The Lingering Trance of Green Dolphin Street | Patrick Coffin | The Cinephile | CWR
"Our whole marriage has been a...slip of the pen?"
Some movies linger in your spirit for long stretches. They put you in a trance—disturbed, humorous, or charmed, depending. You re-watch them (let’s call them atmospheric films) and the trance returns thicker, and even more pleasant.
Green Dolphin Street (1947) belongs in this charming category. Directed by Victor Saville and based on the 1944 novel of the same name by English novelist Elizabeth Goudge, the movie has a haunting quality, a la Frank Capra’s dreamy epic Lost Horizon (1937).
Screenwriter Samuel Raphaelson condenses Goudge’s floral, unusually vivid descriptive style into a 161-minute adaptation that became MGM’s highest grossing film of 1947. Nominated for a handful of Academy Awards it took home the Special Effects statuette for the then state-of-the-art earthquake and tsunami scenes, which cost MGM $500,000—a whopping budget item at the time.
The movie-going public was primed for a change of pace from rah rah World War II dramas, rugged Westerns, and light Bing Crosby-Bob Hope comedies. The last successful “costume drama,” as they were called, was the gigantic hit Gone With the Wind (1939), and the studio brass were evidently convinced that it was an anomaly at the box office. By the end of the war, the poofy dress genre was ripe for a reboot. In acquiring the rights to the Goudge novel, they hit pay dirt.
Like all classic stories, Green Dolphin Street makes use of an epic backdrop (complete with glorious nineteenth-century sailing ships and an august cliff-top monastery) to tell a simple story of love found, betrayed—and regained, but in a in a way that brims with bittersweet irony.
It’s also a depiction of the dynamics behind the way some families seem to pass identical patterns of bad luck.
Summarizing the plot makes it inevitably sound like a cross between Downton Abbey and a Mexican TV novella.