officer silhouette in the organist’s mirror:

Sure, all the guys have different jobs and hobbies and personalities, but the movie is pretty story-driven, so I didn’t get strong enough individual impressions to tell them all apart and remember who was who – figuring most of this out from IMDB. Older guy George, rear gunner, was the villain in The 39 Steps. I recognized Eric Portman from A Canterbury Tale. Hugh Williams (who later starred in Pressburger’s solo film Twice Upon a Time) was an actor in civilian life, so gets dressed as a woman when they hide out in church with the villagers. Front gunner Bernard Miles was in The Man Who Knew Too Much remake. Pilot Hugh Burden played in Ghost Ship and Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, and Emrys Jones (the stray Bob, a soccer player) appeared in The Small Back Room.

The bailed-out men are found immediately by children who report them to Pamela Brown (I Know Where I’m Going, Tales of Hoffmann). She surprisingly makes them prove their identities to make sure they’re not nazi spies trying to entrap the resistance leaders, then smuggles them (via the costumes and the church) on to priest Peter Ustinov (voice of Prince John) then on to Googie Withers (of Night and the City) who gets them to a boat at great personal risk – in fact, I’m not sure how she gets out alive at the end. Somewhere along the way they come across Bob at a soccer game, natch, and Ustinov squares off against nazi sympathizer Robert Helpmann (Red Shoes, Tales of Hoffmann). During their boat escape, one (George?) is shot, but in the epilogue they’re all alive, well and flying missions again – target: Berlin.

Also watched:
An Airman’s Letter to His Mother (1941, Michael Powell)

…which was exactly that – a letter written to be delivered in case of his death, then delivered when he died. One of those super-patriotic messages, which was published in all the papers and filmed by Powell, I guess in order to reach cinemagoers who don’t read the papers.