Who would have thunk it….Vivien Leigh made pictures other than Gone with the Wind!
In the history of cinema perhaps three things are intertwined until they have become to a large extent interchangeable….Scarlett O’Hara, Gone with the Wind, and Vivien Leigh. But although she made fewer films than one would imagine, due to health concerns- both mental and physical- her career was not as robust as would otherwise have been the case. By the end of her career, Vivien had starred in roughly twenty feature films, but winning two Academy Awards in the process for Gone with the Wind (1939) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).
Dark Journey, by contrast is one of Leigh’s pre-GWTW films, and like most from this period in her career, not overly well known this side of the pond. Made in the appeasement era of 1937 Britain, Leigh plays a Swiss double agent who owns a dress shop in Stockholm, but travels to Paris for work. Work not only for the dress shop, but also as a means for passing information to the Allies. Granted, she was also working for the Germans as well. Truth be told, her ultimate sympathies lie with the Allies.
There are several plot turns, which I won’t go into here should one want to check this one out. Some of these are subtle and may take a second viewing to grasp. Director Victor Saville does an adequate job but perhaps some of these plot points should have been less subtle, so to speak. Stereotypically as with most British productions, there is quite a bit of talking here, but one should not be put off. The film is worth the wait.
Vivien Leigh is, simply put, Vivien Leigh. The camera seems automatically drawn to her beauty, but she puts in a strong performance. Her costar, Conrad Veidt, although not usually highly regarded as a leading man, also does quite well here. Vivien and Conrad are surround by a strong supporting cast of players, none of whom are names anyone will know but they provide good support nonetheless.
One interesting asides is the portrayal of the Germans here. It is almost as if extra pains are taken to paint them as normal people simply serving their country, much as the English or French are serving theirs. It is a really interesting bent on things when one drops the Neville Chamberlain cabinet, the Munich Pact, and the fact that Churchill was still an outcast into the mix.
The film itself isn’t magic. But it is very strong and for those wanting a good example of pre-GWTH Vivien Leigh it is a good viewing. Perhaps second only to Fire Over England in this regard, which also stars of course, Vivien’s second husband, Laurence Olivier.
It’s available in DVD from a few off hand folks, recommended highly. It’s not on TCM often and an uncommon Leigh film!