The Film Society of Lincoln Center announces lineup for COWARD ON FILM, MAY 11-13, in conjunction with citywide NOËL COWARD festival

Highlights include silent film THE VORTEX accompanied by live piano and restored 35mm prints for IN WHICH WE SERVE, BRIEF ENCOUNTER, BLITHE SPIRIT and THIS HAPPY BREED

New York, NY, April 20, 2012 – The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced today the schedule for COWARD ON FILM (May 11-13), which will run in conjunction with the ongoing citywide festival STAR QUALITY: THE WORLD OF NOËL COWARD honoring the British playwright, actor, director and composer. The series will trace the breadth of his film work, which ranges from British silent and sound adaptations of his early plays to the later prestige productions of his works made in Hollywood. Notable films from his multi-film collaboration with the young David Lean will also be highlighted, as well as his celebrated cameo appearances in others’ films.

“I'm not very keen on Hollywood. I'd rather have a nice cup of cocoa, really,” Noël Coward (1899-1973) wrote in a 1930 letter to his mother. At the time, his verdict was not surprising. Several of his early plays filmed by British studios were silent, even though his plays relied heavily on witty dialogue. The highpoint of Coward’s involvement with the cinema came in the 1940s, with two masterworks: IN WHICH WE SERVE, one of the greatest war films ever made, and which was written, scored and co-directed (with David Lean) by Coward—who also starred in the film; and BRIEF ENCOUNTER, fondly remembered as one of the great screen romances.  In the 1950s and 1960s, he played character parts in other directors’ films and when told that he invariably “stole” the scenes in which he appeared, Coward replied, “Yes, but it was only petty larceny.”

“Noël Coward's enormous gifts were spread across an extraordinary range of activities and media–from theater to film to acting to composing to singing. We're delighted to be part of this long-deserved tribute to this “one-man Lincoln Center,” presenting the best of his cinematic achievements,” says Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Program Director Richard Peña.

Free Guided Tours: During the Coward on Film series, curator Brad Rosenstein will offer two guided tours of the concurrent New York Public Library exhibition “Star Quality: The World of Noël Coward,” featuring an extensive selection of manuscripts, paintings, set and costumes designs, costumes, and personal memorabilia, add VIDEO from the Coward archive. The tours will be offered on Friday, May 11 at 12:45 PM and Saturday, May 12 at 12:30 PM at the Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza.

Tickets are on sale both at the box office and on-line at Ticket prices are $13 for the general public, $9 for students and seniors and $8 for members. Special ticket package: create your own double feature! Select any two films in the series for just $20 for the general public and $15 for students, seniors and members. Screenings will be held at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater (located at 165 West 65th Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway). This series is programmed by Richard Peña and Barry Day, editor of The Noël Coward Reader and The Letters of Noël Coward. For information on the film series visit For more information on the citywide Coward festival visit

Films Descriptions & Schedule

Restored 35mm print
(1942) 114m
Director: Noël Coward and David Lean
Country: UK
Coward’s early experience with the cinema medium left him skeptical of it. So even when producers Filippo del Giudice, Anthony Havelock-Allan and a representative from Columbia Pictures came begging him to make any picture he wanted, he remained, in his own words, “wary.” Dinner with his old friend Lord Louis Mountbatten soon relieved him of his wariness. Mountbatten recounted his experience of having his command, the H.M.S. Kelly, sunk off the isle of Crete – which gave him the idea to make a film following a warship from its launching to its sinking and interweaving the lives of its captain and crew. IN WHICH WE SERVE turned out to be one of the most acclaimed war films ever made and launched the directorial career of David Lean. Coward himself co-directed, wrote the script and composed the incidental music and also acts the leading role of Captain Kinross in this landmark film.
Friday, May 11 at 6:15pm

“COWARD THE ACTOR” Talk with Barry Day &
(1959) 35mm 111m
Director: Carol Reed
Country: UK
Coward scholar and series programmer Barry Day presents an illustrated talk about the playwright’s work in front of the motion picture camera, featuring clips of his film appearances, including his first film role as a boy pushing a barrow in D.W. Griffith’s HEARTS OF THE WORLD (1917) to celebrated cameos opposite John Gielgud in AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956), Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the feverish Tennessee Williams adaptation BOOM! (1968), and co-starring with Michael Caine in THE ITALIAN JOB (1969), who once remarked “Playing with Noël is a lot like working with God.” The talk will also include a complete screening of OUR MAN IN HAVANA, co-starring Coward as an insensitive civil servant.
Sunday, May 13 at 6:15pm

THE ASTONISHED HEART (1950) 35mm 85m
Director: Terence Fisher
Country: UK
Coward played his last leading role in this adaptation of his own one-act play about a psychiatrist who becomes infatuated with his wife’s friend (Margaret Leighton), with tragic consequences. What was dramatic as a one-act stage play becomes melodramatic as a film, and while it was widely panned and considered a flop in its day, it’s been belatedly rediscovered as a cult film. Nonetheless it is an opportunity to see Coward and his “family”–longtime companion Graham Payn and muse Joyce Carey–playing together one last time.
Friday, May 11 at 2:00pm

