Monday, September 21, 2015


Everard Hope is an cranky old man who lives in a large house in which the rule is, no electric lights after 9:00, only candles—we're never told why; there are references to the wartime blackouts, but this seems to be a family rule from way back. Even his pet parrot constantly squawks out, "Lights, you damned fool, lights!" Everard has collected his relatives in order to have a reading of his will, but the night before, he runs out of his bedroom yelling, "Fire!" and falls down the stairs to his death. It turns out that he's left his money to Dorothea, a chorus girl whom none of the other relatives know. The catch is that she must spend a month living in the house before she can claim the estate. Dorothea is advised by the rather sinister-looking housekeeper Julia that she might be in danger if she accepts the challenge—there is some mystery concerning the death of Everard's brother years ago in a fall from a window in the house, and Julia implies that she might not survive her tenancy. Nevertheless, Dorothea starts spending money she doesn't quite have yet, goes out for drinks with some flirtatious cousins, and moves in. William Gordon, a former detective, has his suspicions about some of the relatives and starts hanging around, trying to keep her safe.

This movie tries to span several genres: old dark house thriller, comedy, musical—we see Dorothea sing and dance at a club—and never really comes together. Horror movie fans in particular are likely to be disappointed at the lack of any real scares. Still, it's kind of fun, with good atmosphere and a scene-stealing performance from Beatrix Lehmann as the housekeeper (pictured), who functions as a kind of Mrs. Danvers character. She and Eliot Makeham (as the cranky old man) are the only ones who really take their roles seriously. The star of the film is Jessie Matthews, a stage and screen star in England, though this wound up being her last major movie before she had a second career on British television. One character says to her, "Gosh! You’re plucky!" but for me, she called to mind a low-energy Ann Miller. There’s also two comic relief brothers (Reginald Purdell and Hugh Dempster) who vie ineptly for Dorothea's hand. A few amusing lines crop up. When we see Dorothea do her act, she is accompanied on stage by Maurice, introduced by the MC as "not her husband and not likely to be." Later the brothers come to visit Dorothea and are told by Julia that she "is in but not at home," to which one of them replies, "Bit of a contortionist, what?" [YouTube]

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