Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)

After watching Robert Siodmark's "The Strange Afair of Uncle Harry" I looked around online - there seems to be a general consensus that this is a very good film with the most disappointing ending. I am not at all surprised, as I totally agree. However, I think that most people don't realise is that the original ending of the play would not be allowed. It's true that other options could have allowed some of the spirit of the source material, but this way we almost have it. And watching the film, you can certainly spot what has been added (so you can always stop the film a few minutes before the end card).
All that said, the film is definitely worth a look. George Sanders is the emasculated last heir of an old family that has lost all its money in the depression. He has been forced to work to support himself and two sisters, one a widow (played by Angela Lansbury's mother, Moyna MacGill) and the other, the youngest, an "invalid" (Geraldine Fitzgerald). When a NY company representative (Ella Rains) arrives in town he promptly falls for her and asks her to marry him. While one sister is happy, the other manages to undermine their relationship. When she succeeds in breaking the couple up, something Harry snaps.

The story is, until the very moment, exceptionally good, with good character characterization and the ability of draw you to it. And Siodmark (who following this would make "The Spiral Staircase", the exceptional "The Killers" and one my favourite Olivia de Havilland films' "The Dark Mirror") knows exactly how to create tension: the overbearingness of Geraldine Fitzgerald's conservatory; the release that Ella Rains represents; a wonderful shot of a fallen cup followed by a close-up of Fitzgerald's face. And he gets to take the best out of his cast. If we ignore Ella Rains entirely forgettable performance, the actors are astonishing. The three siblings and Sara Allgood as their maid are fantastic. George Sanders manages to go from meak to determined in a very subtle and believable way; and Moyna MacGill's confrontations with Geraldine Fitzgerald are full of sibling rivalry. But this is Fitzgerald's film. She's twisted, double faced, manipulative, hints at incestuous desires and she has fun with it. Her final scene with Sanders she proves him that whatever happened, she won.

I wish the original ending had been kept, or that the film might have been made in the UK where I suspect the censors might just about get things past (or maybe I am being optimistic). However, in the great world of messed-up Hollywood endings, it's neither alone, nor is it the worst one ever.

No comments: