After the success of Rumer Godden's first novel, "Black Narcissus," her next book to hit the silver screen was "Take Three Tenses," where multiple time threads form a romantic narrative, spanning two generations. Much like the 1951 film "The River," the language, apocryphal details, and familial nuances from Godden's novel were retained (here by screenwriter John Patrick), although the time shifting within the film caused audiences some confusion during its original release.
In the post-"Memento" era, the transitions between an aged, childless uncle, and his days as a lad and military cadet are anything but confusing; Gregg Toland's outstanding cinematography artfully joins the present and past recollections with clever lighting tricks. Also of note are the film's excellent performances, particularly David Niven; almost unrecognizable under his aged makeup, Niven's understatement gently conveys the torment of a man still haunted by the loss of his one true love (the glowing Teresa Wright), and the jealous sister who destroyed their chance at happiness (here, well-played by the future Mrs. Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows).
Of course, exactly how Niven can recall Wright's thoughts when he wasn't physically present might be a case of filmic hoodoo, but the story's flaws are lessened by the intensely attractive screen chemistry between the two onscreen lovers. Also of note is an exciting and beautifully composed montage of a London air raid at the end, which itself takes on a rather tragic overtone, given this was the last film shot by top cinematographer Toland, before an illness claimed his life.
MGM's transfer is first-rate, and is taken from a gorgeous print. The mono sound mix is clean, and nicely show's off Hugo Friedhofer's lushly orchestrated score.
It's a classically precious weepy, but a handsome production.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan
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