Sunday, 5 April 2015

They Were Sisters (1945)
Dulcie Gray, Anne Crawford & Phyllis Calvert
They Were Sisters is the story of three sisters, the sensible one Lucy (Phyllis Calvert), the rather quiet one Charlotte (Dulcie Gray) and the bad girl Vera (Anne Crawford). Right from the opening scene we get to learn about their differing characters when we get to see them getting dressed. The film opens with a view of Crawford's legs as she fixes her stockings:
Anne Crawford

Anne Crawford
Then we are introduced to her sisters ... 
Anne Crawford & Dulcie Gray

Phyllis Calvert & Anne Crawford
... Gray's rather modest outfit and Calvert's sensible dressing gown are contrasted with Crawford's racier outfit to tell us all we need to know about their contrasting characters. It's a simple device that saves minutes of screen time meaning they hardly have to speak to introduce themselves. And, as regular readers of this blog will know, British film makers of the period loved a chance to get their female leads to parade around in their underwear.
Their contrasting characters are also reflected in their choice of husbands: Lucy marries a nice respectable architect (Peter Murray Hill, Calvert's real life husband) ...
Phyllis Calvert & Peter Murray-Hill
... whilst Vera marries Brian (Barry Livesey) ...
Barry Livesey & Anne Crawford
...who she doesn't love but who keeps her in a comfortable life so she can spend time with her various lovers:
Anne Crawford & Hugh Sinclair
However, the meek and mild Charlotte makes a rather poor choice and marries Geoffrey (James Mason) ...
James Mason

James Mason & Dulcie Gray
... a man who only wants her because he can exploit her good nature and enforce his iron will upon her. It's a terrible relationship that her sisters know will only lead to disaster and which soon sees her turning to drink:
Dulcie Gray
This being a Gainsborough film, with James Mason as the male lead, you know that things are going to turn out bad for someone. Of course, had Stewart Granger have been cast instead of Peter Murray-Hill then the script  would have needed to be re-written to allow Granger to confront Mason in an epic fight - that would probably have ended with them bare chested and dripping in blood - but no such luck. Instead, revenge for Mason's deeds comes in a quieter form.
It's hardly the most exciting film ever made but is entertaining in it's own way. In a curious casting choice, Pamela Kellino plays the daughter of Dulcie Gray and James Mason ...
James Mason & Pamela Kellino

James Mason, Pamela Kellino and Dulcie Gray
... this is despite Kellino being just one year younger than Gray and seven years younger than Mason. Not only that, but Kellino was actually married to Mason at the time. It is also worth noting that she was born Pamela Ostrer, her break into films no doubt coming from her family's ownership of Gainsborough Studios. She was the mother of Morgan Mason who married the pop singer Belinda Carlisle.
With the film starting in 1919, before the action moving on to the 1930s, it was interesting to see how the film costumed the male actors. Rather than attempting to dress them in period costume, for the scenes set in 1919 they are simply given 1940s suits but wear stiff collars and boater hats to give it a period flavour. In particular, the 1940s cut of the suit can be clearly seen in the broad, padded shoulders of Mason's suit:
Peter Murray Hill

Barry Livesey

James Mason

James Mason
P.S. Also look out for a very young Thorley Walters:
Thorley Walters
Currently available as part of the 'Best of British' DVD range:

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