The Spanish Gardener (1956)

August 28, 2009

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.


Matthew Coniam said...

The guy that plays Wesley in On Moonlight Bay and By The Light of the Silvery Moon is the only fifties kid actor I can stomach, and even he grew up to be a bit of a jerk.
To the British Michael Hordern is above all else the voice of Paddington Bear - do you know him? I'll wager you've seen him more often than you realise (Hordern I mean, not Paddington - there's no mistaking Paddington).
I know an incredibly funny anecdote about Hordern and Rex Harrison during the making of Cleopatra that's far too long for this comments box, but if you ask me nicely...

Nicole Newcomb said...

I love that you've been on a kick of watching Dirk Bogarde's movies because now I'm very curious to see some of his movies, including this one. It sounds quite interesting and I think I'll give it a try some time. Great review by the way!

vivienne strauss said...

great review and I love that you used the word chutzpah!!

Terence Towles Canote said...

I have the same problem you did with the fact that everyone was British rather than Spanish. Dirk is very English, even in this film! In a way it reminds me of all those movies about ancient Rome (many of which I love), where every Roman has an English or Welsh accent....

Lolita of the Classics said...

Eww, I can really see how that child could have been annoying as hell.
Great review! And thanks for the YouTube-link :)
About fake accents I just watched Top Hat - that self-loving temperamental "Bediiini!" is just hilarious. His character feels like it's meant to taunt fake-accent characters like you talk about!

Anonymous said...

Matthew- Yes! Someone who agrees with me about 1950's brats! :D I don't get to see too many British films unless they're on TCM because for some reason the movie industry thinks Americans don't want to see British classics -- they all seem to be Region 2 :( I really think the only thing I've seen Hordern in is A Christmas Carol but I'll take a look at his filmography and see if anything else rings a bell. Thanks for the Rex Harrison story; it's fascinating!!!

Nicole- oh, you have to! Watch out, as you can probably tell it's pretty easy to become obsessed after seeing one of his movies ;)

vivienne- Thanks for mentioning chutzpah-- I realized I spelled it wrong!! Funny "hootspa" wasn't detected on my spellcheck... :)

Mercurie- It's funny, the Roman films don't bother me as much because I can't imagine what a Roman accent would sound like (since they spoke Latin back then, not Italian, right?) but it's just a glaring problem when the characters are supposed to be Spanish. Actually, even in Dr. Zhivago the fact that the cast is British never dawned on me -- it must just be Spanish speaking countries, isn't that strange?

Lolita- lol, he was!!! But you should watch it anyway, it really was a good film if you try to ignore the annoyingness of the boy :) By the way I LOVE Bediiinnii!! He is so much fun in that film!

DKoren said...

Cool review! And a link! Might just have to click on that. You choose some nice-looking shots of Mr. Bogarde there. :-D

I like Michael Hordern, but he's in Where Eagles Dare (one of my favorite movies), as well as a bunch of other things I watch regularly, Shogun, Ivanhoe, Genghis Khan.... He looks so much younger in the screenshots than I'm used to seeing him! Cool.

Do you know, I won't watch Shane because I can't stand that kid?

Michael O'Sullivan said...

The fascinating thing about The Spanish Gardener is that it totally reverses the A J Cronin popular novel. In the book Jose in 19 and the stuff father starts to find him attractive ..... and accidentally causes Jose's death when he is on the run. Bogarde was 35 at the time and Rank were not going to kill off their "Idol of the Odeons" so Jose survives!