May 3, 2012
The L-Shaped Room (1962)
Grade: 61/100

Director: Bryan Forbes
Stars: Leslie Caron, Tom Bell, Cicely Courtneidge

What it's about. Likable and attractive Frenchwoman Leslie Caron has a problem. She's two months pregnant, and she has forsaken both her family and her former lover. She takes a low-rent London flat and a waitress job at a nearby cafe.

Caron promptly has the interest of the building's two elegible bachelors, struggling writer Tom Bell and black trumpeter Brock Peters. She also has the sympathy of two other residents of the boarding house, lesbian elderly actress Cicely Courtneidge and madame Patricia Phoenix. The latter's sole worker is silent young brunette Verity Edmett. The hardened landlady for the building is Avis Bunnage.

After conferring with wink-and-a-nudge abortion doctor Emlyn Williams, Caron decides to keep the baby, and keep it a secret from the attentive Bell, who professes his love for her at every opportunity.

But Caron has more than one decision to make. Should she reconcile with her well-to-do parents in France, or reconcile with Bell, whose ego is outraged once he learns of her condition.

In small supporting roles we have Joan Ingram as the park morality police, Gerald Sim as an obstetrician, and Nanette Newman (the spouse of director Forbes) as Caron's successor in the L-shaped room. Famed actor and filmmaker Richard Attenborough is credited as a producer.

How others will see it. Because of when and where it was made and the class of its characters, this movie belongs to the "kitchen sink" movement of British films, then in vogue. But in a quiet way, it is a woman's liberation movie. Caron makes all her own decisions, along with the right to change her mind about it somewhere down the road.

The movie made little stir in America, but it received moderate attention in its native England. BAFTA nominated it as best film, and Caron got a best actress nod. Courtneidge, who gives the standout performance, was overlooked by the academy.

Director Forbes went onto to the bigger and better The Wrong Box (1966), and later earned notoriety for The Stepford Wives, the ultimate male response to woman's lib. Still alive today, Forbes' last credit was as co-writer for Chaplin, directed by his old chum Attenborough.

Although mostly obscure today, The L-Shaped Room has a high median user rating of 8. There is a moderate decline from female audiences with advancing age, from 7.7 under 30 to 7.1 over 45. Perhaps older women are put off by the unromantic ending and expected to see Bell on his knees begging for both forgiveness and her hand in marriage.

How I felt about it. This movie addresses the then-taboo (and always controversial) topic of abortion. Caron is surprised that everyone she meets there in England expects her to get one, since she is, after all, unmarried and (more or less) unattached. It is the practical solution. One can't work at the diner and change diapers at the same time. It's unhygenic. Besides, the customers don't like the soundtrack of a crying baby.

Caron has plenty of choices to make, but they all boil down to whether or not to continue slumming. She apparently doesn't like her phony parents and prefers her new, interesting, and fellow misfit friends. At some point, though, it is nice to have cockroach-free bedding, along with home-cooked meals and a break from the Bell and Peters angst show.