Monday, February 19, 2024

El jardinero

Dirk Bogarde was TCM's Star of the Month back in September, and one of his movies that I recorded, never having heard of it before, was The Spanish Gardnener. Recently, I watched it, and now I can do a review of it here.

The movie opens up at the British consulate in Madrid. A young boy, Nicholas Brande (Jon Whiteley), is looking out the window while the executive secretary converses with him. Behind closed doors, we here a conversation between the ambassador and Nicholas' father Harrington (Michael Hordern). The ambassador is berating Harrington for a bunch of reasons, such as Harrington inducing his wife to leave him, which is why Dad is raising the boy alone. Meanwhile, Harrington gets sent to a job at some backwater on Spain's Mediterranean coast.

It might be good for young Nicholas, because there's a change of environment in more ways than one. Dad thinks Nicholas is sickly, which is why the kid hasn't been sent to the sort of consular boarding school that the children of all the other people in the Foreign Service get sent to. Instead, Dad's been home-schooling the kid. Nicholas isn't really sickly at all; it's just Dad's way of being overprotective.

Dad earns enough that he can employ the Garcias, a butler/chauffeur (Cyril Cusack), and his wife Magdalena as a maid. The previous occupants didn't keep up any sort of garden at all, which for Harrington just won't do. So Harrington sets about hiring a gardener. He finds one in young José (Dirk Bogarde), and José takes to his work.

Nicholas being cooped up in the house all day because fo his alleged sickness, and because he doesn't have any positive male role models in his life, Dad being overbearing and Garcia coming across as a bit mean, Nicholas starts to put José on a pedestal. This makes Dad exceedingly jealous, and Dad does everything he can to try to break of the relationship the boy is developing with José, despite the fact that José is probably the best thing for Nicholas. Meanwhile, Garcia figures out what's going on, and takes the opportunity to frame José while taking advantage of the Brandes.

The Spanish Garderner is based on a book by A.J. Cronin, a British author I've mentioned a couple of times before in regards to his medical-themed novels that were turned into movies. Cronin also had a decided moral view, and that unfortunately serves to make The Spanish Gardener a bit of a strident movie in the sense of the viewer getting the point already while the movie feels it needs to tack more on to make the viewer understand.

The other problem with the print that TCM ran is that the movie was filmed in Vistavision and Technicolor, but the print is in 4:3 and the colors look quite faded. A restoration, if possible, would definitely be in order.

Bogarde doesn't do a bad job, although it feels like he isn't being challenged. That, and pretty much nobody in the movie is convincingly Spanish. Taking all that in mind, it's not hard to see why this one isn't so well known to American audiences.

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