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Friday, July 17, 2015

THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945)

Joan Harrison started out writing for Alfred Hitchcock during his U.K-to-Hollywood transition, then moved on to her own production deals (one of the few females to do so at the time) before re-upping with Hitch on his long-running tv series. So, it’s no surprise to find this neat little thriller playing out like an Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode. Smoothly, if rather impersonally helmed by Robert Siodmak, and atmospherically shot by Paul Ivano, it’s an eccentric all-in-the-family murder tale (veddy British even if it takes place in the States) with George Sanders as a resigned bachelor living a sort of half-life in the old family manse with his two bickering sisters (Geraldine Fitzgerald & Moyna MacGill) & housekeeper Sara Allgood. Much reduced from their former position in town, Sanders designs humdrum patterns at the local textile mill where he meets the effervescent Ella Raines, in from New York and unexpectedly delighted by Sanders’ steadiness, quiet charm & humor. (Raines, who never quite connected with others on screen, uses that deficit as a plus here even if Sanders can’t really turn off his sexual knowingness. Listen as he refers to his nine-inch telescope. Yikes!) But their budding relationship throws kid sister Fitzgerald into a panic. Always a delicate thing when feeling pressured, she takes/fakes a turn for the worse. Everyone sees thru her, but Sanders either won’t or can’t act on the information. But there are limits. That, along with the remains of a bottle of poison your sister bought are apt to change things. Because of the Hollywood Production Code, the film can’t quite end as you know it should/wants to; and the cop-out ending (one of five tried by the studio) led Harrison to break her contract though it really doesn’t screw up the good work in here.* Fitzgerald has fun playing up Katherine Hepburn inflections, and Sanders gets to sing a little bit of close harmony on his night out with the boys. (LINK: That’s his own voice he’s lip-synching to. Really. Sanders’ rich bass-baritone was rarely called upon. Here he is on the reprise in a ballad with a delightfully subdued Ethel Merman from CALL ME MADAM/’53. What a lower extension!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKiiXkXGYkI

DOUBLE-BILL: *Fritz Lang had much the same Production Code problem (and much the same solution) trying to end WOMAN IN THE WINDOW/’43. He figured it out, and got away doing it, when he made SCARLET STREET/’45.

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