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PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2012 4:36 pm 
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Eclipse Series 36: Three Wicked Melodramas from Gainsborough Pictures

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During the 1940s, realism reigned in British cinema—but not at Gainsborough Pictures. The studio, which had been around since the ’20s, found new success with a series of pleasurably preposterous costume melodramas. Audiences ate up these overheated films, which featured a stable of charismatic stars, including James Mason, Margaret Lockwood, Stewart Granger, and Phyllis Calvert. Though its films were immensely profitable in wartime and immediately after, Gainsborough did not outlive the decade. This set brings together a trio of Gainsborough’s most popular films—florid, visceral tales of secret identities, multiple personalities, and romantic betrayals.

The Man in Grey

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This tale of treachery put both the Gainsborough melodrama and actor James Mason on the map. The star-to-be plays Lord Rohan, a cruel nobleman who marries the naive and sweet-natured Clarissa (Phyllis Calvert) for the sole purpose of producing an heir; meanwhile, Clarissa’s conniving best friend, Hesther (Margaret Lockwood), secretly plots against her for her own nefarious ends. The Man in Grey, directed by Leslie Arliss, was such a box-office success that Gainsborough used it as a template, launching a cycle of increasingly rococo films.


Madonna of the Seven Moons

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A lurid tale of sex and psychosis, Madonna of the Seven Moons, directed by Arthur Crabtree, is among the wildest of the Gainsborough melodramas. Set in Italy, it begins as a relatively composed tale about a respectable, convent-raised woman (Phyllis Calvert) who is haunted by the memory of being raped as a teenager. When her grown daughter returns from school, her life begins to crack up in monumentally surprising ways. Stewart Granger also plays a prominent role in this sensational tale.


The Wicked Lady

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Margaret Lockwood devours the screen as a tightly wound seventeenth-century beauty with loose morals, who steals her best friend’s wealthy fiancé on the eve of the wedding. And that’s only the beginning of this piece of pulp from director Leslie Arliss: there are no depths to which this sinful woman won’t sink. James Mason costars, and nearly steals the movie, as a highwayman with whom our antiheroine becomes entangled. This nasty, subversive treat was the most commercially successful of all the Gainsborough melodramas.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2012 6:01 pm 
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Well, I must admit I've never heard of any of these, but it seems they've found something interesting indeed. Anyone who can tell more about them?


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2012 6:04 pm 
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Screenonline has an overview on Gainsborough Melodrama plus individual entries on the films.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2012 6:04 pm 
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I've heard good things about Madonna. Note that it's directed by Arthur Crabtree, who did the fun Fiend Without a Face.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2012 6:05 pm 
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This sounds interesting at least and of course the other Crabtree they've released is loads of fun. I suspect they're exaggerating the extravagance of the films though.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2012 6:05 pm 
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There's a little bit about Mason's early career, which includes two of the three films here, in this Movie Morlocks article.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2012 6:13 pm 
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Got them all from R2. Embarrassed to say each and every one is in the kevyip pile, along with a fistful of similar things from the bountiful and cheap sets the likes of ITV/Network/Optimum has tossed out. The Stewart Granger set alone could dent a battleship.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 2:08 am 
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antnield wrote:
Screenonline has an overview on Gainsborough Melodrama plus individual entries on the films.

...which was one of the most enjoyable research jobs I had at the BFI - I watched pretty much every film that could even vaguely qualify as a Gainsborough melodrama in the process. The Eclipse box is a good selection, but I'd personally have thrown in Fanny by Gaslight and They Were Sisters as well.

Here's are the trailers for The Man in Grey and The Wicked Lady - and yes, the films are like that pretty much all the way through!

Incidentally, I assume Criterion will be releasing the original British cut of The Wicked Lady? As I wrote in my Screenonline piece on the film:

Quote:
While the BBFC was happy to sanction the end result, the film ran into trouble on the other side of the Atlantic - notoriously, much of it had to be expensively reshot for the American edition after Lockwood's cleavage was considered too prominent to meet the moral strictures laid down by the Hays Code. Even by today's standards, The Wicked Lady is startlingly racy, and must have seemed thrillingly subversive to 1945 audiences.


Last edited by MichaelB on Tue Jul 17, 2012 2:30 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 2:28 am 
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MichaelB wrote:
antnield wrote:
Screenonline has an overview on Gainsborough Melodrama plus individual entries on the films.

...which was one of the most enjoyable research jobs I had at the BFI - I watched pretty much every film that could even vaguely qualify as a Gainsborough melodrama in the process. The Eclipse box is a good selection, but I'd personally have thrown in Fanny by Gaslight and They Were Sisters as well.

Here's are the trailers for The Man in Grey and The Wicked Lady - and yes, the films are like that pretty much all the way through!

Heh. I read that entire piece earlier today and didn't even register the name of the author. Very much looking forward to these; you had me at "lurid and often ludicrous."


