Monday, 22 July 2013

A Place of One's Own (1945)

A Place of One's Own, made by Gainsborough Pictures in Britain in 1945, is a classic English ghost story. This is low-key horror but it works rather well.

Mr Smedhurst (James Mason) is an elderly man who has made his fortune in the drapery business. Now he hankers after the life of a country gentleman. Bellingham House seems like the ideal place to pursue such a vocation and he is able to purchase for a very cheap price. The price is, perhaps, suspiciously low. Nonetheless he and his wife move into the house full of hopes.

Mrs Smedhurst (Barbara Mullen) has engaged young Annette Allenby (Margaret Lockwood) as a companion. The truth is that Mr and Mrs Smedhurst, having lost both their own children, are rather lonely people. They soon become very fond of Annette and in fact come to think of her almost as their own daughter.

The Smedhursts are a rather charming old couple and despite having been in trade they are soon accepted by the local gentry. They become quite friendly with Major and Mrs Manning Tutthorn, and Annette becomes very friendly indeed with the Manning Tutthorn’s nephew Dr Robert Selbie (Dennis Price). Before very long Annette and Dr Selbie are engaged to be married.

By this time the Smedhursts have discovered why Bellingham House was so cheap. The house is haunted. It is, according to local legend, haunted by the daughter of the previous owner who had died under somewhat suspicious circumstances. After her death the house remained empty for forty years.

This is not the sort of ghost that manifests itself as a spectral figure on the staircase or goes about rattling chains. There are no moanings in the night or strange noises of any kind. Odd things do start to happen, but they all seem to involve Annette. She does things of which she has no memory afterwards. Her behaviour is disturbing and her health begins to suffer. Mr Smedhurst does not believe in ghosts - he thinks they’re all poppycock. Mrs Smedhurst on the other hand is certainly a believer and she has no doubt that Annette’s erratic behaviour and declining health are connected somehow with the ghost.

James Mason plays a man thirty years older than the actor’s age at the time. He manages to be convincingly elderly as well as possessing considerable charm. Mr Smedhurst is a crusty old fellow but basically warm-hearted. Mason was an actor who could be very sinister indeed but he could also be very sympathetic and he has no difficulty in making us very fond of Mr Smedhurst. 

Margaret Lockwood was a very big star in Britain at this time and she demonstrates her star quality here. Dr Selbie is played by Dennis Price, later to become a familiar and very entertainingly over-the-top character actor. At this early stage of his career he was still trying to make it as a romantic lead, with reasonable success in this film at least.

The decision not to make Mason the romantic lead was an odd one. Mason was a rising star and was certainly quite capable of such roles, in fact probably more capable of such roles than Dennis Price, but he does such a fine job in what is really a character part that Smedhurst ends up being by far the most memorable character in the movie.

This was Bernard Knowles’ first movie as director and he acquits himself well. He avoids gothic clichés, which is perhaps a mistake as the movie could have used a little bit more atmosphere. The screenplay by Brock Williams is based on a story by Osbert Sitwell who is credited as having collaborated in the screenplay, which may mean a lot or it may simply mean that he approved the script.

The Region 4 DVD lack extras but it’s a generally very good transfer.

If you enjoy subtle horror and if you’re fond of the classic English ghost story then this movie should prove to be quite satisfactory entertainment. While it’s not one of the great British horror movies it’s still a well-crafted and thoroughly enjoyable little movie. Recommended.

1 comment:

Kho said...

I had not heard of this movie. I really love Mason and Lockwood. Unfortunately for Dennis Price, I've only primarily caught his later performances in Jess Franco films and while I sort of like Franco's films up til 1975, Price really didn't distinguish himself that much in them and more than a few of the ones he was in were not very good. I generally only like Franco's erotic films though his early horror films were pretty darn good.

Back to the film at hand. I had no idea Gainsborough delved into ghost stories. Must have come on the heels of Paramount's Uninvited (which Criterion is releasing in October, about freaking time too)

I bet Mason was offered the romantic lead but he found those parts tiresome and wanted to stretch himself so he probably asked if he could play the old man. Mason wasn't very happy at Gainsborough from what I've read so the producers placated him with this part.
Hopefully some company in the US will release this on Region 1. Most likely company would be VCI as they have released quite a few Gainsborough flicks. Criterion also released a nice set of Gainsborough films maybe they will release this film. Thank you for mentioning this film. I want to own all of Mason's films. I've loved the man's acting ever since I was a tyke and first saw Journey To The Center of The Earth.