Monday 10 September 2007

A Place of One's Own (1945) Bernard Knowles

Belingham House, Newborough was apparently a desirable residence once, but it's fallen on bad times. It's 1900 now and the young lady of the house died some forty years earlier, but nobody has occupied it ever since. Now it's been cleaned up and sold to Mr and Mrs Henry Smedhurst, who want to retire there for the peace and quiet and don't pay much attention to the apparent ghost they've acquired along with the property. They even hire a companion, young Annette Allenby, who seems to unwillingly channel the ghost.

There are major British names here. The story is based on the novel by Osbert Sitwell, one of the aristocratic family of writers that acquired some controversy as well as acclaim. The cast is led, to modern eyes, by James Mason, here playing well beyond his 36 years as an old man retired after decades in industry in Leeds. He's a little too dynamic, shambling around like Paul Muni under similar makeup but just as irrascibly watchable. His wife is played by American-born Barbara Mullen, no small name in the industry herself, though known principally for her role in the long-running Dr Finlay's Casebook.

At the time, though, the major name was Margaret Lockwood, playing the companion. Today she seems to be forever tied to Joan Greenwood in remembrance, even though they appeared together only once. They were both memorable and beautiful leading ladies from a particular era of English cinema that explored class and manners and subtlety, and they knew each other well. Now I've seen a lot more Joan Greenwood than Margaret Lockwood and it wasn't Lockwood I was watching in The Lady Vanishes anyway, but while I prefer Greenwood by far, Lockwood does a solid job here.

Backing them up is Dennis Price, still early in his career in only his third film, so he's still elegant and unbloated, along with people like Dulcie Gray, Moore Marriott and Helen Haye. Most notable is probably Edie Martin, as an birdlike yet ascerbic cook. Martin started her acting career on the stage at the ripe old age of six, playing Alice. That was in 1886 and she kept working until the 1960s, finding her way into many of the great Ealing comedies. There's even good old Dr Pretorius himself, Ernest Thesiger, playing an old doctor, though not for long.

It's the story that carries it though, along with the atmosphere which is eerie yet never really out there. It doesn't play like a genre film at all, but it's a little more sinister than you'd expect a sedate English period film. Putting it halfway between the two means that it has a little place all of its own.

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