Sometimes movie nights can be unplanned and spontaneous. I’ve stressed out many times over what movie to show feeling that if it wasn’t right and a success that it somehow was a reflection on me. I’ll do some posts later on this, but I wanted to relate an alternative to the planned movie night. I’ve been calling them Random Noir Nights. This Saturday was sixth of these nights that have sort of sprung up organically. A few friends know I have a 100 inch screen and that usually on the weekends I’ll be watching something.
The past couple weeks I’ve had a small group of friends stop by and instead of planning a movie I’ve been just going to my Netflix Streaming queue in which I have over 400 movies lined up and we just pick a movie at random. The only bit of planning we might do is to read the short description of film to see if its something that we all agree on. But I don’t like this process to go on more than a couple minutes. The other thing I’ve been insisting on is that the film be no more than an hour and a half; and less than that is even preferable. This way if its bad, its not that big of an investment of time and usually you fit in two movies in an evening.
Surprisingly this process has come up with some interesting and delightful surprises. This week we picked a movie pretty much on its name alone. The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945, Universal).
Now I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable film buff and especially of films that are a little out of the ordinary. So I was shocked I’d never head of this bizarre little thriller, film noir that plays like the lost, illegitimate child of Alfred Hitchcock and Carson McCullers . The story is about a three siblings living in the family home in a small town where they were once leading citizens. Their fortune was lost in the depression and the youngest son (George Sanders) is forced to work drawing flowers for fabric for the local textile mill. I found this fascinating because I always wondered who designed those sad flowers that are always found on sheets and pillowcases. George is living with his two older sisters who depend on him to keep the family home running. The eldest is a widow played by Moyna MacGill (Angela Lansbury’s mother) The other sister is played by the brilliant Geraldine Fitzgerald. Early on you learn that Lettie (Fitzgerald) is a drama queen who uses a fake heart aliment to keep Sanders under her thumb. Complications ensue when a beautiful lady designer comes from New York and sweeps timid George off of his feet.
This is where the plot gets strange as Lettie begins to sabotage her brother’s wedding plans. I’ve never seen incest played so delicately, yet so blatantly in a film. There is no doubt in the audience’s mind that Fitzgerald is in love with her brother and she will do anything so that no other woman will have him. For once George Sanders as Uncle Harry is a sympathic character, even though he is driven to extremes, you are rooting for him to get free of his clinging family.
One of the best scenes in the film (posted below) is where Uncle Harry is getting to know Miss Brown played by the beautiful and largely forgotten, Ella Raines. The scene is a masterful dance of double entendres. It’s all seemingly innocent. but you can read between the lines as they the talk of hung stars that need polishing and Uncle Harry’s nine inch telescope which they will watch Saturn’s rings, but they’ll have to wait until it rises high enough. It got a few gasps out of the group.
The whole production has a feel of Hitchcock’s 1940’s films. That is probably because Joan Harrison, screenwriter of Suspision, Foreign Correspondent, Rebecca, and Sabatour is credited as the producer. It is rare that you see a female producer on any films, let alone one made in 1945. Robert Siomak (Cobra Woman, Spiral Staircase) does a fine job of directing. And even though he’s no Hitchcock he does elevate this B-film to a quality production. The film reminded me in some ways of Shadow of a Doubt because of the colorful town characters that are peppered throughout the film. Most notably. Ethel Griffies who is best known to Hitchcock fans as the Mrs. Bundy, the know it all ornithologist from The Birds.
Director Robert Siodmak does a fine job in pulling all of the elements together and makes this a tight, little thriller. Not to give away any spoilers for this film, but it has to be noted. As I’ve said this film was a wonderful surprise and everyone who watched it on Saturday loved it. However, the ending of this film nearly ruins the previous 78 minutes that came before it. You’ll go away shaking your head and saying ‘What, the hell just happened?’ It’s like the movie swirves off the road and goes into a corn field. You’ll know when it happens!
But it was a lucky and happy random movie pick. At a quick 80 minutes its the perfect length, lots of fun campy lines, a good story that never seems to go where you think its going. And on top of that a softball team comprised of 1940’s beauties. That alone is worth the price of admission!