Movie Review: "Twenty-One Days" (1939)

@JohnRoberts (60972)
Los Angeles, California
March 8, 2016 10:36am CST
An obscure 1939 British film named "Twenty-One Days" turned up on Turner Classic Movies. Why give a not particularly good film airtime? Because it is a curio starring a young and then married Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh prior to major stardom. "Twenty-One Days" was actually filmed in 1937 and sat on the shelf until being released to capitalize on the newfound fame of its stars. 1939 was a watershed year for Olivier and Leigh. Olivier became a leading man heartthrob for his performance as Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights" while Leigh soared to immortality as Scarlet O'Hara in "Gone With The Wind." The mediocrity of "Twenty-One Days" is surprising considering the talent involved in the production. The producer was the famed Alexander Korda and director Basil Dean who well regarded in his day. The source material was the play "The First and the Last" by John Galsworthy, famed author of "The Forsyte Saga." The script was by Dean and famous novelist Graham Greene. The art director Vincent Korda would go on to win an Academy Award and editor Charles Crichton enjoyed a successful directing career capped by an Oscar nomination for "A Fish Called Wanda." Yet the film is a potboiler. Keith Durrant (Leslie Banks) is a no-nonsense barrister about to be appointed to the bench and saddled with ne'er-do-well younger brother Larry (Olivier) just returned from his latest failed venture. Larry loves Wanda (Leigh) and the shock is walking in on her waiting foreign husband whom she has not seen in years. He demands money from Larry for Wanda's "services." It is a cheap and tawdry situation resulting in a tussle leaving the man accidentally dead. Larry panics and sets up the body in an alley. A guilt ridden Larry confesses toKeith and asks advice on what to do. He is willing to turn himself in but Keith will not have it as he sees his judgeship going up in smoke from scandal. His plan is to cover up tracks and for Larry and Wanda to get out of the country. The wild card is a bum Larry gave a cigarette to that fateful night night and the man picks up gloves Larry has dropped. That is enough to charge the man with murder. "Twenty-One Days" refers to the time frame of the trial and Larry intends on enjoying those days with Wanda then turning himself in if there is a guilty verdict. The ending is unsatisfactory without going into detail. It is somewhat shocking to see acting legend Olivier deliver a bad performance but he does. Weak and almost amateurish. Leigh has limited screen time and shows a few glimpses of what would become Scarlet. At just 23, Leigh was a beautiful woman. Her striking beauty is the only memorable aspect of "Twenty-One Days."
5 people like this
6 responses
• Pensacola, Florida
8 Mar 16
I don't think I've ever heard of this movie. My first reaction to comment was "Hey look a movie that's older than you."
2 people like this
@Tampa_girl7 (25829)
• United States
8 Mar 16
What a shame that the movie wasn't good.
1 person likes this
• Preston, England
9 Mar 16
Olivier could be terrible - his performance in The Jazz Singer remake is legendary and this scene is often quoted by comedians
It doesn't get any more dramatic than this! Maudlin-crap-o-rama!
@JohnRoberts (60972)
• Los Angeles, California
9 Mar 16
You are right. He was dreadful casting. But then again, what were they thinking: Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer?
1 person likes this
• Preston, England
9 Mar 16
@JohnRoberts yes, Diamond never did another movie though the soundtrack to the film had some great Diamond songs
@JohnRoberts (60972)
• Los Angeles, California
9 Mar 16
@arthurchappell He had a hit with Coming to America or something like that.
@Ronrybs (7392)
• London, England
8 Mar 16
Not seen this one, think I'll give it a miss!
@teamfreak16 (41175)
• Colorado Springs, Colorado
8 Mar 16
Sounds like it's a dud. If I ever come across it, I guess I won't bother.
@msiduri (5750)
• United States
8 Mar 16
Boy, hard to think of Olivier as "weak" and "amateurish."