Release Date(s)1970 (April 21, 2020)
Studio(s)Hemdale/Paramount Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Based on the play The Cellist by Marion Hart, Connecting Rooms is a character study of three individuals who have rooms in a seedy boarding house in the Bayswater section of London. Wanda Fleming (Bette Davis) is a lonely cellist who is flattered by the attentions of the much younger fellow tenant Mickey Hollister (Alexis Kanner), a pop songwriter looking to hit it big in the music business. A mysterious new tenant, James Wallraven (Michael Redgrave), is a former schoolmaster who is haunted by a scandal in his past. His room adjoins Wanda’s, separated only by a door that doesn’t lock and has the habit of blowing open.
Mickey is constantly insinuating himself into the lives of those he feels can further a non-starting career. He has his sights on Claudia Fouchet (Olga Georges-Picot), a famous pop singer, hoping she will record one of his songs. Perpetually short of cash, he leans on his friends, including Wanda, for “loans.” Yet Mickey is not very attentive to Wanda and is often downright thoughtless.
James tries to secure work as a teacher but a fateful event in his past makes that impossible. He eventually settles for a menial job in an art gallery. A tender relationship develops between Wanda and James, both lonely souls concealing a secret. They find comfort in each other as shyness and sympathy give way to something deeper and more meaningful.
Connecting Rooms is not well known today despite the star power of Bette Davis. It had a limited release in the United Kingdom and is seldom discussed in biographies of Davis. The film switches back and forth between the boarding house and swinging 60s London to show the generation gap and perhaps in an attempt to liven a sagging script ill-served by uneven performances.
Davis’ performance suffers from her trademark mannerisms, such as a clipped line delivery and long pauses that serve no purpose other than to stretch out her screen time. She also makes no attempt at a British accent. She does succeed in projecting Wanda’s outgoing manner and underlying loneliness. Recognizing James as a kindred soul, Wanda reaches out even as he is initially reticent. She commands every scene by overplaying it. The role is reminiscent of the type of parts Davis played at Warner Bros in the 1930s and 1940s. At times, she’s touching, but screenwriter Gollings’ dialogue frequently undermines her efforts to breathe life into a character based more on cliché than reality. This is far from her best work on screen.
Redgrave’s performance is low-key, though he does have a wonderful, touching monologue when he explains the details of why he was fired. When we first see him, he’s walking through a dingy part of London looking for cheap lodging. His James is a principled man who feels rudderless now that he is unable to teach. Self-effacing and somewhat shy, he eventually warms to Wanda, whose gentleness and concern are like a balm in an unforgiving world.
Kanner’s character is unsympathetic throughout with few redeeming qualities. An opportunist, hanger-on, and manipulator, Mickey wants an easy ride in life. He likes the fine things, but he wants them quickly without putting in the work. It’s unlikely that such a character would get so close to the rich and famous, and that’s a major flaw of both the plot and the performance. We’re to believe Mickey’s good looks and charm get him to mingle with those who can make him famous, but his phoniness is transparent and would, in real life, get him nowhere fast. Even the attention he pays Wanda is for the purpose of getting her to spring for a sports car he covets.
Kay Walsh has some very good scenes as landlady Mrs. Brent—a loud, offensive moralistic woman who nonetheless has an eye for any male that crosses her path. A veteran of stage and film, Ms. Walsh gives her character real fire and enlivens what would ordinarily be a lackluster supporting performance.
Unfortunately, Connecting Rooms is interesting only because of Bette Davis. The scenes of swinging, mod London slow the pace and badly date the film. The chemistry between Davis and Redgrave is believable, but the relationship between Davis and Kanner looks strained and awkward because of their obvious difference in age. The film is reminiscent of the far better Separate Tables in which David Niven plays a sexually repressed man. For Bette Davis completists, Connecting Rooms will be a fascinating find. For others, the film is slow and unconvincing.
The Unrated Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. As described in the audio commentary, this Technicolor movie was filmed in a technique called contour color, which is a total integration of action, image, music, and backdrop. There are two basic color palettes—the boarding house rooms of Wanda and James, and the scenes of swinging 60s London. Wanda’s room is brighter, with light coming in through a prominent window, a cheerful array of flowers growing in a window box, colorful furnishings and interesting bric-a-brac. James’ room is spartan and dark, as is his gloomy, depressed state of mind. Davis’ hairstyle is youthful and her rich red lipstick is the brightest color in the room. She is never filmed in extreme close-up, likely because she is playing a 50-year-old woman and was ten years older at the time. Overall, the picture is sharp, with no visible imperfections, dirt specks, or scratches.
Dialogue is sharp throughout. Davis’ enunciation is precise, if mannered. Redgrave speaks softly with an undertone of despair. Kanner’s delivery is brash throughout, with only one scene in which the arrogance and self-assurance of Mickey momentarily disappear. He epitomizes a hip Londoner of the period. A couple of songs are performed by Olga Georges-Picot to illustrate the popularity of her character, but the unimaginative tunes and dated arrangements do the opposite. A political demonstration scene blends the voices and sounds of protesters as they march, carrying signs. A scuffle with the police contains sounds of objects crashing and bodies falling.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release include an audio commentary and three trailers.
Audio Commentary – Film historian David Del Valle provides the feature-length commentary. He first became interested in the film when actor Richard Wyler lived next door to him in Hollywood and told him about it. The film had a limited release in the United States in 1970 and was distributed briefly in the United Kingdom in 1972. It was originally intended to be a play starring John Gielgud. When it was adapted into a screenplay, Bette Davis was sent a script in 1967. She decided to do the film because, unlike most of the scripts she had been receiving, this one was not violent and she found the Wanda character interesting. She so desperately wanted to play the role and jumped at the offer. She also wanted to work with Michael Redgrave. The film was budgeted at $1.4 million and had a 9-week shooting schedule. Kanner was an actor who “took London by storm” and was championed by director Peter Brook. His hairstyle and wardrobe make him a living time capsule of the 1960s. Davis didn’t like Kanner, thought he was wrong for the part, and tried to have him fired, but he had already filmed so many scenes that this wasn’t possible. Kanner was mesmerized by being in Davis’ presence and learned a lot from her about acting technique. Actress Kay Walsh (Mrs. Brent) “clashed horns with Davis.” Each character in the boarding house has his/her own story. Davis spent a lot of time decorating Wanda’s flat herself. Redgrave’s role is similar to that in The Browning Version. He considered himself primarily a stage actor, and referred to himself as a practicing bisexual. Historian Del Valle provides a brief overview of Redgrave’s career and the acting family he sired (Vanessa, Lynn, Colin). A more extensive look at Davis’s career includes her comeback in All About Eve at a time her career was at a low ebb, and the films she did after Connecting Rooms. Several times, the bright red lipstick that Davis wears is mentioned as a way to show that Wanda is trying to hang on to her youth. Cellist Amaryllis Fleming, mother of writer Ian Fleming, does the actual cello playing for Bette Davis. Though Davis promoted the film extensively, it wasn’t released until three years after it was shot. The film “is a curiosity filled with interesting ideas, fascinating choices,” and heartbreaking performances.
Trailers – Three trailers are included: Pocketful of Miracles and Burnt Offerings (both starring Bette Davis), and The Captive Heart (starring Michael Redgrave).
– Dennis Seuling