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

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