Gainsborough Pictures found a profitable commercial niche on this one, the first in a series of costume melodramas about randy Lords and wicked Ladies, usually in hideous Regency Period outfits. (Great for showing off Margaret Lockwood’s lovely bosoms!) This release set the pattern while upping the profiles of stars Lockwood, Phyllis Calvert, James Mason & Stewart Granger. Calvert is the sweet young bride to the brooding Mason. He’s indifferent to her, but not to her old school chum, Lockwood, who soon starts plotting to move up from mistress to second wife. Meantime, Granger, who was ‘walking the boards’ with Lockwood as a traveling player, brings happiness & tru-love to Calvert, along with an offer to carry her away to his island estate . . . as soon as he wins it back from ‘the savages.’ There’s not a character or a plot point in here that hasn’t been lifted from something far better (The Brontes & Daphne Du Maurier are the main targets), but there’s still a bit of fun to be had seeing the nice Calverts & Grangers of the world being had by selfish villains like Lockwood & Mason. If only it weren’t so darn clunky. Watch for an appallingly staged fist-fight/duel between the boys; a typically eccentric appearance by Martita Hunt as the proprietress of a school for ladies; and (BLACKFACE ALERT!) young Harry Scott, in his one & only film role, as Toby, a blacked up Blackamoor. Were there no actual black kids in wartime England? (Plus, a BlackFace Bonus for Granger as Othello.) The recent Criterion DVD restores the original 116 minute running time, but the story still makes little sense.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: With so many good versions of JANE EYRE out there (‘43; ‘70; '11), why bother with Gothic imitations? Though, if imitation it must be, go with REBECCA/’40.