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Three Wicked Melodramas from Gainsborough Pictures: Eclipse Series 36 DVD Review



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#1 of 2 Matt Hough

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Posted October 08 2012 - 01:48 AM

Amid the tumult and tragedy of World War II, Britain’s Gainsborough Pictures unleashed a series of unrestrained costume melodramas focused on taking audiences (particularly female audiences back home) away from their troubles and allowing them to lose themselves for a couple of hours in the pomp and pageantry of an earlier, more elegant period. Criterion has packaged three of the more salient efforts of the period into an Eclipse box entitled Three Wicked Melodramas from Gainsborough Pictures. The romance novel quality of these three films is no accident; they’re meant to be overblown and wildly extravagant.







Three Wicked Melodramas from Gainsborough Pictures: Eclipse Series 36
The Man in Grey/Madonna of the Seven Moons/The Wicked Lady

Directed by Leslie Arliss, Arthur Crabtree

Studio: Eclipse/Criterion
Year: 1943-1945
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1  Running Time: 116/110/104 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English
Subtitles:  SDH


MSRP: $44.95


Release Date: October 9, 2012

Review Date: October 8, 2012




The Films


The Man in Grey – 3.5/5


Wealthy but uncouth Lord Rohan (James Mason) needs to find a respectable girl to continue his family name by providing an heir, and he finds her in the lovely, innocent Clarissa (Phyllis Calvert). The two marry though neither loves the other, and a son is subsequently born after which the two lead separate lives. Clarissa brings a school chum to be her companion, but she doesn’t realize that Hesther Shaw (Margaret Lockwood) is a scheming, treacherous woman who’ll stop at nothing to get the Rohan fortune and Lord Rohan for herself. Clarissa meanwhile meets and falls in love with jack-of-all-trades Peter Rokeby (Stewart Granger) who becomes the librarian to her husband’s vast collections, but despite loving others, neither Lord nor Lady Rohan can risk the scandal of a divorce or ostentatious displays of affection with the people they really care for.


Florid in the extreme, The Man in Grey is the very essence of this kind of overheated romantic melodrama that was very popular during the war years. Despite wartime conditions, the film is absolutely luxurious with lavish costumes and expansive sets, and director Leslie Arliss makes sure every inch of finery makes its way to the screen. Margaret Lockwood gets to play against type as the vampish seductress and seems to be having a fine time while Phyllis Calvert has the harder job playing the syrupy sweet Clarissa and succeeds in giving her a few different shades. Calvert and Stewart Granger get to play two roles in the framing device that reuinites the lovers a century later as their own relatives. The film made James Mason an overnight star, easy to see now with his mellifluous voice and brooding, authoritative style. Of the major players, Stewart Granger is the most engaging and multifaceted, and sterling work is done by Martita Hunt as a haughty schoolmistress and Beatrice Varley as a gypsy fortuneteller with all the answers. 


Madonna of the Seven Moons – 3/5


After being raped days before her wedding, Maddalena (Phyllis Calvert) undergoes a kind of mental breakdown that no one seems aware of. Under great duress over the next twenty years, she periodically undergoes a personality split and becomes a gypsy rogue named Rosanna who abandons her loving husband (John Stuart) whenever the break happens and returns to a nomadic life with the rascally gypsy Nino (Stewart Granger). Her latest break comes when she is reunited with her daughter Angela (Patricia Roc) whom she hadn’t seen in years. Angela’s a modern girl wearing form-fitting clothing, listening to the latest swing music, and flirting with boys, all things alien to the convent-raised Maddalena. When she transforms and returns to Nino, she leaves behind enough clues for Angela to begin to search for her mother, but Rosanna’s companions are a nasty lot and Angela’s search will put her into considerable danger.


Though certainly not the probing examinations of a split personality that one might find in The Three Faces of Eve or Sybil, the film nevertheless does an excellent job portraying the dual identities of this troubled woman aided enormously by Phyllis Calvert’s exceptional performance that captures both polar opposite personalities beautifully. The opulence of Maddalena’s palatial homes is nicely presented by Arthur Crabtree in his first job as director. He also catches the giddy atmosphere of carnival season quite well even if the squalid conditions in the Florence slums where Nino and his cohorts dwell are more studio chic than tawdry. Once again, Stewart Granger is magnetic even if he’s not the most believable gypsy (Nancy Price is a great deal closer to the real deal playing his mother), and Patricia Roc has that Deanna Durbin-effervescence as the loving daughter even if she must endure the screenwriters’ making her too dense to see herself being used by the sleazy, opportunistic Sandro (played by Peter Glenville).


The Wicked Lady – 3.5/5


After stealing noble but bland Sir Ralph Skelton (Griffith Jones) from her innocent cousin Caroline (Patricia Roc), adventuress Barbara Worth (Margaret Lockwood) endures the miseries of domestic life only so long as she can stand. She decides to become a highwayman, a common occurrence for men in 17th century England, and she’s good at it. Notorious highwayman Captain Jerry Jackson (James Mason), however, crosses paths with his thieving rival and demands to know who the competition is. When he sees the ravishing Barbara, he joins forces with her in life and love. But Barbara’s wildness can’t be contained by Jackson and in the course of a gold robbery, she kills one of the guards starting her on a continuously downward path of deception and death.


