Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Strangers In The Night

Mann’s fifth quickie: cheerfully stolid GI Johnny returns from war, to a penpal with whom he’s in love but never seen, thanks to her donated copy of A Shropshire Lad. Her address turns out to be a looming, clifftop mansion (rendered via a charmingly ambitious piece of matte painting), inhabited by aged mother (Thimig), nervous companion/housekeeper Ivy, and a gloriously chocolate box portrait of the perfect Rosemary, hanging amidst chandeliers over the mantle. The epistolary love-making and the charms of Rosemary’s painting are offset by a queer atmosphere in the brooding mansion, and Grey butts in as a preternaturally poised lady doctor Johnny meets on the train (she’s also keen on the Housman). Mann throws shadows everywhere, and the magisterially cracked Thimig tears into her role with a genteel old lady’s viciousness, complete with limp, heavy cane, and severe German accent. Premonitions of Laura (released two months later) surround the painting, and the tortured psychology is played at a necessarily high pitch for the running time, helped along by a near-absurdist amount of very good and very bad luck. Photography and emotion hit frequent high points, not least as Thimig walks off with the film in a climax of terrific grotesquery.

d Anthony Mann p Rudolph E. Abel ph Reggie Lanning ed Arthur Roberts ad Gano Chittenden m Joseph Dubin cast William Terry, Virginia Grey, Helene Thimig, Edith Barrett
(1944, USA, 56m, b/w)
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