Sunday, June 21, 2015


Universal Pictures, 80m 37s

Harry Melville Quincey (George Sanders) is a repressed, middle-aged man who works as a textile designer at the Warren Mill in the little town of Corinth, New Hampshire. His once well-to-do family was done in by the Great Depression. What remains is the family home, where the unassertive Harry carries out a meek existence with his two sisters, both of whom have their baggage. Hester (Moyna MacGill) is a widow and might be considered an hysteric were it not for her younger sister Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who one-ups her in that department with ease. "…my sisters are dependent on me…" Harry explains. The sickly Lettie in particular requires constant care, much like her plants; she has more in common with vegetation than people.

Deborah Brown (Ella Raines)

The Quincey family living arrangement is threatened when big-city gal Deborah Brown (Ella Raines) arrives on the scene. She may not be a femme fatale in the proper sense, but she certainly destabilizes the Quincey household with her arrival from New York and highly improbable romantic interest in Harry. Ella Raines was one of those rare actresses who could look seductive without doing much of anything. But given the obvious age difference between Raines and Sanders, the believability of the relationship that develops between Harry and Deborah is a strain on narrative credibility. Regardless, the two deliver one of the most startling conversations to drip with sexual suggestion this side of Bogart and Bacall in THE BIG SLEEP (1946). Here is just a portion of it:

Deborah:  "Which one is Saturn?”
Harry:  "Om, there it is, up there."
Deborah:  "But where are the rings?"
Harry:  "Well you can't see them with the naked eye."
Deborah:  "Harry, you're beginning to sound indecent."
Harry:  "Well, I only meant that you have to have quite a powerful telescope to see the rings. They were very clear last night."
Deborah:  "Oh, you have a telescope?"
Harry:  "Yes, a 9" one. I built it myself."
Deborah:  "Are the rings clear tonight, do you think?"
Harry:  "I don't know. We'll have to wait quite a while before it rises high enough, and it still might be hazy then."
Deborah:  "We could go try, couldn't we?"
Harry:  "Alright."

With sparks flying like that, they decide to get hitched, which causes Lettie to shift into severe high-maintenance mode. In truth the film's provocative title reflects the implied incest between Harry and his unfairly demanding sister Lettie, not the relationship between Harry and Deborah. Lettie’s devotion to her brother is a selfish and sick kind of love. Fitzgerald plays the part of the noir psycho for all it’s worth.

The crazed Lettie Quincey (Geraldine Fitzgerald)

THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY qualifies as noir mostly in terms of its incredibly awkward family situation. The conclusion recalls Fritz Lang's THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944) in its attempt to tone down some of the story's perverse implications. Nonetheless, the theatrical poster's imagery speaks the truth.

The dark side of Harry Quincey (George Sanders)

Based on the play by Thomas Job as produced for the stage by Clifford Hayman, this filmed adaptation is not one of the most complete works directed by Robert Siodmak, but it is difficult to complain much about his noir legacy, which includes PHANTOM LADY (1944), CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944), THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945), THE KILLERS (1946), THE DARK MIRROR (1946), CRY OF THE CITY (1948), CRISS CROSS (1949) and THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1950). Producer Joan Harrison also worked with Siodmak and Raines on PHANTOM LADY. Sanders appeared in the gothic noir HANGOVER SQUARE, also released in 1945, with Linda Darnell and Laird Cregar.

Keep your big mouth shut

The no-frills, 1080P single-layered Blu-ray edition now available from Olive Films yields speckled and scratched 35mm source material, but this film is unlikely to become the object of any significant restorative work. The theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is preserved.

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