Friday, February 27, 2015

Apparently I haven't blogged about "Kind Lady" before

The 1951 version of Kind Lady is showing up tomorrow morning at 9:15 AM on TCM. A search of the blog claims that I haven't blogged about it before (I probably should have kept a running database of movies I've blogged about), and the TCM schedule and IMDb pages both agree it's still not available on DVD, so you'll have to catch this infrequent TCM showing.

Ethel Barrymore plays Mary Herries, the titular "kind lady". She's an older, well-to-do widow living alone with her servants in one of those lovely late Victorian townhouses of the sort that look like they could have come off the same part of the backlot MGM used to make Gaslight seven years earlier. Mary is an art collector, and has a whole bunch of nice pieces in her house. Fortunately, though, this is the Victorian era when crime was lower and people didn't have to go to the ridiculous lengths to ptotect their art that we saw in yesterday's How to Steal a Million.

Well, maybe you can strike that last sentence. The beginning of the film shows off Mary's art collection to the point that you know somebody is going to try to steal something, and that happens fairly quickly. Just outside Mary's house, doing a painting of it, is starving artist Henry Elcott (Maurice Evans). Elcott knows that Mary likes nice things and is an art collector, so eventually he comes over to the house to try to sell a painting, which is actually a ruse for him to try to steal something, as he takes a cigarette case and leaves his paintings behind. That, of course, was quite intentional.

The next time Elcott and Mary meet, we get to see just how starving an artist he actually is. He's got a sickly wife Ada (Betsy Blair) and young son he's trying to support. Mary takes pity on him and sends him some money, and when Elcott comes over to thank her for it, he brings the whole family, as well as a portrait of Ada. Ada faints and is taken to a spare bedroom upstairs, where a doctor says that Ada likely has pneumonia, and says that Ada shouldn't be moved. It's another ruse, of course, for Elcott to get into the Herries home.

Mary eventually figures out that if it's not all a ruse, it's at least monstrously irritating to have these people she barely knows in her house. But by the time she tries to protest, it's too late. Elcott and some of his rriends tie up Mary and begin to hold her hostage. Not only her, but her maid Rose (Doris Lloyd), who is taking her boss' side in this whole thing and not the interlopers'.

So Elcott and his gang of con artists try to get Mary to sign over a power of attorney that would let them sell all the stuff and pocket the money, and if she fights, they'll try to get everybody to believe that she's gone insane. Mary, for her part, is a crafty old lady, and she's not about to go down meekly....

Kind Lady is surprisingly dark for an MGM movie, I think, but the MGM quality is there for all to see. Ethel Barrymore is quite good in the lead role, important because hers is the role that ties together the whole film and without a good performance there, the movie would fall apart. But Barrymore is helped by the fact that MGM was able to get together a bunch of top-tier supporting talent. I still haven't mentioned Angela Lansbury and Keenan Wynn as the partners in crime to Evans' character. John Williams, a name you might not recognize but whose roles you may recall (the chief inspector from Dial M For Murder and supporting roles in several other well-known films of the 1950s), plays Mary's banker.

All in all, Kind Lady is well worth a watch, and it's a shame that the movie seens never to have gotten a DVD release considering the cast.

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