Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Man With a Cloak

TCM's last night of movies for Star of the Month Barbara Stanwyck kicks off with a bunch of westerns, but by Thursday afternoon switches to a mish-mash of interesting stuff. One of those interesting movies on Thursday afternoon is The Man With a Cloak, at 1:45 PM.

Leslie Caron plays Madeline Minot, a young woman who's just come off the boat from France in New York City in 1848. For those who don't know European history, 1848 was a year in which a whole bunch of European countries saw revolutions -- including France, where the revolution ultimately resulted in the ending of the monarchy and the naming of Emperor Napoleon III. But the fate of the revolution wasn't known until the end of 1848, so at the time of Madeline's arrival in New York, there were still students manning the barricades, at least if you believe the timeline of the movie. Madeline, for her part, is visiting New York on behalf of her fiancé. He's one of the students in revolt, and his grandfather, M. Thevenet (Louis Calhern), who emigrated to America some time back and holds a substantial fortune. Thenevet it dying, and the grandson could use the money to help his fellow revolutionaries. But because he needs to help manage the students, he sent Madeline to New York to try to get the money.

What Madeline finds is a possible plot to kill Thevenet. The butler (Joe De Santis) and the manageress of the house (Barbara Stanwyck) seem really standoffish to poor Madeline, and it also seems as if they want the money that they know the dying Thenevet has -- and they may be willing to kill him to get it. Fortunately, however, Madeline also finds an ally in New York, in the form of Dupin (Joseph Cotten), a starving author who has a taste for mysteries. He takes a liking to Madeline, and upon hearing from Madeline what's going on in the house, he takes it upon himself to help her investigate.

The Man With a Cloak is an interesting movie, if not one that's particularly great. It's got a surprisingly dark atmosphere for a film set in this time period: it's always seemed to me as though period pieces from the studio era are generally either brighter or at least more elegant. One of the few other movies I can think of that's set in the same time period, The Heiress, at least has more of an air of elegance due to having a star like Olivia de Havilland. The Man With a Cloak, on the other hand, was made at MGM in 1951, and feels a lot like those films that I think of as MGM's B message pictures of the early 1950s: movies that don't have the Technicolor and big production values of the musicals the Freed Unit was putting out, but still do a lot with a little thanks to the professionalism of all the staff at MGM.

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