World War II had ended only about 18 months before THE UPTURNED GLASS was made but the only connection with that historic marker is an US Army truck and its driver asking for directions, toward the film's end.
Given the known scarcity of goods and any luxuries at the time, it is remarkable that this film posts such sumptuous surroundings and well dressed persons, all contributing to a highly atmospheric effort. I find it particularly interesting that Michael Joyce, a name that the medical doctor/criminology lecturer played by James Mason gives himself at the start, doubles up as voiceover narrator for more than half of the movie, to the point where his spoken plans actually merge with temporal reality. It makes for an arresting array of viewpoints and narrative twists, which only add to the film's dark density.
Ann Stephens plays the little girl who he saves from blindness, and her mother, Emma, played by Rosamund John, in time becomes his love interest, but it is a forbidden relationship, as she is married. In a film where voice tones and glances tell more than any amount of words, one rapidly senses that falling in love disrupts Joyce's ordered life. The fact that he suggests to Emma that something needs to be done so that she and he can be together, can be interpreted in various ways: does he mean that elopement is the solution? Divorce for Emma? Or murdering her husband, perhaps? The answer is never obtained, because that is also the last they see of each other.
Clearly, from a moral standpoint the world of the 1940s was far more limiting than today's and any of those options would have carried a high cost for all involved, whether it be in emotional, professional, social, or status terms.
Thus, Joyce faces the upturned glass, a mirror to his rapidly changing circumstances and disintegrating soul.
Pamela Kellino, Mason's wife at the time, deserves plaudits for helping with a riveting script, and she plays the part of Kate Howard, Emma's sister in law, with eyes bordering on madness, eyes which make significant suggestions to her niece and overtures to Joyce. She is the main suspect in Emma's death, and she makes no apologies for her debt problems or her desire to place her niece in bordering school and away from her immediate responsibilities. (I would have liked to see Emma's husband, and know more about what he felt for his wife and his daughter but, alas, he never surfaces).
Backed by wonderful B&W photography, one watches Joyce lose his dispassionate approach to professional matters and take on the self-appointed responsibility of judging the person he blames for Emma's death.
The scene in which he dispatches Kate in the same way that the latter had allegedly dealt with Emma is exceedingly well done, with a great touch provided by the key that she drops from the window, before falling, leaving Joyce locked in the place where he committed the crime.
Perhaps the film should have ended there. It might have been only just over 1 hour long, but it would have been a masterpiece of economy and quality in every department.
Unfortunately, as happens in real life, there is an option and Joyce forces his way out of the room, thereby launching a chain of events leading to his predictable demise, as in the 1940s crime had to be punished, if not by human justice then by divine or some other fate, including your own hand.
Crucially, Joyce drops the possibility of fleeing and possibly saving his skin when he decides to save another little girl, who was knocked down by a car. To that end, he operates on her and at the decisive moment he asks a fellow doctor to get an instrument from the vehicle where he is hiding Howard's body. He has the option of abandoning the operation and preventing his colleague finding the body, but he is too much of a professional for that.
Both one student and his fellow doctor rate him paranoiac, but my feeling is that Joyce has seen his soul in the upturned glass and he knows that he cannot live with it.
The ending seems a little bit pat but by then I had watched a very good film, reflecting highly competent direction, superlative acting by Mason and Kellino, exquisite photography and an arresting script.
I recommend it to anyone interested in British films in general, and British film noir in particular. It is a precursor to such landmark noirs as Carol Reed's THE ODD MAN OUT (UK 1948) and THE THIRD MAN (UK 1949).
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