Cosy domestic comedy For Better, For Worse was released in 1954, and it very much reflects the mores of the day. Sex (as Larkin tells us) wouldn’t be discovered by the British until 1963; so this short, overtly-sentimental look at young married life is about as safe, conservative and as far removed from reality as you can get. Thankfully it provides a few laughs along the way to make it a fun, if largely forgettable investment of time.
The most interesting thing about it now is its star: Dirk Bogarde. Fresh from his success as Doctor Simon Sparrow in Doctor in the House, Bogarde was establishing himself as Britain’s top movie star and matinee idol, churning out humdrum flicks at a frightening rate of knots. For Better, For Worse is by no means the worst film Bogarde made in this era (The Spanish Gardener, which arrived two years later, is laughably bad); but there’s virtually nothing to be found in this picture that might suggest he would go on to become the great talent who starred in The Servant, The Night Porter and Death in Venice.
Tony (Bogarde – thirty-three playing twenty-three) proposes to Anne (Susan Stephen – remember her?) but whilst she says ‘yes’, her stern father (Cecil Parker) is concerned about his potential son-in-law’s prospects and demands he secure a job and accommodation. Tony sets about proving himself a worthy husband to Anne, but when they are sold a troublesome flat by the unscrupulous Mr Debenham (Dennis Price), and soft-touch Anne is constantly bothered by their well-meaning nuisance neighbours, their first year of marriage presents the young couple with plenty of problems.
As well as Bogarde, For Better, For Worse also features a few other notable British performers. Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets), was a fine comic actor and turns in another delightful performance here. The action picks up considerably when he arrives on screen, and it also intermittently bursts into life when Thora Hird (Talking Heads, Last of the Summer Wine) announces herself as a one of the neighbours in the sort of no-nonsense northerner part (wearing the obligatory headscarf) that made her name. The jolly cockney bailiff is played by Sid James (of the Carry On franchise fame), credited here as Sidney James. Along with Price and Hird, James brings out every conceivable ounce of comedy from his supporting part, and it’s easy to see why their names would come to dominate British comedy.
For Better, For Worse is a competent film that has some dialogue witty enough to provoke a laugh; but it is also overtly quaint, and its depiction of married life is as shallow as anything you’d find in a Richard Curtis movie. At least the excuse in 1954 was that it was less than a decade since the end of the war, and cinema was still being used to provide escapism from reality.
The contrast of the colours is similar to that of other films of the era, and the new transfer means seeing an old film in the best condition it has looked for a long time; however due to its age there is a variation in tone.
Extras include a theatrical trailer which leaves no illusion that Dirk Bogarde was the considered the biggest draw, and an image gallery.
For Better, For Worse is released as part of Network’s The British Film collection.