Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Man in Grey (1943)
James Mason as Lord Rohan

Released in 1943, The Man in Grey was the first of what were to become known as ‘Gainsborough Gothics’: melodramas produced by Gainsborough Studios in the mid to late 1940s. Most notably it was the film that made stars of James Mason and Stewart Granger  and cemented Margaret Lockwood’s as one of British cinema’s greatest ever stars ...
James Mason & Margaret Lockwood
... even if Stewart Granger had to 'black-up' to give the audience one of the least notable performances of Othello ever committed to screen (he plays an actor in a dire travelling production of Shakespeare's play):
Stewart Granger

Stewart Granger's Othello murders Margaret Lockwood's Desdemona
 Set in Regency England, it tells the story of a popular and beautiful young woman Clarissa Marr (Phyllis Calvert)...
Phyllis Calvert
... who befriends an orphaned girl Hesther Shaw (Margaret Lockwood)...
Margaret Lockwood
... whilst at school. However, despite their friendship Hesther remains aloof, struggling to allow herself to be accepted as her friend’s equal. She is self-aware, understanding the dark side of her own character, meaning she shuns true friendship. Even the gypsy fortune teller recognises her dark character:
After leaving school the two women go their separate ways, with Clarissa marrying Lord Rohan (James Mason), a roguish, selfish, but rich young man who cares little for his wife, instead remaining preoccupied with the pursuit of pleasure.
James Mason & Phyllis Calvert

When Clarissa and ML become reacquainted, whilst Hesther is acting in ‘Othello’ opposite Peter Rokeby (Stewart Granger), and PC invites her old friend to live in the family home, it’s a sure sign that things are about to go tragically wrong. It’s not long before Hesther is sharing Lord Rohan’s bed (after the obligatory fight) ...

... and Clarissa is thrown into the path of Peter Rokeby.

In keeping with its wartime release, the film is a flashback with Phyllis Calvert playing a descendant of Clarissa) meeting a descendant of Peter Rokeby (played, of course, by Stewart Granger) at an auction of the family possessions:
Phyllis Calvert & Stewart Granger
As anyone familiar with Gainsborough's output during this period, it all ends in tragedy:
Margaret Lockwood
It's safe to say that The Man in Grey set the tone for later films such as The Wicked Lady although the style is not yet as overtly sexual as it would become in the later film. After all, anyone who has watched Margaret Lockwood's chest in The Wicked Lady will understand the impact that film had - since just three years earlier Gainsborough's flirtation with the female form got little further than a flash of Phyllis Calvert's voluminous underwear:
Phyllis Calvert
Over-the-top; melodramatic; ridiculous? Yes – but fun. That’s why we watch these films.

Most interesting is Clarissa’s servant Toby, played by Harry Scott, who curiously doesn’t seem to age throughout the course of the film.
Harry Scott
Whilst it was fashionable to have black servants in Regency England, it’s less clear why the filmmakers appear to have cast a white boy in the role, who was ‘blacked-up’ minstrel style for the role. Considering that there were plenty of black children in the UK during this period (they found a whole classroom of black children for the 1938 Will Hay film Old Bones of the River – complete with cockney accents)
Also featuring are Martita Hunt:
Martita Hunt
and Roy Emmerton, perfectly cast as the man who organises the dogfights attended by Lord Rohan:
Roy Emmerton
What can one say about a film that has Martita Hunt describe a snowball fight as "hoiterous romping" (whatever that means) and introduces an imaginary character named 'Leticia Fitznoodle'?
My favourite line of the film has to be Lord Rohan's words to Hesther:
"Has anyone ever told you what a slut you are?"
James Mason & Margaret Lockwood

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Nanny (1965)
Bette Davis
 Whilst Hammer Films might be best known for their output of richly coloured horror films, for many it is black and white psychological thrillers, such as The Nanny, that were actually their best films. And on viewing this for the first time, I agree that it's a strong argument.
Directed by Seth Holt, from a Jimmy Sangster script based on a novel by Evelyn Piper, it's the story of a sinister nanny (played by Bette Davis) who can only be described as the antithesis of Mary Poppins: if this nanny turns up in your home, you know you aren't going to be dancing on the rooftops with Dick Van Dyke - more likely you'll be jumping off the roof (with just a little bit of help ...).
Nanny works for Mrs and Mrs Fane (James Villiers and Wendy Craig):
James Villiers

