Short story anthology films gained a brief period of popularity in the early 1950s, with English writer W. Somerset Maugham’s “Quartet” leading the pack. In this 1948 black and white, Maugham personally introduces four of his noted short stories — The Facts of Life; The Kite; The Alien Corn; and The Colonel’s Lady”.
In “The Facts of Life”, a young man’s experience in Monte Carlo turns his father’s good advice inside out; “The Kite” keeps us wondering who’s pulling the strings on a young husband’s life, and if that life will ever take flight; in “The Alien Corn”, a young aspiring pianist and heir finds his life out of tune as he climbs toward the ivory heights; and in “The Colonel’s Lady”, a retired, socially active man-of-the-world, becomes desperate to learn the identity of the young Lothario his mousy wife writes so passionately about — in a book of poetry that is racing up the best-seller charts.
The success of this short story film was followed by “Trio” in 1950, “Encore” in 1951, and “O’Henry’s Full House” in 1952. O’Henry, of course, is William Sidney Porter. While “Quartet” boasted the personal appearance of W. Somerset Maugham as author and narrator, O’Henry was narrated on-screen by renowned author John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men). This 20th Century Fox compilation was comprised of five O’Henry short stories, each of which involved five different directors and five separate screenplays. In comparison, W. Somerset Maugham’s overall anthology is a toddy with a twist, while O’Henry’s is a Long Island Iced Tea. It seems innocuous enough to begin with but packs a wallop at the end. (Just so you know, I’m not a drinker but I have bartended briefly – with a how-to readily at hand).
Both of these films are well worth watching and have garnered some good reviews — both from critics and movie buffs. And if, like me, you enjoy the cultured language of these actors from the early years of film, and the soothing quality of black and white, that’s just an extra bonus.
But, (funny story) I had seen “O’Henry’s Full House” several times, but had never heard of “Quartet” until a blog buddy suggested I see it. However, in a “twist” of my own, the one she suggested was the 2012 “Quartet” directed by Dustin Hoffman, and starring Maggie Smith and had nothing to do with short stories. However, when I pulled the title up on Netflix I got the 1948 anthology instead and just went ahead and watched it. I still haven’t seen Dustin Hoffman’s “Quartet”.