I’m on a roll with Henry James stories that have been made into films, but I’m beginning to think Mr. James is a vampire. He places his deep and penetrating insight into rooms high and low, then watches the pulsing carotid artery of his various prey beating. They are living human morsels and he is committed to draining their blood…elegantly.
But instead of flinging himself at his victim, per more recent permutations of the blood lusting sort, or ejecting a leaping succulent tongue to ensnare and devour like a frog in a nature program with unbelievably quick reflexes, he approaches carefully, all social graces intact, intelligence bright and cold. He places his lips on his character’s necks, allows his incisors to puncture and mark. Then hangs on for an hour and a half. You can’t hear him drinking, yet so many perfectly dressed and ensconced individuals meet wily doom.
The film starts as a forbidden love affair between two lovers whose quest for a rising social status is keeping them apart. Then a third character joins them, who knows nothing of their affair, a beautiful but tragically ill heiress. It’s not social criticism that ultimately separates the lovers, but the mark of this woman whose real relationship to them both remains the mystery. Oh! Henry James, what is wrong with you? Never love, sex, passion, or real compassion, but the doppelgänger of these elements in a room full of ghosts and mirrors haunts all your stories. A story is not great, just because you write well about difficult hidden things. Yet the film is worth watching. It’s a horrible, terrible, very good, very bad film, filled with excellent performances, beautiful sets and costumes and superb direction. Perhaps its best use is as warning. Watch it and pray nothing of the sort ever happens to you.