The state of the lady’s confusion was established by Mr. Greene, whose novel originally racked her between passion and theology. But the vagueness and irrationality of the stages through which she goes must be charged against Lenore Coffee, who prepared the script for this production of David E. Rose. – Bosley Crowther, New York Times Review, April 1955
First off, I am in awe of Lenore Coffee’s career as a screenwriter and script doctor, which started in 1919 and ended in 1960. She was nominated for an Academy Award for best
adapted script twice. She was one of the first women in her field. When she died at age 87 in 1984 screenwriting was still dominated by men.
I say all that to say, I have no beef with Lenore Coffee per se, but the film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair is devoid of the kind of character development we the audience need to make Sarah’s conversion from puta to pious plausible. It just comes at us in a whirlwind of feminine froth and smacks us in the face with a limp glove for no apparent reason. Perhaps religious conversions happen in that way for some people, and who knows what restrictions or edicts Ms. Coffee was up against from the producers, studio head and the Catholic Legion of Decency. Which leads me to agree with Bosley Crowther when he stated in his 1955 review of the film: “In an effort to give the material a valid dramatic form, Miss Coffee has considerably straightened the scattered continuity of the book.”
And here we have the ugly beast of transtexuality rearing its head. Adapting a novel to the screen is no easy task and some things are a bitch to adapt, like an existential crisis of conscience, especially in the face of sexual gratification. There is no doubt that Sarah and Bendrix are enjoying a physical relationship with all the attendant thrills of illicit sex but it’s like the old cigarette commercial: “Are you smoking more and enjoying it less?”
“Goodness has so little fictional value.” –Maurice Bendrix, The End of the Affair (the novel)
The worst part of it all is that Bendrix’ writing suffers. When he and Sarah get together for the first time they linger over drinks at the bar while waiting for a table at a restaurant and Bendrix asks: “My novels? Which ones have you read?” Sarah replies: “Well, I haven’t read any of them.” She goes on to say that she’s read the reviews because she really doesn’t like novels. Later on Bendrix in voice-over says: “I never knew a woman so pleasant to be silent with.” Maybe she’s just an idiot.
He’s a novelist and she doesn’t read novels. I would say this relationship is doomed even without the adulterous nature of it. I found myself screaming out loud to the screen: “For God’s sake woman, let the man write!”
When Sarah takes Bendrix to the countryside she tells him: “Aren’t you glad I made you put your work aside?” Putting his work aside becomes a habit as Bendrix’ relationship with Sarah grows more intense. This is not good for a writer. In a subsequent scene, Bendrix is in his digs across Clapham Commons from Henry and Sarah Miles’ house clacking away at his typewriter his desk strewn with papers and books, the ashtray filled with cigarette butts—authentic writer environs.He stops typing abruptly, jumps from his chair and rushes to the front windows to watch for Sarah’s arrival. There is a burned down cigarette on the window sill so we know this is not the first time he’s gone to the window to watch for Sarah; he even says as much later on after she’s arrived. We can safely assume that his writing is going nowhere.
Slow dissolve to mark the passage of time.
After the significant event that marks Sarah’s religious conversion and a considerable time after her subsequent separation from Bendrix we see Bendrix typing furiously at his desk, but he stops in some fit of anxiety and calls Sarah. She’s not home she’s gone for a walk. So of course, Bendrix hot foots it out to the Commons where he knows she’ll be and contrives a “chance” meeting. She asks him if he’s writing a new book. He says yes he is. Did he ever finish the civil servant book? The one she hated? He tells her no, he’s scrapped the idea: “A book takes a year to write. Too hard work for revenge,” tell that to Graham Greene. Oh! Wait a minute, he wrote that line.