Blessay 35: Now, and not quite forever

In the summer of 1955, my mother, then aged 41, was recovering from an operation in a convalescent home near Windermere in the Lake District. One afternoon she was out walking with a woman friend and they came across a crew shooting a film called Now and Forever. Mum was able to chat to the film’s eighteen year old starlet, Janette Scott. Scott had been a child actor throughout the forties and early fifties and Now and Forever was to be her first adult role. I’ve no idea what my mother and Janette talked about. It must have been a happy encounter for she told me that Janette allowed Mother, between takes, to sit in the actor’s chair. The late summer day grew overcast and chilly. Apparently Janette said, “You’re cold my dear.” and placed her cardigan round mother’s shoulders. Before they left Mother’s friend took some photographs with her Kodak box camera. I’ve hunted high and low for those two tiny black & white pictures but can’t find them. From memory I can see Mother, arm in arm, with the budding film star. I think there was also an older man in the photograph, maybe it was the director?

Now and Forever was released in the winter of 1956. Mother went to see it in a Liverpool cinema. She may have paid more money and gone into town to the ABC Forum. Or waited till Now and Forever did the rounds and came to our local Picture Playhouse in Toxteth. At that time Now and Forever would have been boring romantic slush for a young kid. I was seven and certainly didn’t see it. (My first memory of going with both of my parents to the cinema was to see Hitchcock’s Vertigo in 1958. There’s an odd connection between Vertigo and Now and Forever. Both films feature scenes with a bell tower. In Vertigo, Kim Novak falls from the tower. Whilst in Now and Forever, Jannete Scott, distraught at the news of her father’s death, is stopped by her headmistress from throwing herself off the tower). Mum often brought up Now and Forever in conversation. The cardigan, of her story, placed on Mother’s cold shoulders became a a royal robe exalting her status. Aged ten her story charmed me. At fourteen I was bored and wanted her to stop. She’d constantly chant, “Now and Forever!” and sigh like some princess passing through a fairy tale.

For many years it was impossible to see the film on TV, VHS or DVD. Now and Forever was dropped down an old well of maternal memories. This Autumn a friend lent me a recently released dvd. Now and Forever was directed by Mario Zampi, an underrated director who made three enduring British comedies, The Naked Truth, Too many Crooks and Laughter in Paradise. Now and Forever is not as good as those films. It’s a slight but a not bad romantic film about a young well to do, 17 year old schoolgirl named Janette (Janette Scott) who meets a motor mechanic named Mike (Vernon Gray). They fall in love – a love made especially desirous for Janette as her father has just died. Their relationship is not approved by Janette’s mother (Pamela Brown). She threatens to take Janette away from school and emigrate to Canada. The couple rebel and elope to Gretna Green to get married. They’re pursued by the police, the press and their parents.

Now and Forever, with its fantasy wish fulfilment of a title, emotionally tugged at mother for more years than I’d realised. From the age of 11, Mother would often talk to me about leaving father and we getting a home together. She’d never mentioned it to her sisters or neighbours, as the shame of doing that would hang over her. In 1960 a divorce wasn’t easy to obtain and my family were poor and intimidated by the law. I acted as her young helper. We plotted how we might do it. Confiding with our sympathetic family doctor caused problems. What are your reasons for separating? asked that Jewish man with his neat moustache. He gives you housekeeping money. He doesn’t beat you. And there isn’t another woman in his life. Your only grounds for a divorce are mental cruelty. If you leave him you wont get a penny from him, nor the State. The thought of being for ever with Dad made her miserable. If videos had existed back then Mother would have played the Zampi film to death.

There are better and more romantic Hollywood films, of the fifties, than the very British Now and Forever. You only have to consider the wrongly termed ‘women’s’ pictures of Douglas Sirk to enjoy a classier, if darker hued, act. Even a movie as mawkish as Jean Negolescu’s Three coins in the Fountain, with its crooning Sinatra title song, could have seduced Mother more. Yet I think she felt an empathy with Now and Forever more deeply than any other romantic movie crush. What captivated Mum was the sincerity of Janette Scott’s performance – today it still retains an innocent, need to be loved quality that’s most affecting. Of course she’s a skilled actress but she doesn’t come across as artificial or manipulative. Janette Scott had an old fashioned, English-rose femininity. Her performance is not a great one. The script of Now and Forever is too undeveloped to make that possible. Yet Janette does her sincere best and a warm romantic feeling shines through. Whilst my mother was probably eager to share the hopes and romantic ideals of her younger self as represented by the young star of a box office hit.

I wonder what my father thought of Now and Forever? Did he wipe away a feel-good tear after the credits rolled up? Or was he bored by this technicolor elopement? He’s dead. Mother’s dead. I’ll never know. But I’ll claim Now and Forever to be her film, not his. Their reality was an unhappy marriage, staying together in a tiring ‘now and forever’ rut. I’ll keep Mother dreaming with Janette, who will be seventy eight next month, and maybe re-visit Lake Windermere, one day soon.

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