Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"Travels With My Aunt" has class
Cleveland Press February 10, 1973
There is nothing quite like eccentrics for off-beat comedy, especially eccentric old ladies, and most especially British eccentric old ladies.
Maybe the English have a corner on this commodity or perhaps the sort of character lends itself to their particular form of humor.
Anyway this is one element among many that make "Travels With My Aunt" a pleasure, a thoroughly charming movie.
The other elements include the Graham Greene novel itself, Maggie Smith and Alec McCowen in contrasting yet complimentary roles and the direction of George Cukor.
Cukor, at 73, is one of the grand old-timers among movie directors. He is a maker of big, classy pictures -- "Philadelphia Story" and "Camille" and "My Fair Lady." His stamp is all over "Travels With My Aunt."
There is a certain sweep to the whole affair, a feeling for style, a sense of class. Cukor's forte has always been the romantic and even if his films deal with questionable people they are never grubby people. There is room for both romantic and realistic movies and in his class no one makes them quite as romantic as Cukor.
Maggie Smith is Aunt Augusta, an ancient lady who is overdressed, over cosmeticed and who has a corner on great memories. She sweeps in on her nephew Henry (Alec McCowan) on the occasion of his mother's funeral.
She introduces herself as being not unlike the wicked Fairy. "I haven't seen you since your baptism -- to which I wasn't invited. But I showed up anyway."
Henry is a bank clerk of rather staid habits. He is content to cultivate his dahlias. But Aunt Augusta has other plans for a man she feels has "lived too meagerly." Besides, he presents a respectable front for her somewhat shady enterprises which include smuggling vast sums of money through international borders, eluding the police and escaping several gangsters.
Henry meets her current companion, a black male fortune teller, and through a series of flashbacks becomes acquainted with other men in her life. It was a glamorous life, that he knows. An actress? Not exactly.
Actually a mistress, and then something less -- the occupant of a high class bordello. But in Cukor's hands these flashbacks have the shimmering beauty of softened memories which seldom include uglier details.
Maggie Smith is grand in the multi-level role of Aunt Augusta -- posturing, leaning and croaking as the ancient lady, breathless and wide eyed as the girl suddenly introduced to romance.
McCowan is a perfect foil and though his role doesn't have quite the same room for variety he is brilliant with nuances.
Greene's witty dialog is well served and Cukor has fashioned a picture that clearly defines two life styles -- the quiet but drab existence on the one hand and the elegant, high-living on the other and opts for the latter.
"Poverty, like influenza is likely to strike suddenly," croaks Aunt Augusta in one of her frequent pronouncements.
Unlike either poverty or influenza, pictures as good as this are not too common.