Monday 30 May 2022

West end story… Connecting Rooms (1970), Indicator Blu-ray, out now!


This previously hard to find curio provides Bette Davis a chance to avoid the horror parts that plagued this period of her and her most competitive of fellow travellers, Joan Crawford, with an adaptation of Marion Hart’s play The Cellist opposite the great Michael Redgrave. The film feels like a play but as the main interactions are between Redgrave and Davis there’s so much skill and fascinating expression to more than compensate and this is a master class from both.

Slightly less impressive is Alexis Kanner as the would-be pop impresario Mickey Hollister, a user and a fraud who is determined to get his big break by fair means or foul. The part is so shallow it didn’t give Mr Hollister enough to work with but those are the breaks and his story does serve to illustrate the folly of selfish youth as well as false expectations. It’s a play of generations, those with little hope and those still with a chance… it’s all a matter of trust. The game seems up, but there’s always hope and will the young, like Mickey, realise before they run down their time on wasted effort and blind alleyways.

Michael Redgrave

Directed and screen written by Franklin Gollings, the film is based in a boarding house out in an un-gentrified Bayswater run by a Mrs. Brent played by Kay Walsh giving as good as she gets with some killer gobbets of disdain for her long-insufferable guests. There’s some sharp dialogue even if it feels more comfortable from the older players than the youngsters, a common problem, eh Daddio? Into this darkened and repressed world comes James Wallraven (Michael Redgrave) a schoolteacher seemingly on a study break at the British Museum. James is nervy and carries a hunted look, there’s obviously more to his being in London but he’s barely willing to drop his guard with anyone. 

This seems very rum for the others, especially Mickey who sees angles everywhere and assumed everyone thinks like him. Cello-player Wanda Fleming (Davis) is a kind soul who works in one of the West End theatre orchestras, she is fascinated by and concerned for James but he won’t let his guard down easily. She could do with more caution herself when it comes to young Mickey, who’s trying to get her to help fund his pursuit of a more lavish lifestyle. He’s written a killer pop tune for a visiting French singer, Claudia Fouchet (Olga Georges-Picot) who is represented by Dick Grayson (Richard Wyler) for whom Mickey does some work. Song writing is not one of his tasks though and Dick refuses to give him an in.

Alexis Kanner and Gabrielle Drake

Mickey takes matters into his own hands and borrows a £500 MG for his mate Johnny (Mark Jones) who runs a garage, to make him look like the impressive pop mogul he aims to be. He also plays fast and loose with his beautiful girlfriend Jean (Gabrielle Drake) who he’s constantly letting down when opportunity arises. He tries to palm her off with Johnny just so he can present his words and music to Claudia. He’s also giving Wanda the impression of almost amorous interest, complimenting her in unexpected ways given their age gap, his eyes on a loan to buy the MG…

As we discover the depths to which Mickey will sink, we also learn more of James’s situation. He visits an old friend at another school and asks for work only to be rebuffed because of the scandal arising from his previous employment. Gradually the whole picture emerges, radical politics, a brilliant young student and support from his teacher that led to accusations of impropriety at a tome when such relations were only just legalised let alone approved of between pupil and teacher.

Michael and Bette

There is however, however, a lot unsaid, and what develops is an understanding between Wanda and James, she is patient, and accepting especially after he falls through the door connecting their rooms and, later, is driven home by the police from a protest march.

Meanwhile Mickey has worked his way into Claudia’s hotel apartment and tries to get her to read his words and sheet music. He’s persistent and later turns up at an impressive-looking recording session to push his case… gradually winning her over and inviting her to a disco where he, again, ignores Jean to pursue his dream deal… sorry, girl. It’s so hard to deal with people who put themselves first and whilst James does so out of guilt and decorum, Mickey is purely self-motivated. Jean can see the good in him, just as Wanda can in James, but both the accommodators might learn how to live with or without their potential partners.

On the edge of the Big Time...

James goes in search of work but is rebuffed by a teaching agent, Ellerman (Brian Wilde) who is aware of the scandal. He has no choice to accept whatever work he can and starts odd jobbing at a gallery. Unfortunately for him Jean is modelling for a life drawing class upstairs – we see a lot of both Gabrielle Drake – and when Mickey turns up to pester her, he spots James making tea. Naturally being a louse of the first order and no doubt wanting to loosen the ties with his potential honeypot, he goes straight to tell Wanda.

Wanda deep though and is only concerned for the man with the secrets, she knows how intelligent and committed he is, and she must find out why he is where he is. Meanwhile Mickey hustles and harries Claudia… do good guys always have to come last?

Dusty verdict: Connecting Rooms is an interesting film and one that allows a superb showing from Davis especially which rubs off on Redgrave who meets her on a more cinematic level than his theatrical background sometimes enabled. The supporting actors are also good and Gabrielle Drake stands out for all the right reasons.

There’s a mixed bag of reviews on IMDB with one twerp accusing Davis of “ageing like cheap wine” after 1960 which is just obnoxious. This excellent 4k transfer should hopefully put such assumptions down the drain where they belong. It’s not a great film but it is a worthwhile one and it allows you to fully appreciate this stage in the career of one of the true Hollywood greats and much else besides.

The film is out now along with a Limited Edition booklet and lashes of extras. It’s available to order direct from Indicator aka Powerhouse Films direct.



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