Wendy Craig
Wendy Craig
They are a rather dysfunctional family: Mr Fane is cold and distant, Mrs Fane is in the throes of a nervous breakdown and teetering on the brink of madness, their son Joey (played by William Dix) ...
William Dix
... is a mischievous child recently released from a special school after being blamed for the death of his sister (played by Angharad Aubrey). Added to the mix is Bette Davis who was formerly the nanny to Mrs Fane and her sister Pen. Let's just say that the passing of the years hasn't really undermined their old relationship and the situation is less than normal. This is most certainly not a healthy relationship:
Bette Davis & Wendy Craig

Bette Davis & Wendy Craig
I won't give away the twists and turns in the film but will say there were certain images that were highly effective, courtesy of director Seth Holt (whose work held such promise and was so impressive in Nowhere to Go - see my earlier post) and Bette Davis who gives a chilling performance:
Bette Davis

Bette Davis
Watching a performance like this makes one realise why some performers truly deserve their reputations: Bette Davis has such control of her scenes, displaying her malevolent power with a simple movement of her eyes or tilting of her head.
The nanny's place in the world - as a figure from the past, whose time has run out - is clearly set out by the director: Every room of the house is modern - the kitchen ...
... the hall ...
... and the living room ...
... but not Nanny's room ...
When we see Mrs Fane being comforted by Nanny, Wendy Craig is crying on a bed with modern covers:
Bette Davis and Wendy Craig
... but seen from Mrs Fane's perspective, Nanny is framed by old fashioned wallpaper:
Bette Davis
The contrast couldn't be more clearly made.
For much of the film the viewer is kept guessing as to the truth of the situation within the Fane household. In a carefully composed shot, the director allows the viewer to consider the balance of their relationships:
William Dix and Bette Davis
Who is trapped by these bars? Is Joey trapped by his family's trust in Nanny? Is Nanny trapped by her position within the household, meaning she is no longer in touch with the outside world? Or is the whole Fane family trapped by Nanny's influence over Mrs Fane?
It's a question  that the viewer will enjoy pondering.
Others appearing in the film are:
Maurice Denham

Jill Bennett (the 4th wife of  the John Osborne)

Pamela Franklin - a typical fourteen year-old girl's bedroom in 1965?

Pamela Franklin
I suppose Pamela Franklin was an obvious choice for the role, having starred in The Innocents (1961) - another film where domestic staff make problems for their employers. On that theme, The Nanny fits into a thread of British films from the early 1960s in which the relationship between 'master and servant' is challenged, the most notable example being The Servant (1963) which also starred Wendy Craig. These films reflect the shifting social barriers of post-war Britain, where the servant is no longer subservient.

Harry Fowler
It's interesting to see Harry Fowler appearing in a brief role as a milkman who is tormented by Dix and Franklin. The tables had been turned on Fowler: twenty years earlier Fowler had built his career on playing urchins in conflict with authority (Hue and Cry, I Believe in You, Painted Boats etc).

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Company Logos
I thought it might be useful to include some distributors and production company logos for reference:

Associated British Picture Corporation

Associated British Picture Corporation

Associated British Picture Corporation

Associated British Film Distributors & Associated Talking pictures

Associated British Film Distributors
Anglo Amalgamated

Associated Radio Pictures (the name used by Associated Talking Pictures when they had a production deal with RKO Radio Pictures)

Associated Talking Pictures
Associated Talking Pictures

British Australian Film Corporation

British Empire Films

British International Pictures

British International Pictures
British Lion
Butcher Empire

City Films
Denham & Pinewood Studios

Eagle Lion Distributors

Eagle Lion Distributors

Ealing Films (the logo used after the company left Ealing Studios)

Ealing Films (the logo used after the company left Ealing Studios)

Ealing Studios
Equity British Films Ltd

Eros Films
Gaiety Films

Gainsborough (i.e. The Gainsborough Lady aka actress Glennis Lorimer)
A later version of The Gainsborough Lady

Gainsborough Pictures


General Film Distributors
General Film Distributors
(with the 'GFD' logo inside the original Rank gong)
London Films

London Films

Lion International

Phoenix Films
Renown Pictures
Radio Pictures

Sabre Films

Tempean Productions
The Archers

The Archers

Toeplitz Productions
Two Cities

Two Cities

Wyndham Films