This is possibly David Niven's very best performance. It took several scenes before I realized that it was actually a heavily made-up Niven who was portraying the elderly Rollo. Even Niven's voice is different for the elder Rollo - about an octave lower - than for the younger Rollo! He portrays the younger Rollo, with his usual charm, panache and sympathy. Niven's performance is worth the effort to see this movie; I gained much respect for him as an actor.
Likewise, Teresa Wright is perfect as Lark. While I regard her more as cute (possibly "pretty"), rather than beautiful, she always radiates a glow. Her eyes are extremely expressive; they sparkle with soulfulness. Little Gigi Pereau, as the young Lark, initially steals our hearts, and it would have been great to see more of her. However, as the older Lark, Teresa Wright, is no less effective in her "larceny" than her young counterpart. We embrace her and root for her through the entire film. She is excellent.
The best performance, however, is given by Jayne Meadows as Selena. Selena is a more complex character, and Meadows delivers a nuanced performance. From the moment of her arrival, little Lark arouses feelings of jealousy and insecurity in young Selena (who has also lost her own mother). These feelings mold the character portrayed by Meadows, yet so do the feelings of love and responsibility she feels toward her brothers - especially Rollo. Meadows' Selena never comes across as a mere evil step-sister. Her affection and concern for Rollo (however misdirected) always come across as genuine. Although we do not like Selena, we understand her. She is never one-dimensional.
Another commentator has provided great insight into the scene transitions. They are masterful and set the story-telling apart. This film is a technical treat - in any age. The costumes, sets, props - everything is first-rate.
BUT, this is not a love story. It is two stories told simultaneously, much like the more recent "French Lieutenant's Woman." Each informs the other. ONE of the stories is a love story, but the other is a story of UNFULFILLED love. Rollo, having missed out on the love of his life, becomes intent on seeing his niece, Grizel, and her Canadian beau, Pax, avoid the same mistake he made. In the end, it seems that he succeeds with them where he failed in his own life.
The failure of Lark and Rollo to get together is due more to the common (and annoying) plot device of miscommunication (or more precisely, total lack of communication) between the two sweethearts than to Selena's machinations. That lack of communication between people who are supposedly in love is very frustrating for me to watch. Consequently I found Lark and Rollo's love story more frustrating than romantic - as I do the plethora of films that rely on this overused device. Thus, while the latter love story between Grizel and Pax ends happily, the earlier love story between Lark and Rollo does not. So if you like stories about love's being fulfilled, this movie may not satisfy you: half of it ends unhappily.
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