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Saturday Night Cinema: Secret Agent

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Saturday Night Cinema: Uncle Silas


A lurid tale of greed and diabolical cunning, in which the great Jean Simmons starred as a Victorian heiress marked for violent death.

It was a rum idea, hiring the author of all those trouser-dropping Whitehall farces to adapt Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1864 gothic thriller. The opening shot of a girl’s hand brushing aside a cobweb and plucking some berries symbolically encapsulates what’s to come

Written in 1864, this Victorian gothic melodrama based on the novel by Sheridan Le Fanu from a screenplay adapted by Aldwych farceur Ben Travers. This creepy chiller is saved from the doldrums by Robert Krasker’s atmospheric cinematography, and fine performances from the ensemble cast. In 1845, 17-year-old Caroline (Jean Simmons) is nursing her dying father. He has enough faith in the reform of his reprobate brother, Silas (Derrick de Marney), suspected but in the clear of murder, to place her under his wing after his death. The hitherto naive heroine soon learns that scheming Uncle Silas is planning to kill her in order to get his hands on the family fortune, aided by the equally corrupt governess Madame de la Rougierre.

Published: February 12, 1951, NY Times

A lurid tale of greed and diabolical cunning, in which Jean Simmons is starred as a Victorian heiress marked for violent death, was presented on Saturday at the Symphony Theatre.

“The Inheritance,” as this British film is called, can trace its ten, ‘twenth, ‘thirth plot back to the venerable novel “Uncle Silas,” written in 1864. Laurence Irving, who wrote the screenplay, and Charles Frank, the director (most especially the last), appear to have adhered slavishly to the spirit of the old shudder drama. In any event, they and their thespic accomplices are responsible for bringing to the screen some of the most atrociously archaic melodrama in recent memory.

The story concerns a young maiden who discovers, much to her sorrow, that her late and trusting father had been badly hoodwinked by the brother to whom he had entrusted his daughter and her fortune. Uncle Silas was a notorious scoundrel in his salad days, and though he professed to be a kindly. God-fearing man in his old age, Silas’ heart remained as black as ever, and thus he concocts a clumsy murder plot to get hold of the girl’s money.

Miss Simmons plays with the kind of wide-eyed, trusting innocence that her role demands, but one can’t help feeling that she is unaccountably stupid in not suspecting Uncle Silas’ motives until he makes her a prisoner in his ramshackle mansion. Derrick De Marney’s Uncle Silas is far from subtle make-believe, but his performance is an eloquent example of restraint alongside the bravura evil which Katina Paxinou exhibits as a brutish, scheming governess.

“The Inheritance” is antimacassar thriller fare in all its production appointments, including gloomy atmosphere and closed-off rooms where evil memories have been locked away. It was nice to see the sunlight again.

THE INHERITANCE, screenplay by Laurence Irving based on the novel “Uncle Silas” by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu; directed by Charles Frank; produced by Josef Somlo and Mr. Irving for Two Cities Film; released here by Fine Arts Films, Inc.
Caroline Ruthyn . . . . . Jean Simmons
Madame de la Rougierre . . . . . Katina Paxinou
Uncle Silas . . . . . Derrick De Marney
Lord Richard Ilbury . . . . . Derek Bond
Lady Monica Waring . . . . . Sophie Stewart
Dudley Ruthyn . . . . . Manning Whiley
Dr. Bryerly . . . . . Esmond Knight
Austin Ruthyn . . . . . Reginald Tate
Mrs. Rusk . . . . . Marjorie Rhodes
Giles . . . . . John Laurie
Branston . . . . . Frederick Burtwell
Sleigh . . . . . George Curzon
Vicar . . . . . O. B. Clarence
Rigg . . . . . Frederick Ranalow
Mary Quince . . . . . Patricia Glyn
Sepulchre Hawkes . . . . . Guy Rolfe
Tom . . . . . Robin Netscher
Grimstone . . . . . John Salew

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