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 4:21 am 

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MichaelB wrote:
antnield wrote:
Screenonline has an overview on Gainsborough Melodrama plus individual entries on the films.

...which was one of the most enjoyable research jobs I had at the BFI - I watched pretty much every film that could even vaguely qualify as a Gainsborough melodrama in the process. The Eclipse box is a good selection, but I'd personally have thrown in Fanny by Gaslight and They Were Sisters as well.


A couple of years back, I wrote a paper on women in post-war British cinema for a college course. Your article was an invaluable resource to me at the time. The Wicked Lady, in particular, was a film that I very much came to admire (which makes this set my most anticipated release in quite some time).

My belated thanks!


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 4:28 am 
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And thanks in turn - I don't often get feedback on my Screenonline pieces, so it's good to know that my efforts weren't wasted.

I've just been nostalgically re-reading them: although no-one is ever going to mistake these films for arthouse classics (Leslie Arliss, the director of two of them, was a hack who got lucky with his material), they really are ridiculously enjoyable - and probably quite eye-opening to people who think that WWII British films consisted entirely of John Mills and Noël Coward maintaining stiff upper lips.

Even Powell and Pressburger were never quite as melodramatic as this - in fact, their most Gainsboroughesque films were produced after the war (I'm thinking of large chunks of Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes).


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 4:34 am 
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I suppose it should be noted that BFI have released a film by that hack through the Adelphi collection for those who want to compare what he did here to something under different conditions.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 4:38 am 
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knives wrote:
I suppose it should be noted that BFI have released a film by that hack through the Adelphi collection for those who want to compare what he did here to something under different conditions.

No-one's pretending that the Adelphi films are arthouse classics either...


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 9:32 am 
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Thanks for the links to the trailers! I think these films must be right down my alley... :-)


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 10:06 am 
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MichaelB wrote:
The Eclipse box is a good selection, but I'd personally have thrown in Fanny by Gaslight and They Were Sisters as well.

I found it curious that didn't include Fanny by Gaslight too, especially since it was directed by Anthony Asquith...


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 10:44 am 
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Terence Fisher edited The Wicked Lady, and there is definitely some continuity between the ruddy, busty, lurid Gainsborough house style and the approach Fisher brought to his Hammers. John Carson in John Gilling's Plague Of The Zombies actually seems to be doing a James Mason impersonation.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 10:55 am 
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Fisher was a Gainsborough employee for several years and directed his first four features there. So yes, you'd definitely expect some pretty strong continuity - especially since Hammer arguably picked up the Gainsborough mantle when Gainsborough shut its doors circa 1950.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:02 am 
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Hammer's Kiss Of the Vampire has a whole lot in common with Fisher's last Gainsborough, So Long At The Fair.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:07 am 
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Tommaso wrote:
Thanks for the links to the trailers! I think these films must be right down my alley... :-)

Even their most ardent fan would have to admit that they're absolute tosh - even those revisionists who tried to elevate Raffaello Matarazzo to the auteur pantheon are going to struggle with these films.

Famously, the four main leads - Phyllis Calvert, Stewart Granger, Margaret Lockwood, James Mason - despised them, and one of the reasons Mason's performance in They Were Sisters is so effective is that he hated the film so much that he got roaring drunk every night and played the part with a raging hangover, which naturally improved it enormously. Similarly, Granger let it be widely known that he considered the script of Love Story (1944, not 1970) to be "the biggest load of crap I've ever read in my life".

But they were phenomenally successful - if measured purely in terms of ticket sales, The Wicked Lady remains one of the biggest blockbusters in British cinema history. When the BFI researched an adjusted-for-inflation box-office chart in 2004, it came in at number nine, ahead of one of the Harry Potter films, and The Man in Grey was also one of the biggest hits of its year. And they're ridiculously entertaining - possibly more so today than they were then, especially given Mason's subsequent career in rather more serious fare.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:29 pm 
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MichaelB wrote:
knives wrote:
I suppose it should be noted that BFI have released a film by that hack through the Adelphi collection for those who want to compare what he did here to something under different conditions.

No-one's pretending that the Adelphi films are arthouse classics either...

I didn't mean to suggest so either. I was just saying to illustrate your point which I assume to be one of anonymity it would be easy to compare the difference from a Gainsborough project for him and something else.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:57 pm 

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Weirdly, this release wasn't in their press release. I was pretty surprised to see it when I visited here. I'm not sure if that means it was a late addition to the month, or what.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 3:04 pm 
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Are we all agreed to pass over that Michael Winner remake without comment?

MichaelB wrote:
When the BFI researched an adjusted-for-inflation box-office chart in 2004, it came in at number nine, ahead of one of the Harry Potter films, and The Man in Grey was also one of the biggest hits of its year. And they're ridiculously entertaining - possibly more so today than they were then, especially given Mason's subsequent career in rather more serious fare.

