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teaser Trio (1950)

Trio (1950), an anthology film whose three segments are all based on short stories by W. Somerset Maugham, was made as a follow-up to Quartet (1948), which encompassed four Maugham stories. Both films were so successful that a third, Encore, followed in 1951. All are highly satisfying British films, spearheaded by the gifted British producer/writer Sydney Box, who had won an Oscar® with his wife Muriel for writing The Seventh Veil (1945).

The Maugham stories adapted in Trio are "The Verger" (originally published as "The Man Who Made His Mark"), a comedy about a church verger who can't read or write and loses his job, "Mr. Know-All," about an insufferable oaf aboard a posh cruise ship (and based on a real-life experience of Maugham's), and "The Sanatorium," a bittersweet romantic drama set at a Scottish tuberculosis sanatorium. At nearly an hour, it's the longest film in the bunch and was considered as the basis for a full-length feature on its own. The overall cast is uniformly excellent and includes some venerable British players such as Jean Simmons, Michael Rennie, Kathleen Harrison, Nigel Patrick, James Hayter, Roland Culver and Finlay Currie.

The segments in Trio have no connection to one another except for being based on Maugham stories. The only visual link between the tales is in the author himself, who appears on screen to introduce each story. Sitting on the terrace of his Mediterranean villa on a spectacular day, Maugham informally chats directly to the camera for a few moments, coming off as delightfully urbane. Maugham's appearance in these films contributed to his almost rock-star public status at the time. He was being honored, feted, and celebrated all over the world, totally enjoying the fruits of his writerly success.

Trio is the only one of the three films in which Maugham actually had a hand in the screenplay. The others were adapted entirely by other screenwriters. The first two stories in Trio are directed by Ken Annakin, who had also directed a segment in Quartet, while the third is helmed by Harold French, who ended up directing a segment in all three pictures.

There may not be any better anthology films than Quartet, Trio and Encore (though Dead of Night [1945], another great British production, would certainly also make the list). They are thoughtful, concise, and literate yet cinematic, intelligently capturing the essence of Maugham's yarns. And even the slightest segments of the bunch are impeccably produced and acted.

The films did as well in the U.S. as they did in the U.K. The New York Times called Trio "a delightful screen potpourri... shot through with keen, ironic humor and subtle mockery of the stuffier British types... The fine economy of expression is one of the great charms of the whole film. Nothing is obviously labored. This is a mark of the storyteller's art."

Trio was Oscar®-nominated for Best Sound Recording, but lost to All About Eve (1950).

Producer: Antony Darnborough
Director: Ken Annakin (episodes "Mr. Know-All" and "Verger, The"); Harold French (segment "Sanatorium")
Screenplay: Noel Langley, R.C. Sherriff (writers); W. Somerset Maugham (screenplay and stories)
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth, Reginald H. Wyer
Art Direction: Maurice Carter
Music: John Greenwood
Film Editing: Alfred Roome
Cast: James Hayter (Albert Foreman), Kathleen Harrison (Emma Foreman), Felix Aylmer (Bank Manager), Lana Morris (Gladys), Michael Hordern (Vicar), Glyn Houston, Eliot Makeham (Sexton), Henry Edwards (Church Warden), Anne Crawford (Mrs. Ramsey), Nigel Patrick (Kelada).

by Jeremy Arnold

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