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Tag Archives: Joan Greenwood

The October Man (1947)

It’s perhaps a bit late for October, but The October Man is worth seeing in any month. Like many films made in the post-WWII American and British film industry, it is a (British) psychological mystery/thriller, and stars John Mills, Joan Greenwood, and Kay Walsh. What makes it fascinating is not the mystery, though, but the exploration of how a character who is labeled “crazy” becomes the prime suspect in a murder case.

John Mills plays Jim Ackland, who, at the beginning of the film, is in a devastating bus crash that costs the life of the young daughter of family friends. He sustains a head injury and suffers from suicidal depression, blaming himself for the young girl’s death. He spends time in a hospital/sanitarium, but when he is released now must suffer, not only the after-effects of his injury, but also the stigma of having spent time in a sanitarium.

He gets a good job as a chemist and even begins dating the sister of one of his co-workers, Jenny Carden (Joan Greenwood), but there is trouble at his cheap hotel. When his neighbor, Molly Newman (Kay Walsh), who he knows slightly, is murdered, he becomes the prime suspect, not only for everyone in the hotel, but also for the police. Everyone immediately jumps to the conclusion that because he’s a “loony,” he must have been the one to kill her, despite the fact that his mental condition is described by the doctor as acute depression and that the only person he’s ever tried to harm is himself.

Initially, Jim emphatically denies having killed her, but soon he begins to wonder. Did he kill her after all? There is a moment of time when he was walking, lost in thought, and could he have had a blackout? The police believe so and interrogate him repeatedly and so persuasively that they actually begin to bring Jim around to their way of thinking.

It becomes fairly obvious, though, who killed Molly and the viewer is rarely in doubt that Jim is innocent. What is interesting is how all mental illness is lumped under one term – “crazy” – and therefore grounds for suspicion, despite a lack of substantial evidence.

John Mills, Joan Greenwood, and random character

In fact, the police seem to understand that they lack sufficient grounds for conviction and their tactics look less like investigation than an attempt to break Jim until he confesses, so certain are they that he is the guilty party. The situation is compounded by one overt lie from the real murderer and speculative gossip from the rest of the hotel’s guests. Jim is forced to wade through the wary guests to discover what they have been saying about him.

Jim is essentially set up, not so much by the murderer, but by the police. My sister was telling me of a book she was reading, which discusses how interrogators have to be careful – if they want the truth – because if they work on a person long enough (even an innocent person) that person’s story will gradually start to sound like what they want to hear. This is especially true for Jim, who is already emotionally fragile.

I have always admired John Mills as an actor and he is up to his usual excellent standards in The October Man. Always sympathetic and retaining his dignity, he definitely ready to break apart at any moment. He doubts himself and is tempted to escape, either by killing himself or returning to the sanitarium. The only thing holding him back is his fiance, Jenny Carden, and his wavering conviction that he did not kill Molly.

Joan Greenwood was hilariously wicked and seductive in Kind Hearts and Coronets and Kay Walsh remarkably sympathetic as Nancy in David Lean’s Oliver Twist. Their characters, however, are not fleshed out much in The October Man. Kay Walsh has the more interesting role, friendly and open-hearted, but also involved with a married man and pursued by another, mysterious admirer, and one actually regrets that we do not get to know her more, which makes her more than a convenient corpse.

If one is expecting a puzzling mystery, the film can be disappointing. However, if you think of it as an exploration of how the perception of mental illness can affect a person and expectations of that person, it becomes far more engaging.

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Posted by on December 6, 2017 in Movies

 

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Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

6a00d8341c2b7953ef013485c24605970cKind Hearts and Coronets is a completely droll and delightful comedy of murders, which happens to feature Alec Guinness eight times over. He also dies eight times over. He is blown up (twice), shot, drowned (twice), poisoned, and has his hot air balloon punctured by an arrow. He also manages to die of a perfectly ordinary heart attack. By the end, there isn’t an Alec Guinness left standing.

The story follows the quest of a draper’s assistant, Louis Mazzini, (Dennis Price) to murder his way to the D’Ascoyne Dukedom. There are seven D’Ascoyne’s standing in his way (all played by Guinness), not to mention the duke himself (also played by Guinness).

Louis is himself the son of a D’Ascoyne, but she romantically ran off with an Italian tenor and was cut off by the family. But that doesn’t prevent her from raising her son with the utmost conviction of his family worth and the grievous offense done to his mother by the family. He decides on revenge after she dies and gets to work, starting things off with an improvised double drowning.

The film makes ruthless fun of the aristocrats and one is almost on Louis’ side for how they all refuse to acknowledge his existence, except that Louis is just as much of a snob as they are.

The two women in Louis life are Sibella (Joan Greenwood), his childhood sweetheart, and Edith (Valerie Hobson), the teetotaler wife of young Henry D’Ascoyne. After Henry is blown up (in his dark room – he’s a photography enthusiast), Edith becomes a widow and Louis determines to marry her. He believes she would make an ideal, dignified and gracious Duchess.

In the meantime, he carries on an affair with Sibella, who he does not think would make a very good Duchess, though she is the only person to see through him. Louis thinks that he has the upper hand and can discard her at will, but she turns out to be every bit as good at scheming as he is, if not a bit better. In hindsight, he really should have just married her – they would have been unstoppable.

Alec Guinness

Alec Guinness

Dennis Price is superb as the man who would be a duke, narrating his story on the night before he is to be hanged (by an executioner thrilled to his core that he is to meet – and hang – a Duke…with a silk noose, no less). It is primarily his story. However, the film is most famous for allowing Alec Guinness the chance to play eight different members of the same family, roles which he approaches with a hilarious kind of tongue-in-cheek deadpan expression. Suppressed glee, perhaps. All one has to do practically is look at Alec Guinness in one of his roles and break out laughing.

He plays the duke, a young photography enthusiast oppressed by his wife’s extreme goodness (and insistence that he abstain from alcohol), a stubborn admiral, a general, a doddering old clergyman, a radical suffragette (my favorite of his roles), an old banker, and a roue, who is also the son of the banker.

Apparently, Alec Guinness was offered four roles, but when he read the script he thought it was so marvelous he suggested that he play eight, instead.

What is interesting is how understated it is all done, though. There is only one shot where we have all eight Guinness’ D’Ascoyne’s together and in every other case they are in separate scenes of their own. None of it is in the least showy. The one scene where he does appear in full force (at church) was evidently very difficult to do, however, and it took several days. They would expose different portions of the film, each with a different Alec Guinness.

This is brilliant British comedy, about as funny as anything I’ve ever seen, in truth. I think, in time, this could become a real favorite.

This is part of the Dual Roles Blogathon. The rest of the posts can be found in recaps for Days 1, 2, and 3.

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Posted by on October 2, 2016 in Movies

 

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