After years of playing fabulous amateur detective roles with blossoming starlets clinging to his manly arms, George Sanders finally gets top billing in something better than a grade C picture. But even the sophisticated sneer and the amorous leer that made "The Saint" famous, working overtime, can't haul "The Moon and Sixpence" out of the morass of mediocrity.
Sanders doesn't get much help from the rest of the cast, but this time it's the scenarists' turn to get roasted. Years of maiming plots and substituting happy endings have finally made Hollywood go off the other deep end. Using the outmoded author-narrator technique that novelist Maugham barely sneaked by with, the scenarists have deadened a story that might have been exiting. Every time the story seems to be moving under its own power, or rather, Sanders' power, the scene fades and narrator Herbert Marshall starts to analyze the situation and the characters with an obviousness that would insult the intelligence of a backward ten year old.
Maugham's story is no rose, either. Sanders plays Strickland as well as Strickland can be played, but this unmotivated, anglicized Gauguin doesn't smell very sweet by this name or any other. He acts more like a beachcomber than an artist and the only glimpse you get of his masterpieces supports this conclusion. He is fascinatingly immoral and bitter, but without reason, and, from what the film shows, his painting is secondary to chess, absinthe, and seduction.
It's good to see Sanders in high gear, though. He wears wretched clothes, a moth-eaten beard, and when he sucers, "Women are curious little beasts," or "Love is nonsense. I haven't time for that sort of thing," the entire female audience titters with uncasiness and anticipation.
An inaccurate bit of psychological murder, "Calling Doctor Gillespic" fills out the show to a rounded three and a half hours. This serves no other purpose than to let Lionel Barrymore play the crotchety old doctor in the wheel chair, unless it is to prove to the public that Blair General Hospital is still a grand place, even if young Doctor Kildare did turn out to be a conscientious objector.