BITTER SWEET (1933) 35mm 93m
Director: Hebert Wilcox
Country: UK
In BITTER SWEET, a London socialite Sari Linden (played by Anna Neagle) falls in love with a poor composer, becomes a dancehall hostess and fends off the amorous advances of a wealthy count in the original film version (considered vastly superior to M-G-M’s 1940 remake) of Coward’s most successful musical play. English director/producer Herbert Wilcox would end up directing leading Anna Neagle in her subsequent films and they would eventually marry.
Friday, May 11 at 4:00pm
Sunday, May 13 at 12:30pm

Restored 35mm print
(1946) 35mm 96m
Director: David Lean
Country: UK
A writer (Rex Harrison) and his second wife find themselves haunted by the spirit of the first Mrs. Condomine, courtesy of a incompetent medium who holds a séance in his home to help with a book he is preparing in the film version of Coward’s biggest stage success. Lean’s film version (the third of his four Coward collaborations) is faithful to the source, with Kay Hammond and Margaret Rutherford reprising their popular stage roles as Elvira and Madame Arcati. The original play was Coward’s biggest commercial success and ran for 1,997 West End performances.
Saturday, May 12 at 8:15pm

Restored 35mm print
(1945) 35mm 86m
Director: David Lean
Country: UK
BRIEF ENCOUNTER continues to rank high on critics’ top 10 lists, with a recent Guardian poll rating it the best romantic film ever (CASABLANCA came in second and GONE WITH THE WIND was third). In the film, the story is told from the point of view of Laura (Oscar-nominee Celia Johnson) who meets Alec (Trevor Howard) at a railway station. It is her voice that narrates the film, while Lean’s unobtrusive camera leaves one to wonder how much of this actually happened and how much is Laura’s romanticization. This seminal romantic drama focuses on the chance meeting of two married people and the not-quite affair that follows.
Saturday, May 12 at 6:15pm

DESIGN FOR LIVING (1933) 35mm 91m
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Country: USA
In 1933, DESIGN FOR LIVING was a big hit on Broadway and the film rights were quickly snapped up by Paramount. But censors at the time shot down the raunchy ménage-à-trois stage version. Director Ernst Lubitsch filmed this tamer comedy about a woman (Miriam Hopkins) who can’t decide between the two men (Fredric March and Gary Cooper) who love her. Star Fredric March subsequently left the studio so that he wouldn’t have to play any more romantic leads, while Gary Cooper turned to the homespun roles that lasted for the rest of his distinguished career.
Sunday, May 13 at 8:45pm

PRIVATE LIVES (1931) 16mm 84m
Director: Sidney Franklin
Country: USA
Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery star as ex-spouses who find themselves in adjoining hotel rooms while on honeymoon with their new partners in the delightful film version of Coward’s London and New York stage triumph. In a fight scene, Shearer famously punched Montgomery so hard she knocked him through a screen. Director Sidney Franklin liked the footage so much he kept it in the picture.
Sunday, May 13 at 2:30pm

THE SCOUNDREL (1935) 35mm 76m
Directors: Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Country: USA
In his largest acting role in an American film, Coward stars as a selfish publisher who dies in a plane crash and subsequently returns to earth for one month in an effort to find someone who truly loved him and will mourn his death. Writer-director Ben Hecht and collaborator Charles MacArthur apparently spent most of their time on the set playing backgammon, leaving Coward to rewrite his own dialogue. The result is something distinctly un-Hechtian. The American League of Decency gave the film its ultimate accolade by banning it. Over the years THE SCOUNDREL has acquired cult status.
Saturday, May 12 at 4:15pm

Restored 35mm print
(1944) 35mm 111m
Director: David Lean
Country: UK
Coward’s middle-class companion piece to the bourgeois CAVALCADE and follows a single British family through the Great Depression, the General Strike and the encroaching threat of World War II. The film follows the lives of the Gibbons family and the events that affect them from the day they move into their Clapham house in 1919 until the day they leave it in 1939. In his first solo directing assignment, David Lean makes the house a character in the film. By the time we leave, we feel like we’ve lived in it, alongside the Gibbons.
Friday, May 11 at 8:45pm

Silent film with live piano accompaniment
(1927) 35mm 80m
Director: Adrian Brunel
Country: UK
THE VORTEX was one of three silent film versions of Coward plays made by producer Michael Balcon at London’s Gainsborough Pictures in 1927. The story of a drug-addicted son and his adulterous mother had enough trouble getting a censor’s certificate as a stage play. It was Shakespeare who helped the cause. “If we ban this,” the censor reported, “we shall have to ban Hamlet.” The film version had its own problems. The script would only pass censors if the son was not shown taking drugs and the mother remained monogamous. The son, Nicky, was played by England’s leading matinee idol Ivor Novello, of whom Coward once said, “The two most perfect things are Ivor’s profile and my mind.” in THE VORTEX, you can see something of both.
Saturday, May 12 at 1:45pm

Film Society of Lincoln Center
Under the leadership of Rose Kuo, Executive Director, and Richard Peña, Program Director, the Film Society of Lincoln Center offers the best in international, classic and cutting-edge independent cinema. The Film Society presents two film festivals that attract global attention: the New York Film Festival, currently planning its 50th edition, and New Directors/New Films which, since its founding in 1972, has been produced in collaboration with MoMA. The Film Society also publishes the award-winning Film Comment Magazine, and for over three decades has given an annual award—now named “The Chaplin Award”—to a major figure in world cinema. Past recipients of this award include Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hanks. The Film Society presents a year-round calendar of programming, panels, lectures, educational programs and specialty film releases at its Walter Reade Theater and the new state-of-the-art Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

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