Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Man in Grey (1943)

The Man in Grey
After a series of excellent or at least interesting films on the list it is now back to one of the inevitable disappointments. I hate to say it, but “The Man in Grey” was not a good experience.

I went into this one knowing absolutely nothing. It is not on the Danish edition of the list as it features a Danish entry in the slot occupied by “The Man in Grey” in the original edition. So far I have seen only few of the 1943 entries, but unless some utter cinematic disaster awaits me further down the list “The Man in Grey” seems like an excellent choice for replacement.

My problems with this film are many. I suppose it qualifies as a “chick-lite” film in the respect that it caters to women by feeding them a romantic melodrama so stuffed up with clichés that it makes telenovellas high art. Already at this point I have begun rolling my eyes. The setting is pre-Victorian upper class in a sort of Austin tradition, except that it entirely lacks the developed characters of an Austinian drama. I am not crazy about that setting either.

But the real culprit is the extremely cliché and predictable storyline. This is about women who a subordinate the strictures of society and end up in unloving marriages. Then of course true love drops by and lo, observe the rigors of breaking free of the bondage to realize your true calling. Add to that the intrigue of a snake of a woman that does her best to make things complicated for everybody. Jane Austin meets Dynasty. This is a very well-known recipe, certain to bring a lot of women to the cinema and just as certain to bring a number of boyfriends in tow.

Sometimes a cliché film is only cliché because it was so big a success that it has been imitated a hundred times since then (Little Cesar, It happened one night etc.), but “The Man in Grey” cannot use that excuse. It is just one more film following this endlessly repeated plot.

As is typical of chick-lite films the characters are cliché as well. In this case almost cartoonish. The heroine, Clarissa (Phyllis Calvert) is blond and pretty and so goody good that she is borderline saintly. She is Snowwhite, perfectly innocent and lovable and without a hint of guile. She even hands out sweets to her friends in the beginning! And even at the end she is totally unsuspecting of the betrayal by her best friend.

Hester (Margaret Lockwood) on the other hand is the witch. She is black haired and of a surly nature. When she smiles it is calculated and self-satisfied and she is constantly scheming. Again and again we are told what a foul character she is, there is even a gypsy fortuneteller spelling it out to us. She is the Alexis of Dynasty that we must despise and cry out to Clarissa that she must beware of the snake she is nurturing at her bossom.

The men are uniformly one-dimensional. Lord Rohan (James Mason) is the cold and calculated nobleman set up to be the “evil guy”. We only learn that his honor is precious to him and that he has a violent nature. Oh, and that he is ruthless in getting what he wants. Other than that we just get a lot of James Mason scowling. He is the Man in Grey.

The hero is young and handsome and perfectly romantic inclined. He is also honorable, but a scoundrel character, well at least nominally. Considering he is supposed to be a jack of all trades, including actor and mock highwayman he is actually disappointingly bland and one dimensional. He is the result of a girl in pink tasked to describe her dream prince. In a different age this would be Matthew McConaughey. In this case it is the dashing Stewart Granger.

There is even a child (Toby, Harry Scott) acting as the funny sidekick, except that he is not funny and mostly annoying in his blackface.

“The Man in Grey” does have some redeeming factors. The production standard is pretty good considering it was made in war time Britain and it is up to par with Hollywood. Also it always a bliss to get real British accents instead of fake ones and the ending is at least interesting with general disaster striking everybody. However that is quickly cancelled out by the oh-so-romantic notion that a few generations later their descendants can get what their ancestors were denied, sigh…

No, I did not care much for this film. I think the main quality of this movie was that it was the movie that introduced James Mason. And of course that it was something of a blockbuster, but that does not necessarily mean quality.


  1. Great sets, nice costumes, forgettable everything else pretty much sums it up for me.

    1. Yes, the production standard is pretty good. Unfortunately that just does not make it for me.

  2. Uh, oh. And I went ahead and bought the set containing this one because it wasn't otherwise available. I still haven't seen it.

    1. I am sorry if I am ruining it for you. I guess this one may be gender dependent. I can sort of see why a lot of women would like "The Man in Grey". "Gone with the Wind" contains many of the same elements, but there everything works and end up not being a cliché.

  3. This was one of the ones I singled out last month as my worst of the month. The book says that it is included because it represents a specific genre of film that existed at the time - the costume melodrama from Gainsborough Studios. Sad to say, but it refers to it as the finest example of them.

    1. I missed that one, you see so many films, Chip :-)
      But I can see we are on the same wavelength here. Anyway, cotume melodrama, it is almost a giveaway...