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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first official "Gainsborough Gothic" bodice-ripper was a smash hit
for WW2 weary audiences in Britain, making instant stars out of James
Mason, Stewart Granger, Phyllis Calvert and Margaret Lockwood.
Audiences went back to the cinema time and time again to see the
diabolical exploits of the nasty and sexy Mason, the cruel and
calculating Lockwood and the doomed lovers Granger and Mason. The
Regency-era setting is cleverly contained in a flashback from a WW2
black-out. Lovely, fair-headed and popular Clarissa Richmond (Calvert)
befriends a poor pupil at her school, the raven-haired and almost
humourless Hesther(Lockwood). Big mistake! In the years to come
Clarissa has married the dastardly Lord Rohan (Mason), who only wants
her as a broodmare. Things are looking up when she comes across Hesther
again, and meets the dashing Rokeby (Granger). But then Hesther has her
eye on Lord Rohan...
So, how does this melodrama with a rather hokey plot (though it's very much "Vanity Fair" spun-off) hold up today? Not bad, not bad at all, if you can forgive the creakiness and chunks of awful dialogue. The four stars all create such believable persona's that they were all pretty much typecast forever. Interesting that Lockwood only really played three "wicked" women in her career, but she's forever immortalised by this and her subsequent "The Wicked Lady". While Mason, Granger and Lockwood stick out firm in the memory, Calvert is really the glue that holds it all together though. Her Clarissa is almost so sugary to induce diabetes, but Calvert makes her believable and sympathetic.
Posh girl Phyllis Calvert (Clarissa) gets roped into a loveless
marriage with playboy Lord James Mason (Rohan). She bumps into an old
schoolfriend, lowly actress Margaret Lockwood and brings her into the
Rohan household. However, Lockwood has an agenda of her own.
The film is told in flashback as it starts with Calvert and Stewart Granger bidding at an auction for items on sale from the Rohan Estate which is now being sold off. The film takes us through the history of several items found in a box at the auction before returning to the present day for a happy conclusion. Calvert and Granger are descendants of the characters in the main story in which Mason is a bad ass and Lockwood is pure evil.
It's an entertaining film with sharp dialogue and the cast are excellent with the exception of the boy that never ages and is insultingly blacked up to be a black boy. He tries to affect a black man accent at times with black man dialogue and he fails miserably. Then, he attends the theatre and dresses like an Indian. Is he meant to be Indian? Whatever is going on, it is really insulting. He is rubbish. Back to the film, it's great except when he's in it. There is just one thing missing from that box of items that Granger is bidding for the whip!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One line of dialogue stood out for me and actually made the film; Lockwood and Calvert are travelling by coach to Calvert's London home and she asks Lockwood (who has just played Desdemona to Granger's Othello) how long Granger has been an actor. 'As far as I'm concerned he never was' replies Lockwood, a brilliant summation of Granger's talent, the lack of which, of course, failed to prevent him achieving film stardom. This Regency meller stands up remarkably well and if Mason and Lockwood are slightly over the top, Calvert a tad TOO twee, as if auditioning for any parts Olivia de Havilland might reject, and Granger too inept probably at the time - and wartime at that - they were all quite acceptable. Certainly worth a look.
You can regard this movie as an '40's chick flick that has a story of a
typical romantic-dramatic novel, women love to read. It has all of the
ingredients you could expect, like true love, friendship and rivalry.
It has not just a triangular love story but its even more complicated
than that. It's all well constructed though but this nevertheless
doesn't mean I can regard this movie as being something different than
a chick flick.
The story truly saved this movie for me, or else it would had been a real dreadful one to watch. It has all of the typical clichés women seem to care about but as a man it just isn't all as compelling to watch. The story is solid and keeps you interested throughout. The love stories are original since it doesn't always picks the easiest road to walk on. Marriage and friendships turn bitter and characters are changing throughout. I like movies in which its characters are slowly but steadily changing into someone different.
It also is of course thanks to the acting that this all works out so well, even though the dialog and directing style are all extremely old fashioned. But oh well, this is of course consistent and normal for the genre. In the '40's director Leslie Arliss made several movies like this one, often with the same actors involved, without ever gaining real fame for it really.
Women will surely appreciate this movie even better than I did already.
This is a tedious movie. The real villains are the clunky adaptation
(it's embarrassingly easy to tell that the source material was a novel)
and witless screenplay.
On the credit side, considering the budget was tight due to wartime austerity, the look of the film isn't at all bad. And the performances are, by and large, OK, except for Phyllis Calvert, who is terrific - a miracle considering the potential for winsomeness, a pit into which she most definitely does not fall. Ms Calvert, with a lot less to go on, is as accomplished as Olivia de Havilland in Gone With The Wind.
The one absolutely unbearable aspect of The Man in Grey is the dreadfully conceived depiction of a black serving boy. No matter that he's meant to be a sympathetic character. Played badly by a white boy in black-face make-up, it is impossible to by-pass this example of condescending racism.
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