Film Noir: The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry by K. A. Laity

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From the play that shocked Broadway!

Led down a little George Sanders rabbit hole the other day I finally got around to watching this film which was mentioned in some of the film noir books I have read, probably Brookes’ Film Noir. Partly I suspect that because he’s very interested in the overlap between noir and Gothic. This film is a great embodiment of that. 

Robert Siodmak directs, Joan Harrison produces; script by Stephen Longstreet based on the play by Thomas Job. George Sanders stars as Harry Quincy of the Corinth Quincys, who used to the tony family of the tiny town, though they lost their money in the Great Depression. His sisters Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Hester (Moyna Macgill) keep the ancestral mansion with the help of Nona (Sarah Allgood). The house is all they have left of the glory days. Everything seems cosy until New Yawk City slicker Deborah Brown (Ella Raines) comes to the quiet mill and shakes up Harry’s life.

Mostly because his hypochondriac sister Lettie doesn’t want anything to change and relies on Harry bending to her every whim. Very gothic: borderline incestuous – I wonder if the ‘shocking’ play made more of that. But Lettie pretends to welcome the interloper, but just can’t seem to find a place suitable for her and Hester so the two can get married. Six months pass. Deborah manages to convince Harry they should just run off to the wilds of Boston and get married, then honeymoon in big bad NYC.

Lettie collapses. Or appears to do so. Harry starts glaring at the poison bottle Lettie bought to put down their old dog Weary. 

There’s some great small town shenanigans: the trial of public opinion, gossip, fence peeping, taking sides, soda counters, men singing at the club (a far cry from the Drones) ‘Pickle My Bones in Alcohol’ and then a twist that comes out of nowhere – well, literally it came out the Motion Pictures Production Code. I could imagine this being remade either without the twist or with one more cynical twist.

George Sanders is always watchable; Geraldine Fitzgerald clearly has a great time with the theatrical Lettie. Fun stuff!