From Day 5: CJC Leach – DR. ALEC HARVEY  ( Trevor Howard )“Brief Encounter”

When I first read your entry in “The Great Villain Blogathon” I thought: “Ohhhhhh, CJC IS the villain of this piece.” I’ve read someone’s entry where she does Mrs. Iselin in the first-person so naturally I thought you might be taking this poetic license…


But anyone who can work in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” ( I love those rat bastid sociopaths ) with David Lean‘s Brief Encounter  must be a mad evil genius of a writer. Now as a woman who’s been picked up, with pleasant results, and who tends to see the glass half-filled where movies are concerned, I have to say I like “Brief Encounter” and buy all the ( as you might say ) romantic claptrap. I love the good cry I have with this film.

You lay it all out brilliantly.

HENRY JONES ( VERTIGO )Your analysis makes me think of Henry Jones’ inquest coroner for Madeleine Elster in Vertigo; no frills… dispassionate…just the facts …the Letter of the Law of things. ( In fact you bat around and taunt the plot like Jones did young Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed” ). You speculate and infer and Trevor Howard ( as Dr. Alec Harvey ) comes out as a pretty bad sort of rotter in all this. ( “Preda- tor.” “Serial lech.” No such things as accidents? Wowee! Ouch! ) I confess my cinematic fantasies runs to tall, dark and handsome matinee idol types, so my even defending Howard comes as a shock to my shallow self. But I like him in this and don’t think he’s as bad as you paint him. I’ve got to show this movie just a l’il love in the face of all your cogent points.

BRIEF ( Celia Johnson )The flashback trope is always tricky ‘cuz it is fate as fait accompli, and the narrator of the flashback doesn’t have an omniscient take on things. I take Celia Johnson’s Laura at her word in all this.  This isn’t Rashomon. There’s no reason for me to disbelieve her point of view of things. Very few movies deal with things from the point of view of a woman anyway, it’s such a man’s world in movies (heroes, protagonists initiating and moving the story forward).  This is one woman’s account of her brief flirtation and attraction with said doctor. It’s during the war or the war’s just about ended ( 1945 ) and these aren’t two twenty-somethings jumping hot ‘n heavy into the sack. They’re two ordinary people who find themselves swept up by emotions none of them were looking for.

Getting caught in his friend’s flat was pretty awkward. I never get the sense that this is just a repeat scenario Alec has been in with a slew of lonely hausfrauseses. ( What IS the plural of hausfrau anyway ? ) You say we only have Alec’s word of what he’s told Laura about that meeting; sure, if we keep with The Logic of the Flashback. But for me everything’s hinged upon he’s not lying, therefore Laura’s not lying to us having been filled with a pack of lies from a cad.


“Not yet. Not quite yet,” is one of the most romantic things I’ve heard. He cannot bear to let go of this attraction just yet. She’s holding all the strings. It’s not that he’s stone cold. He just doesn’t push her really…or rush her. It’s crazy but for some reason I envisioned Alec going through the same thing as Laura at his home: the routine, the rut, the boredom; nothing so teddibly terrible to upend the apple cart and leave his family…but something missing, gnawing at him. I imagined him going through the same thing at home.

In the end, for Laura, marriage is more than about Love. It’s about loyalty and honesty
( little white lies don’t count ) and one’s word being one’s bond. She was needed at home. SHE had to be the one to think for both of them ( like Bogie in “Casablanca” ).  If she had told Alec NOT to go to Africa, he would have stayed. If he’s a cad about anything it’s that he lets HER make all the decisions. But I didn’t find him to be a cad. I thought they were two mature adults who found they had a deep attraction, even if it was only ten hours old. ( Ha! Talk about counting the minutes! )

I enjoyed what you wrote. My jaw dropped several times while reading your take on things. I literally said “Oh Wow!” OUT LOUD, “That’s a way of looking at this.” But I have to tell ya, I read it with my head, but not my heart.

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  1. A few years ago, I finally read James M. Cain’s novel of Mildred Pierce, which was the basis for this movie. The Mildred character is quite a bit different and, as written, would never have fit Crawford. (I’m trying to think of an actress from that period who would have matched Cain’s conception–maybe Claire Trevor from the 1930s, but a little more polished.) Veda’s a hard case in the novel also, but on a somewhat different plane. Here are two paragraphs from the novel’s plot synopsis on Wikipedia:

    When Mildred discovers her daughter’s plot to blackmail a wealthy family with a fake pregnancy, she kicks her out of their house. Veda, who has been training to become an opera singer, goes on to a great deal of fame as Mildred convinces her new boyfriend Monty (a young man who, like Mildred, lost his family’s wealth at the start of the Great Depression) to help reconcile them. Unfortunately for Mildred, this means buying Monty’s family estate and using her earnings to pay for Veda’s extravagances. Mildred and Monty marry, but things go sour for her: Wally, her partner in the restaurant business, has discovered that her living like a rich person has dramatically affected the company’s profits. He threatens a coup to force her out of the company. This causes her to confess to her ex-husband Bert that she has been embezzling money from her company in order to buy Veda’s love.

    Needing some of Veda’s money to balance the books – and fearing that Wally might target the girl’s assets if they are exposed – Mildred goes to her house to confront her. She finds Veda in bed with her stepfather. Monty explains to Mildred that he’s leaving her for Veda, who gloats that they have been planning this all along. Mildred snaps, brutally attacking and apparently strangling her daughter, who now appears incapable of singing and loses her singing contract.

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