In one of Gainsborough’s most popular and fondly remembered pictures, the roguish Barbara makes other femmes fatale like Scarlett O’Hara look like pussycats with her scheming wiles and conscienceless attitude toward taking human life of any who cross her. Director Leslie Arliss frames one magnificent shot where Barbara on her knees confessing her innocence before a blazing fireplace is shot from behind the flames making the vixen appear to be burning, an apt metaphor for her heartlessness and cruelty. Margaret Lockwood again has a field day with the tempestuous Barbara brazenly wearing low cut gowns showing a maximum of cleavage (American prints of the film required reshoots where her endowments were more covered) and wearing her highwayman’s outfit as the most seductive female since Garbo in men’s attire. Patricia Roc inherits the goody-goody role that Phyllis Calvert played in The Man in Grey as the innocent dupe who loses two potential husbands to Barbara’s machinations and manages to make her interesting. James Mason acts a jolly rogue and has a showstopping speech on the gallows that he delivers flawlessly.





Video Quality


The Man in Grey – 3.5/5


The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is reproduced faithfully on this DVD. Since the Eclipse line does no digital clean-up, it’s surprising how wonderful much of this transfer looks. There are lots of dust specks, small scratches here and there, some damage and spotting, and hairs, but the grayscale is so solid and sharpness so excellent that the film’s production design comes through loud and clear. Black levels are especially impressive. The film has been divided into 11 chapters.


Madonna of the Seven Moons – 3/5


Though the 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in the transfer, sharpness and contrast are not quite as strong here as they were in the previous movie. Black levels aren’t nearly as good either making for a less accurate grayscale rendering. However, there is less damage and age-related artifacts here than in the previous picture even if there still are specks, scratches, and some debris to be seen. The movie has been divided into 19 chapters.


The Wicked Lady – 3.5/5


The 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is once again faithfully reproduced, and this transfer shows less age-related damage than either of the other two films in this set. There are still some specks and a scratch here and there, but the image is strong in clarity and sharpness. Grayscale isn’t quite as good as The Man in Grey but a bit better than Madonna of the Seven Moons. The movie has been divided into 19 chapters.



Audio Quality


The Man in Grey – 3/5


The Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack has ever-present hiss which varies in loudness throughout the presentation. There is also some crackle on occasion. Otherwise, though, dialogue is very well presented and always discernible, and the rococo music score by Cederic Mallabey and the sound effects which occupy the same track never intrude on hearing what the actors have to say.


Madonna of the Seven Moons – 3.5/5


The Dolby Digital 1.0 sound mix is very much of its period, but while there is some hiss present, it’s less noticeable than in the previous movie. There is also a bit of muffled crackle on occasion, but the fidelity here is stronger than in The Man in Grey. Dialogue is still easy to hear and understand, never drowned out by the music score or sound effects.


The Wicked Lady – 3.5/5


The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono mix does have some hiss present, but it’s less distracting than in the other films. There is also some flutter noticed on occasion. Overall, however, dialogue, sound effects, and music combine into an enjoyable mono track very much typical of its period.



Special Features

1/5


The Eclipse line of releases don’t offer bonus features on the discs, but each of the slimline cases containing the discs contains interesting liner notes by Michael Koresky.




In Conclusion

3.5/5 (not an average)


Three Wicked Melodramas from Gainsborough Pictures describes exactly what the viewer will get with this release: extravagant melodramas with over-the-top characters and overheated plots just made for over-indulging. As relics of the period of their production, you won’t find finer examples than these three overripe movies.



Matt Hough

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#2 of 2 moviepas

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Posted October 08 2012 - 12:29 PM

The original UK DVD release of the Wicked Lady was some years ago and I thought, at the time, it was a splendid transfer. Many titles from this Gaumont/Gainsborough/Rank are not like this DVD was. Take the original DVD from UK of the John Mills'starrer. The Way to the Stars, it was a bad copy full of dust, speckles, lins and audio noise. Very disappointing.


I am not sure how the OCN weathered of The Wicked Lady but I had a late friend who worked for a number of years, in later worklife, for the National Film Theatre in London, part of the BFI. He did not drive but lived in inner London. His job was preparing titles for theatre screenings and repairing films. He had the 'joy' of coming face to face with Raymond Rohauer in his work area and given a reel of leaders which Rohauer 'demanded' Bert cut off strips and put on the front of all copies of Buster Keaton's films the BFI had in their library. His impression of Rohauer was one of disgust and I am not sure if he did this or not. He was a serious silent film collector and gave his prints to the BFI at one stage and often held film screenings of these at his flat or elsewhere. The late Australia Ballet orchestra leader, then in London, used to come often and play piano for the screenings whereever they were.


One day Bert had to take a taxi to the Rank Highbury Studios(where the Rank Charm School had been) and collect a copy The Wicked Lady for a screening in 35mm. The vaults were opened each day and the only real security was a couple of dogs and no one seemed to be about. A number of companies had prints there for close to London access. Bert found two prints there and every can had gone to dust. May well have been on the poor Ilford 35mm stock Rank used that fell apart quite quickly.

Bert also had to get some of Alexander Korda's London Films and these were stacked in the living room of a flat upstairs in exclusive Mayfair in inner London.

Is it any wonder there is so much time wasted trying to find and repair decent prints for today's needs? Uneducated think everything exists and sits safely on library shelves waiting to be accessed.

I must say VCI is doing some good work with early 30s Rank-owned titles(Gaumont) in recent times. I refer to recent releases like Rome Express(Conrad Veidt) & First a Girl(Jessie Matthews) which had been in poor shape.







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