Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Wicked Lady (1945)

WHO: Margaret Lockwood, so excellent as the heroine in The Lady Vanishes, plays a delicious anti-heroine in this.

WHAT: Secret passageways, highway robbery, disreputable inns, cross-dressing disguises, and midnight horse rides all factor prominently in this meticulously-constructed but deliriously romantic web of betrayals shot by Jack Cox in the expressionist-influenced style laid down by Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Asquith in the silent era. No actual bodices are seen to be ripped, in part because of the British censors (who were thankfully less restrictive than the American ones who reportedly forced reshoots of many scenes but with higher necklines before the hit could be imported), but also because Lockwood's Barbara Worth is a woman who for most of the film wields complete control over her own sexuality, even when this agency threatens to destroy the lives of the men and women around her. Her charisma is overwhelming even when her self-awareness is not. The film benefits greatly from the fact that she's in every scene, and it seems appropriate that it ends not with a bang but with a fizzle ignited by her disappearance from the diegesis.

WHERE/WHEN: A three-day run beginning yesterday continues 7:30 tonight and tomorrow at the Stanford Theatre.

WHY: After I wrote about another Gainsborough melodrama Madonna Of The Seven Moons two weeks ago, a friend commented that the title made it sound like a giallo - something like Mario Bava's Five Dolls For An August Moon or Dario Argento's The Cat O' Nine Tails. (An Argento title from a more simpler era of nomenclature, Tenebre, screens at the Roxie August 16th). It got me thinking how the gothic tendencies of these films might have influenced horror filmmakers of subsequent generations. And so it wasn't much of a surprise for me to look in the credits of The Wicked Lady to see Hammer horror master Terence Fisher's name as the editor of this picture (he also edited . The period costuming and sets, the moody painted backdrops and lighting, and the wonderfully wicked performances by Lockwood and James Mason must have served as an inspirational training ground for the man who'd graduate to the director's chair only a few years later.

Hammer films screen in Frisco Bay cinemas far too irregularly for my liking, and I'm sure the Stanford is one of the least likely local repertory venues for them to make an appearance. But it's great that the theatre plays even more rarely-unspooled British films like this one on occasion. After this week we won't see another British film at the Stanford at least until its current calendar runs out in early September.

HOW: On a 35mm double-bill with another Lockwood picture, Carol Reed's Bank Holiday.


  1. Brian: Variety correctly predicted, in its late November review from England, that the film would do well there, In fact it was the top moneymaker for the postwar year of 1946. They didn't think it would do that well in the U.S., I'm not sure about that but I hope it brings in an audience at the