21 Days Together (1940)
Director: Basil Dean
Cast: Vivien Leigh, Leslie Banks, Laurence Olivier
Synopsis: After Larry Darrent accidentally kills his lover’s blackmailing husband, someone else is arrested for the crime. When he is found guilty, Larry and Wanda have just three weeks together …
WARNING! This review contains SPOILERS!
21 Days Together is a strange little movie. Filmed in 1937, it was shelved until husband and wife team Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh both made it big in 1939 with Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind respectively, and then released in 1940, presumably to cash in on their new-found fame. Exactly why it wasn’t released in ’37 is something of a mystery. It’s not a terrible movie by any means, which is usually the reason for a delayed release date. Either way, its belated release at least explains why German and Italian characters — with whom Britain was engaged in a war in 1940 — are shown in a positive light.
Anyway, Olivier plays Larry, the ne’er-do-well younger brother of Keith Durrant (Leslie Banks), a high-ranking barrister. Larry’s a gambler and drinker, and is always short of cash, but deep down he’s a decent sort, and has at last found true love in the form of Wanda (Vivien Leigh). She’s supposed to be Russian, I think, but to be honest, Leigh’s accent is so vague and sporadic that it’s difficult to tell. She’s foreign, anyway, and
after a pleasant day out, she and Larry return to her small flat to discover a strange man there. It turns out he’s the husband Wanda neglected to mention when she was charming Larry with her dodgy accent. He’s an agreeably sleazy type, with a pudgy face and half-closed eyes. Now, the reasons for Wanda’s marriage to him are a little vague. She was hungry, apparently, but it only lasted a week. This brings to mind all sorts of questions about Wanda, all of which are sadly overlooked when Larry accidentally strangles the husband to death in self-defence and then dumps the body in the alleyway next to Wanda’s flat.
As far as covering your tracks go, Larry’s attempt leaves a lot to be desired, but incredibly he gets away with it. A former vicar who has fallen on hard times and with whom he exchanged a few words shortly after committing the murder, is arrested and charged. On hearing this, Larry’s conscience finally kicks in, but he’s dissuaded from turning himself in by his brother, who fears that the scandal will scupper his career. The evidence against the innocent man is purely circumstantial, Keith argues, and he’s sure to get off.
21 Days is a modest movie with little ambition other than to tell a diverting tale, and on those terms it succeeds rather well. The two leads don’t really add much other than novelty value. Olivier is particularly weak, apparently incapable of emoting convincingly, while Leigh has little to do other than look worried. For a while, the story holds our interest, and exactly how it will resolve itself provides a measure of intrigue — until a key character coughs, that is. The resolution isn’t only weak, it’s also morally suspect, which calls into question just how it managed to get past the censors in the US. Larry believes he acted in self-defence, as do we but, setting the question of reasonable force aside, he’s still avoiding justice at the end of the movie. Even if he wasn’t guilty of the murder, I’m pretty sure there must be some sort of law against putting murder victims out with the rubbish. And at the end of it all, an innocent man’s reputation remains forever ruined. Ah, well; that’s British justice for you…
(Reviewed 20th March 2013)