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The Sea Gull Reviews

When Ira Gershwin wrote about "more clouds of gray than any Russian play could guarantee," he must have been thinking about THE SEA GULL. This is a good version of Chekhov's "Chayka" and stays true to the play, even pausing after each act for a long fade to black. It's Russia in the late 1800s, and Signoret, a well-known actress, is paying a visit to the huge estate where Andrews, her brother, has retired after years of public service. Warner, her grown son, is a sensitive youth who yearns to write and lives with Andrews, caring for him in his waning days. Signoret pays little attention to Warner and would prefer people didn't even know she had a child of that age. Warner's plays are unique and don't follow a dramatic pattern, so Signoret is only vaguely interested in his labors. Warner loves Redgrave, who lives on the neighboring property (a large country home in Sweden was the location). Signoret's current lover is Mason, a suave novelist who reeks charm and whom Redgrave finds increasingly attractive, much to the pining Warner's dismay. Meanwhile, Widdoes, the daughter of Radd, who works for Andrews, loves Warner from afar, while she is beloved by the local schoolteacher, Lynch, whom she finds repulsive. To make his point to Redgrave about the shortness of life, Warner kills a sea gull, gives it to Redgrave, and says that he will be in the same position soon. Widdoes can't bear the attention Warner pays Redgrave, so she drinks too much, dresses in mourning black, and mopes around. Redgrave announces her intention to go to Moscow and follow a career on the stage, and Mason gives her his address so they can meet there. Two years go by, and Redgrave delivers a child to Mason, without benefit of clergy. When the child does not survive, Mason departs. During this period, Andrews has become quite sick, and Widdoes has finally bowed to Lynch's pleas and married him. Another weekend, and the same people come together again. Despite being tossed aside by Mason, Redgrave still won't accept Warner's affections. There's a card game in the house, and Signoret, almost proudly, mentions that she still hasn't read any of Warner's plays. Outside the house, Warner makes one more play for Redgrave, but she spurns him once again and says she will always love Mason. He responds by walking to the lake and putting a bullet through his head. The picture was made for less than $1 million, and the mood is properly somber. But Signoret is far too Gallic for the complex role she plays, and Redgrave would seem more at home in Sussex than St. Petersburg. All the actors treat the words as though they were classic when the opposite should have taken place. If the story were treated in a more realistic, less stentorian way, Chekhov's meaning would have come across more clearly. With a few rewrites by Woody Allen, the film could have almost been a comedy.