British Cinema, Drama, Films I Love, Page To Screen, Romance

The Wicked Lady (1945)

There are not enough words for me to be able to use to describe how much I love this Gainsborough Studios melodrama. There is something in this film for everyone to enjoy – adventure, romance, passion, danger, suspense and an impressive recreation of Regency era home interiors and clothes.

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Margaret Lockwood as Barbara. Screenshot by me.

Plus the film has Margaret Lockwood. Margaret was the best bad girl in British cinema history.  I think Margaret really shone in the Gainsborough films of the 40’s and this particular film features one of her finest screen performances. The way she played her roles in these films means that audiences love to hate her, and they really don’t want her character to leave the film. 

Is it just me or does anyone else look at Margaret and think that someone blended Vivien Leigh and Hedy Lamar together to make one woman? It’s crazy how much Margaret looks like both of those women. 

As well as being a very enjoyable film, I also find it very interesting to watch. The character of Barbara and the choices she makes show her to be frustrated with her life, and also with the restrictions placed on her life because of her gender.  At the time the film is set, women were seen as nothing more than objects of pleasure for their husbands and were expected to bear children and run the family home.

Independence and going against tradition was heavily frowned upon where men were concerned. Where women were concerned it was unthinkable that they would even consider living a life outside of what was expected of them. 

Barbara wants so much more than to simply be a wife. She wants to do her own thing and to have adventure and excitement. I think that the life she turns to during the film offers her escape from the restrictions she faces as a woman. She can be free when she rides the highway and takes charge of the dangerous robberies she sets up.

I personally find her choice to take control of her life to be quite admirable really, she is an individual in an era riddled with conformity and control. There is nothing worse than being told to live a certain way when that way is not the truth of who you are.

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Barbara longs for an escape from her life. Screenshot by me.

Barbara is such a strong and fun character. The way Margaret plays her has you rooting for her even when she is doing pretty awful things. It’s true that she doesn’t repent the things she does, but then why should she? She is now living the life of a man in many respects, and you don’t see men of the time apologising for their actions.  After all Jackson continues to be liked and admired by many of the lower class locals, despite being a thief and a real rogue (they even like him when he is accused of killing someone).   

I also like how the film shows the double standard applied to women when it comes to sex outside of marriage. Men at the time were free to have affairs and nobody blinked an eyelash, but the second a woman took a lover she became a tainted whore who must be punished. Double standards much? 

The Wicked Lady is based on the novel by Magadalen King-Hall. The unmistakable attractions here are Margaret Lockwood, the beautiful Regency era gowns, and James Mason’s deadly and fascinating love interest. 

On a peaceful country estate in England all is going well for the kind Caroline(Patricia Roc).She is due to marry handsome landowner Sir Ralph Skelton(Griffith Jones). The pair adore one another. Ralph is a rare decent chap in an era when the upper classes were indifferent to the suffering and living conditions of the lower classes. Ralph is liked and respected by his tenants and he is a very kind man. 

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The gentle Caroline. The complete opposite of Barbara. Screenshot by me.

All is idyllic until Caroline invites her cousin. Barbara Worth(Margaret Lockwood)accepts her cousins invitation, but when she arrives she falls in love with Ralph and seduces him. The heartbroken Caroline(although believing his change of heart to have been all his idea)lets him marry Barbara instead. 

Soon though the restless Barbara becomes bored and completely fed up with her dull family and friends. She takes to the road one night disguised as a Highwayman and steals some jewels.

Going back to the same place again another night, she ends up meeting the notorious Highwayman, Captain Jackson(James Mason).Mistaking her for a man at first, Jackson warns her to stay away from his route. He soon discovers her secret and falls in love with her. Barbara is soon leading an exciting dual life which soon turns deadly after she kills a guard on a coach. 

Soon Barbara finds her exploits are catching up to her when one of her husband’s servants, Hogarth (Felix Aylmer)tells her he knows of her double life. Barbara must think of a way to silence this man and keep her secret safe.  Barbara also soon finds another man in her life, the dashing Kit (Michael Rennie)who longs to be her man.

This woman sure doesn’t lead a dull life! 😉

Margaret and James have great chemistry throughout the film. I think they do a terrific job of convincing us that they are two people addicted to the thrills and danger of highway robbery. They also revel in the passion and excitement of their physical relationship.  

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Jackson and Barbara share an intimate moment by the lake. Screenshot by me.

I really like how James makes quite an impression despite having a fairly small amount of screen time. He makes Jackson sexy, rough, bold, cruel. He also makes you believe that if you cross him he will not be a man to take betrayal easily. 

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Captain Jackson. Screenshot by me.

Patrica Roc oozes decency as the gentle Caroline. She has an almost saintly quality about her. She serves as a stark contrast to the more earthy Barbara. I like how Patricia plays the role and keeps our sympathy for her. The characters of Barbara and Caroline remind me a bit of Scarlett and Melanie in Gone With The Wind

Felix Aylmer is terrific as the religious servant, Hogarth. Aylmer was always a real scene stealer and his performance here is no exception. 

Griffith Jones and Michael Rennie sadly don’t really get used to their full potential. Neither of their performances really linger in the memory as much as the other performances do. Both do convince as kind and decent men though.

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Ralph. Screenshot by me.
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Kit. Screenshot by me.

