Connecting Rooms – Blu-Ray Review

This 1970 British film features Bette Davis as a cello-playing busker. It’s about the relationships between her and the other the residents of this seedy London boarding house controlled by Miss Brent (Kay Walsh). Young hippie pop-music writer Mickey (Alexis Kanner) lives downstairs. Mickey has sort of a crush on the older Wanda, but is a bit of a conman. Another resident, James Wallraven (Michael Redgrave), a former schoolteacher, has been accused of being a paedophile and is now working in a janitor in local art gallery as a result. He’s understandably paranoid.

It was based on a play called The Cellist, and is very stagey. It is most similar to the film Separate Tables from the 1950s, although that was a better movie. Both have a starry cast and a boarding-house setting.

It’s definitely one of those end-of-the-60s film that telegraphs the time period with the music and clothes. Davis can’t do an English accent to save her life, and it has a really over-the-top score by Joan and John Shakespeare that is irritating. There’s also some fairly unnecessary nudity thrown in, just because they could at that point.

All the ‘60s stuff in certain sections is so overbearing that it’s almost like an Austin Powers movie. The rest is a really downbeat drama that is basically ill-conceived. It doesn’t quite work, and it’s an oddity that Davis completists will appreciate. She’s memorable in the role, but it’s not one of her great performances.

A fun Easter Egg is that near the end of the movie, the marquee says “Margo Channing in Remembrance.” Channing was Davis’s role in All About Eve, whose onscreen role was in a play called Remembrance.

The original playwright of Connecting Rooms was Marion Hart, who died very young in 1963. The film was directed by Franklin Gollings, who also adapted the play’s script for the screen. Gollings never made another film as a director—and you can see why, as Connecting Rooms was clearly not successful. His only other real credit was Battle Hell, a war movie from 1958 with a script by author Eric Ambler.

The film’s most interesting aspect is seeing London in 1969. It tries to become a real tearjerker at the end, but you really won’t care. For people into cult films, Olga Georges-Picot (best known for the Alain Resnais film J’taime, J’taime, The Day of the Jackal and Woody Allen’s Love and Death, plays a French pop star who Mickey is obsessed with.

The film has been out of print for some time. There are a few extras on this new release, probably the most interesting of which is an archival audio recording of Davis at the National Film Theatre when the film was playing in London. Gollings’s documentary shorts from the 1950s on travelling fairs and preparation for Wimbledon, the original theatrical trainer, an image gallery and a transcript of Gollings’ radio eulogy for Davis are also included, as is a booklet with a new essay and a variety of archival writing on the film, as well as on Gollings’s shorts.

★★½

Ian Schultz

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