Wednesday, September 26, 2012


In the New England town of Corinth, lifelong bachelor Harry Quincey is known affectionately as Uncle Harry by all; his once-wealthy family lost everything in the Depression except their mansion. He works as the head clothes designer at the Warren Mill and supports his two sisters:  Hester, a cranky childless widow, and Lettie, a sickly old maid who is certainly not as sick as she acts. Life goes along uneventfully for Uncle Harry until the arrival in town of Deborah Brown, a company executive from New York. She and Harry hit it off and she decides to stay in Corinth indefinitely. This upsets Lettie who has barely-hidden incestuous feelings for Harry; she claims she never married because she knew her brother needed her, and now she doesn't want to give him up. Harry and Deborah decide to marry as soon as living arrangements can be made for his sisters, but Lettie refuses to find any of the possibilities satisfying. When this stalling tactic has gone on long enough, Deborah gives up and marries Mr. Warren, her boss. A bitter Harry then concocts a plan to finally get free of Lettie: he decides to poison her cocoa. Unfortunately, it's Hester who ends up drinking the cocoa. However, since the two sisters had been quarreling publicly in recent days (over Lettie's behavior), it is Lettie who is charged with murder.  Who will hang for the crime?

This psychological melodrama, directed by Robert Siodmak (THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, THE KILLERS) has a dark noir look and good performances by George Sanders as Harry and Geraldine Fitzgerald (pictured) as Lettie, and the mansion provides a nice Gothic atmosphere. The script is clever until the end when, due to Production Code morality, the bottom drops out and things are resolved in a ridiculously unbelievable fashion, undercutting the well-developed tension of the last half. Ella Raines, as Deborah, looks good but has no chemistry with Sanders (of course, he's not exactly the traditional romantic hero type). Moyna MacGill, who is fine as Hester, was the real-life mother of Angela Lansbury. Sara Allgood gives her usual reliable performance as the family maid, who knows everything that's going on. Even though the ending nearly ruins the film, it's still a fun little dysfunctional family story.  [Netflix streaming]

1 comment:

Steve said...

The ending is a real letdown. Until then, it's a very intriguing film - I love movies made during the reign of the Hays Office that, despite censorship, still managed to maintain their implications of perversity. In a way, they sometimes seem sleazier than the more explicit films of later years.
Much like Siodmak's The Suspect (also featuring E. Raines, and in a nearly identical role), it threatens to subvert traditional morality by encouraging the audience to sympathize with a killer. IMO, The Suspect is blessed with a much more believable, though still unsatisfying resolution.