“Let me tell you about Sandy Dennis: There should be one in every home.” — Walter Kerr

January 11, 2010

Sandy Dennis Foundation

Turner Classic Movies picked an off-peak hour — 6 p.m. yesterday — to show “Sweet November,” a movie we weren’t familiar with, starring Anthony Newley and the unique actress Sandra Dennis. Knowing it was a Sandra Dennis movie, we actually planned dinner so that we’d be done in time to watch — and were we ever glad we did.

This 1968 film tells an offbeat story about a young woman, Sara Dever, who — in a disingenuous way — charms a series of men into moving in with her for a month each. Sara is, by most standards, mad, but she is also irresistible in a way that Sandra Dennis was irresistible. The men who become her temporary lovers — arriving at the stroke of midnight on the first day of the month, leaving at the stroke of midnight on the last — are chance encounters, but in each she perceives some weakness, some flaw, and she helps him overcome it in 28, 30, or 31 days.

ANTHONY NEWLEY

Sara insists on the schedule. No man is to remain even a minute more than his allotment. Some are better than others at living up to this part of the bargain. The system begins to run amok when Sara takes in Charlie Blake, a seemingly unctuous Englishman who inherited a lucrative box-manufacturing company and is trying to expand it in the United States. As Charlie’s month, November, slips away, he is less and less inclined to part company with Sara. He is also increasingly concerned that her insistence on his departure has to do with something more — something darker — than her therapeutic routine.

THEODORE BIKEL

The cast of this film includes Theodore Bikel as Alonzo, a vegan sign painter and Sara’s one true confidant.

All the performances are moving, and Sandra Dennis is as good as she ever was on film, blurring the distinction between the actress and the character through inimitable speech and mannerisms and deep emotional insights. I had the good fortune to meet this actress on two occasions, and I found her just as mesmerizing as Sara seems to be in this film — and for many of the same reasons.

“Sweet November” was remade in 2001 with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron. I haven’t seen that version, but from what I’ve read, it was a laughing stock. It might have been a bad film altogether, but even if it wasn’t, I doubt that many people who have seen Sandra Dennis play Sara Dever would want to see anyone else in the part.

Sandra Dennis and Anthony Newley in "Sweet November"

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