God only knows why the Kenmore billed "Mary of Scotland" as the feature in this present pair of revivals. It is a pretentious and ponderous movie while its partner is probably one of the best of the last ten years.
Somerset Maugham adapts nicely to film; "Of Human Bondage" and "Quartet" have shown this pretty well. It is certainly true of "The Moon and Sixpence." Maugham's reworking of the life of Paul Gauguin, of a man who chucks social mediocrity to become an intense, self-centered, and occasionally cruel painter, comes over with most of the book's neat narrative intact.
Part of this results from the form of the picture; it is told in a series of carefully integrated flashbacks by characters who know how to tell a story. The rest is due to the characters themselves: an abject Dutch artist who loses his wife to the painter, a Tahitian woman who looks for another wife for that painter, and the native girl who becomes the wife; they are all convincing. George Sanders and Herbert Marshall are respectively gruff and concerned as artist and artist's friend.
The camera looks at all this with a pleasing reticence instead of peering open-mouthed at people and events as movie cameras are often prone to do. It is aided by Dmitri Tionkin's dissonant musical background which somehow manages to underline rather than intrude.
John Ford directed "Mary of Scotland," and the only thing it has in common with the usual run of Ford movies is an inordinate preoccupation with horses. This movie casts Katherine Hepburn as the Queen of Scots in a pretty free historical interpretation of how she wound up in the Tower of London. Miss Hepburn displays two emotions alternatively through the picture; her usual breathless unhappiness, and a dour sadness. She indicates the latter by quivering her lower jaw, an operation which resembles nothing so much as a successful attempt to suppress a sneeze.
What makes "Mary" especially unfortunate is that a similar combination of Hepburn, Scotland, and good music worked out fine in "The Little Minister." You get the feeling that Ford must have been pretty lost in the 16th century Scottish hills, without even a six-shooter or a cavalry troop to keep him company.