I love how risqué the film is too. Some of the dialogue and scenes between Barbara and Jackson make it very clear that they are lovers and that she loves it when they are together.

This film also caused the censors over in the states to have a fit because of the low-cut dresses of the women. Many scenes had to be reshot before the film could be shown there. How stupid is that?! These dresses were accurate for the time period for goodness sake. I’m not a fan of the film censor at the best of times, but that decision really takes the cake in my opinion. 

If all of the above were not enough for you to enjoy, there are also a number of old guys sporting some truly awesome wigs and moustaches to make you giggle.  🙂 

My favourite scenes are the following. Barbara and Jackson by the lake. Barbara and Kit on the bridge. Barbara locking her door and changing clothes looking totally excited to be able to sneak out to the highway. Caroline and Kit on the iced over Thames. 

The film is hugely enjoyable and tackles some interesting things too. This one is much more than simply a costume film. I wish it were better known today. 

If you haven’t seen this it comes highly recommended by me. What did you think of the film if you have seen it?

 

 

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Thriller

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 8: North By Northwest (1959)

Hi all.Hope you are all well, and have a great weekend lined up. I have next week off work. I’m so happy because we are enjoying a heatwave here in the UK. Ice cream and sun cream are lined up!

For many people, North By Northwest is Alfred Hitchcock’s best film. It isn’t hard to see why it is so highly thought of. This film contains all of the essential elements of his films – suspense, thrills, mistaken identity, an innocent wrongly accused, comedy and a cool blonde. In short, this film really is the perfect package.

I love this film so much. This is a film in which something is always happening. In this film the characters are always on the move. From the opening titles, designed by Saul Bass and accompanied by one of Bernard Herrmann’s best scores, the characters are on the move and don’t really stop until the final scene.

Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant)is a Madison Avenue advertising man. He has a very good life, a life that he believes that he is in complete control of. His ordered life is turned on its head when he is mistaken for a C.I.A agent, called George Kaplan.

Suave spy, Phillip Vandamm (a sinister James Mason) has been aware of Kaplan following him and his group for some time. He wants Kaplan dead. Thornhill can’t persuade him that this is a genuine case of mistaken identity and that he is not the man he thinks he is.

So begins a non stop chase across the country. Thornhill tries to evade the authorities, after Vandamm frames him for murder. Thornhill also tries to get someone else to believe him that Vandamm is trying to kill him.

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Enter the resourceful, mysterious and cool blonde, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). Eve helps Thornhill when he gets into difficulty aboard a train that she is travelling on. But can Thornhill trust her or not?

A C.I.A official, known only as the professor (Leo G. Carroll), finds out about Thornhill’s situation and tries to help him. The professor is also on the Vandamm case and he also has an agent working right under Vandamm’s nose.

I love how many things in this film actually defy logic when you think about them long enough. Somehow though you never seem to realise the illogic when you are watching the film, it’s only afterwards when you suddenly stop and think about some of the things you’ve just watched. I’m thinking mainly of the scene where Thornhill is forcibly made drunk in order to be got rid of. If Vandamm wants him dead so bad, why not just shoot him?

The same goes for the famous crop duster sequence, why not just get him out to that road and shoot him? Yet the illogic of it all somehow works when you watch. This is a testament to Hitch, in that he can make you so invested in the story that certain things don’t strike you as odd until much later.

I have to say that I actually think the scene where Thornhill watches that glass of booze get poured out is quite chilling. Thornhill is going to be forced to drink such large amounts and he has no way of being able to fight back against this. That’s pretty grim.

There’s so much to enjoy about this film. From the great performances throughout, the exciting Bernard Herrmann score, and two of the most famous of all Hitchcock sequences – the crop duster chase and the suspenseful finale up on Mount Rushmore. These two scenes have gone on to become two of the most famous in cinema history.

The film also has two big twists concerning the identity of two main characters, and that really keeps you trying to figure out who to trust, or who to take at face value.

The film is also very funny in places. Grant reels off many comic lines and does the funniest and one of the best drunk impressions I’ve ever seen. Jessie Royce Landis is a hoot as Thornhill’s mother. Mrs. Thornhill doesn’t believe her sons story and has quite a few laughs at his expense. Some supportive mother he has! 🙂

Mason is chilling and menacing throughout. He plays a character who won’t get his own hands dirty, but who has no qualms about ordering someone to be killed. You know he is a nasty piece of work.

Martin Landau provides solid support as Vandamm’s loyal henchman. He lurks in the background of many scenes and you can see him desperate to start hurting Thornhill and other characters. Landau plays this guy as a real sadist.

My favourite scenes are the following. Thornhill and Vandamm’s first meeting, I love where they circle around each other sizing each other up. The Mount Rushmore finale. The entire section aboard the train. Roger and Eve’s dinner talk. The auction. The drunk scene at the police station. Thornhill trying to rescue Eve. Eve and Roger’s goodbye at the train station. The crop duster attack. The scene in the Mount Rushmore restaurant.

I can happily watch pretty much all of Hitch’s films again and again, but this one in particular is one that I can enjoy over and over again. It is such a good film and so seamlessly put together. It looks amazing, from the photography, to the elegant clothes and Technicolor. Be sure to see this one on Blu-ray, to see it looking at its best.

Are you a fan of this film? Please share your comments below. Never seen it? What are you waiting for?