It is interesting to see that list and nice to see The Wicked Lady just one spot above The Seventh Veil - while that is not an official Gainsborough film, isn't The Seventh Veil in similar territory? I seem to remember a scene with Mason forcing his charge to play the piano and then in a startling move in the middle of her playing whipping her hands with a riding crop! (or at least some kind of cane!)

Off topic, but while all these Gainsborough features seem to get regular afternoon British television screenings (you can't get away from The Man In Grey on the Film4 channel currently), I don't think that I have had a chance to see any of those Anna Neagle/Michael Wilding pictures (Spring In Park Lane, The Courtneys of Curzon Street, Piccadilly Incident, I Live In Grosvenor Square, all of which are in that adjusted for inflation list) that seem to have been wildly popular mass entertainments during the immediate post war years. I wonder why they do not get more television play?


Last edited by colinr0380 on Wed Jul 18, 2012 5:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2012 3:56 pm 
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colinr0380 wrote:
It is interesting to see that list and nice to see The Wicked Lady just one spot above The Seventh Veil - while that is not an official Gainsborough film, isn't The Seventh Veil in similar territory? I seem to remember a scene with Mason forcing his charge to play the piano and then in a startling move in the middle of her playing whipping her hands with a riding crop!

Not so much "in similar territory" as a hilariously blatant rip-off of the Gainsborough formula - to such an extent that a lot of people quite reasonably assume that it's also a Gainsborough film. To muddy these particular waters further, it was so successful that its producer Sydney Box was actually appointed head of production at Gainsborough shortly afterwards.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 11, 2012 2:33 pm 
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This was the brief description of Gainsborough films as it appeared in that British Film Forever series from 2006, which came in among the larger discussion of Brief Encounter:

Quote:
Ronald Neame, Producer of Brief Encounter: We thought that it would be a good idea to have a sneak preview in Rochester, and I have to tell you that it was an absolute disaster. At the first rather touching moment a lady sitting up near the front laughed, and of course everybody around her laughed! And we thought this is the most disastrous film that we had ever made or ever will make.

Narrator: They needn't have worried as the film was of course a huge success. But to understand exactly why they cackled in Kent you have to back to the war which had only just ended. For the past six years, Britons had lived like there was no tomorrow, on and off screen. When the men went to fight, the women went to the pictures. The female audience was gagging for romance, and one studio delivered.

Joan Bakewell, Writer and Broadcaster: The Gainsborough lady with her fan. I was a star struck child and I just worshipped them. I thought it was going to be wonderful! They were over costumed, they were melodramatic, histrionic. They were our fairy tales about life and wildness.

Narrator: This is one of their wildest tales, Madonna of the Seven Moons, a story of a middle class woman who gets a bump on the head and turns into a sex mad gypsy.

Joan Bakewell: During the war there was a lot of real loss with the knock at the door and the telegram you did not want to arrive. So the stage was set for melodrama in real life. When actors came along and hyped up the action and were enormously melodramatic, people went "Oh, that's how I feel in my heart! I can identify with that".

Narrator: Other producers were soon following Gainsborough's formula and The Seventh Veil, a crazed S&M tale of love between an Ann Todd's teenage pianist and her sadistic guardian, played by James Mason, appeared in 1945.

Joan Bakewell: I was in love with James Mason. I was completely in awe of his commanding presence. I don't know what it says about my family life! I very much loved my father, and perhaps that was part of it!

[Scene from The Seventh Veil] Mason (as Todd plays): "You belong to me. We must always be together, you know that don't you? Promise you'll stay with me always! Promise!! Very well, if that's the way you want it if you won't play for me, you shall not play for anyone else ever again!" Mason proceeds to viciously beat her hands on the piano with his cane.

Joan Bakewell: I was so enthalled by the film that I went straight home, got out the Beethoven music and learned to play it, and when we come to the point where he cracks her fingers, I stopped playing and had a little reverie about James Mason!

Narrator: Concert pianists were big back then and Gainsborough's Margaret Lockwood (in Love Story) had her go emoting on the ivories too.

Professor Sam Cook, Southampton University: Love Story is dealing with issues facing women during the war but it is also looking forward to the post-war period where women could be free to express themselves and their desires...whilst at the same time female desire had to be managed in some way.

Narrator: Lockwood has months to live. Stewart Granger is slowly going blind. He is a metal prospector apparently. It all made sense to a 1940s audience.

Sam Cook: The message that the film sends out to audiences is that in the uncertain circumstances of the war that it is very difficult to find commitment and marriage. 'Seize the day' is the message.

[scene from Love Story] Granger: "You say you have only a few months. Well, how long has anyone in the world got to live. How long have I? A month? A year? Or perhaps I'll get away with it altogether. And so will you"

Narrator: Life is never quite like the movies however, and when peace broke out there were many left nursing a guilty secret. It was no wonder that when Brief Encounter appeared a nation, Rochester excepted, took it to their weeping hearts.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:33 pm 
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DVDtalk review

DVDsavant review


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