Movie Recommendation #2: The Moon and Sixpence

Here is a link to the previous installment of this series, where I recommended the movie “Darling.”

Movie Recommendation #1: Darling

On Sunday at 10:15 AM, the cable network Turner Classic Movies is airing “The Moon and Sixpence,” a 1942 movie based on a novel of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham. It’s loosely based on the life of painter Paul Gauguin, although Maugham changed the name to Charles Strickland and the nationality to British.

 Surprisingly adult adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel based on the life of Paul Gauguin, with Sanders as the restless (and selfish) spirit [Charles Strickland] who turns his back on his family, and society, to become a painter. A postscript, tacked on to satisfy Hollywood’s moral code, weakly tries to undermine the character that Sanders and writer-director Lewin have just portrayed so well!

From the novel’s Wikipedia page:

According to some sources, the title, the meaning of which is not explicitly revealed in the book, was taken from a review of Of Human Bondage in which the novel’s protagonist, Philip Carey, is described as “so busy yearning for the moon that he never saw the sixpence at his feet.” According to a 1956 letter from Maugham, “If you look on the ground in search of a sixpence, you don’t look up, and so miss the moon.”

What makes this movie interesting is that it’s the story of a very selfish man who is driven by his vision of achieving an ideal artistic vision, which represents the “moon” in the title. In his desire to create his ideal art, he keeps his gaze so fixed upon his lofty goal that he fails to notice the value of all the lives he tramples and discards along the way, which are the “sixpence” of the title.

The actor George Sanders as the lead impeccably delivers many choice bon mots in his typically wonderful droll delivery. This movie is not only wonderful for its depiction of an incredibly selfish narcissist, it also excels at realistically illustrating the sexual dynamics of the alpha male bad boy and beta male provider dynamic, which is where a woman has one man who is a “nice guy” and a provider, and is very doting and loving, but finds herself more sexually excited and tempted by the aloofness and powerful persona of another man who is more of a “bad boy” and a cad. W. Somerset Waugham was one of those creators who had a deep understanding of what makes people tick.

One of the things I love best about these old movies is that they were more restrictive in some way thanks to the Hollywood morality code in place at the time, but thanks to not being constrained by political correctness they were able to be freer in other ways, like in some of the insightful, penetrating observations the Strickland character utters throughout the movie regarding the baser natures of men and women. The misogyny would cause a far greater uproar in a movie released today.

Again, set your DVRs for Sunday at 10:15 AM, on the network Turner Classic Movies. Or you can click here for a DVD copy of the movie. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t seem to be available on Netflix.

As usual, if you see this movie, whether you enjoy or hate it, feel free to discuss it in the comments below.