Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Man in Grey (1943)

THE MAN IN GREY is a British Regency Era melodrama from Gainsborough Pictures, starring a powerhouse quartet of actors: James Mason, Margaret Lockwood, Stewart Granger, and Phyllis Calvert.

Calvert and Lockwood, at times seeming to channel Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh's characters from GONE WITH THE WIND, meet as schoolgirls. Clarissa (Calvert) is a sweet girl ultimately pushed into a loveless marriage with Lord Rohan (Mason), a cad whose only interest in his wife is acquiring an heir to the title.

Years pass and lonely Clarissa hires Hesther (Lockwood), who became a disreputable actress after running away from school, to be her companion. Hesther and Lord Rohan recognize each other as similar types, who take what they want regardless of consequences, and embark on an affair. Meanwhile Clarissa is tempted by true love in the form of an actor, Rokeby (Granger). When Rohan finds out his unloved wife loves another, the consequences are disastrous for all.

It's all quite watchable, thanks to the fine cast, although ultimately perhaps rather pointless. True love, it seems, does not conquer all, at least in a Gainsborough picture. Fortunately the story is bracketed by modern-day sequences featuring Calvert and Granger as Clarissa and Rokeby's descendants, which serve to lighten the film a bit.

The movie plays a bit racier than American films of the same era. It's hard to imagine an American movie being quite so frank in its depiction of Clarissa's fear on her wedding night or of Rohan's licentious lifestyle.

The film made a star of Mason as an actor audiences loved to hate. By the film's end he turns into a bit of an antihero that the audience, at least temporarily, can cheer. Lockwood's evil character was likewise appreciated by audiences, and she went on to play THE WICKED LADY opposite Mason in 1945.

This was Granger's first major role; he was 30 at the time but seems younger. As one might expect, he does a good job as the romantic hero, and a scene where he slaps Lockwood is both shocking and satisfying for the viewer. Calvert manages to make a character which could be sugary sweet likeable and sympathetic.

The lead actors worked together again in varying combinations in many Gainsborough movies, including LOVE STORY (1944, Granger and Lockwood), FANNY BY GASLIGHT (1944, Mason, Granger, and Calvert), A PLACE OF ONE'S OWN (1945, Mason and Lockwood), MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS (1945, Granger and Calvert), THEY WERE SISTERS (1945, Mason and Calvert), and THE MAGIC BOW (1946, Granger and Calvert), along with the aforementioned THE WICKED LADY. All these titles, excepting A PLACE OF ONE'S OWN and THEY WERE SISTERS, are available on Region 2 DVD.

THE MAN IN GREY was directed by Leslie Arliss, who cowrote the screenplay. It was filmed in black and white and runs 116 minutes. (The Region 2 DVD I watched was 112 minutes, but that is apparently due to the 4% "PAL speedup.") When the film was first released in the United States in 1946, it was cut down to 90 minutes.

THE MAN IN GREY is available on Region 2 DVD as part of the James Mason Screen Icons Collection. I watched the movie on my all-region player. The print was for the most part excellent, although there were a couple of minor glitches. There are extras consisting of a featurette, a trailer, and a stills gallery.

The other titles in the Mason DVD set are FIVE FINGERS, THE MAN BETWEEN, ODD MAN OUT, and THE BELLS GO DOWN.

The movie is also available as a Region 2 single title release.

This title does not appear to have ever had a VHS or DVD release in the United States.

The trailer is currently available on YouTube.

Fall 2012 Update: This movie is now available on a Region 1 DVD in the United States in the Criterion Eclipse line.


Blogger James Corry said...

Laura, I'll be interested to get your "take" on "Five Fingers"....the BEST serious "spy" movie ever made (in my humble opinion.....).



9:33 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

FIVE FINGERS has a great cast, Brad. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Best wishes,

12:16 PM  

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