In case you didn't already know, a new film version of Guy de Maupassant's Bel-Ami comes out in June. I took this to mean that I should include The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947) in this year's film festival. Despite the fact that George Sanders is kind of old to play Georges Duroy ("Bel Ami") and that the ending had to be changed to oblige the censors, The Private Affairs of Bel Ami feels true to the spirit of the original novel. Who on earth, I ask, could possibly play a cad as well as George Sanders? Ann Dvorak (below) is fantastic as Madeleine, Duroy's whip-smart wife and Angela Lansbury (above) is luminous as a slightly-more-innocent-than-in-the-book Clotilde.
And because it's not possible to have too many Angela Lansbury photos:
left / right
Today's second film is another with "affair" in the title: The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945). Based on a popular Broadway production, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry is the story of a middle-aged small-town New England bachelor, Harry Quincey (George Sanders), who lives with his two sisters, Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Hester (Moyna MacGill, Angela Lansbury's mom) who control nearly every aspect of his life. That is, until he meets sexy city-girl Deborah Brown (Ella Raines). Harry and Deborah plan to get married, but Lettie is determined that no one will break up her ménage and wield more power than she does over her brother. Geraldine Fitzgerald is amazing at being both creepily controlling and rather (incestuously) alluring at the same time. It's definitely her show.
After months of Lettie refusing to find a new place to live, Deborah has enough of her and presents Harry with an ultimatum. All of this seems like a better-than-average "women's picture" until about halfway through when the tone shifts and there's a murder. Watch The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry for the wryly humorous first half, the tense second half, Fitzgerald's tour de force and George Sanders playing against type. Just ignore the tacked-on satisfy-the-censors Hollywood ending.
Fancy enough as a starter for a belle époque dinner party but so ridiculously cheap that the down-on-their-luck Quinceys could appreciate it, Cream of Asparagus Soup is a bit of a pain to produce, but its use of asparagus trimmings is rather ingenious. It's amazing that something that would have gone into the compost pile can turn out so pleasantly.
Cream of Asparagus Soup
trimmings from a 1-lb bundle of asparagus
1/4 cup butter
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
To make the asparagus "broth":
Boil the asparagus trimmings (this just means the woody stems you snap off), uncovered, in about 1 1/2 quarts of water for thirty minutes. This can be done up to several days in advance. Save the trimmings and reserve 1 pint of the broth. Refrigerate trimmings and broth if you do this step in advance.
To make the soup:
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent. Cover the pot while onion and garlic cook and turn down heat if they are in danger of browning.
Stir the flour into the onions then add the pint of asparagus broth and the asparagus trimmings. Bring to a boil then simmer, covered, until the trimmings are very soft. Remove from the heat and purée. (I used an immersion blender.) Next, put the soup through a sieve. You don't want to have to gnaw on the asparagus fibers.
Heat the soup almost to a boil, remove from the heat and stir in the cream. Divide between two bowls and sprinkle with parsley.
Adapted from "Cream of Asparagus Soup" in Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book (New York: Atheneum, 1979), 35-36.
George Sanders Film Festival 2010
George Sanders Film Festival 2011