Friday, March 4, 2011

Kind Lady (1951)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

If Michael Haneke had directed films within the studio system of the 1950's, Kind Lady is the type of film he might have made. Directed by the great John Sturges, the film stars Ethel Barrymore as Mary Herries, an art collector who is tricked by Henry Elcott (Maurice Evans) and his family and friends to allow them to live in her home as part of a scheme to sell her possessions. As Herries comes to understand the situation she is in, she struggles to escape, but Elcott and his co-conspirators have so firmly taken control of her life that she is unable to do so.

Filmmakers have long had a fascination with the individual trapped in his/her (and it's usually a her) own home, from the classics Gaslight and Wait Until Dark to the more recent Panic Room, The Strangers, and the aforementioned Haneke's Funny Games films, and Kind Lady is a part of that tradition. What Kind Lady lacks that the most successful of these films achieve is a sense of true suspense. Ethel Barrymore is such a strong figure that, despite her age, she never comes across as vulnerable. Her co-stars, with the exception of Angela Lansbury, seem not up to the task of matching Barrymore. Additionally, though the loss of her possessions is perhaps the most important thing to Mary Harries, the stakes are not high enough to the audience to provide enough suspense to sustain the film. Instead, the majority of the film left me flat, calmly waiting for someone to catch onto the scheme and restore order.

Kind Lady received its nomination for its black and white costume design, losing to A Place in the Sun, one of Edith Head's eight Oscars. The costume designers, Walter Plunkett and Gile Steele, faced the challenge of dressing characters who value above all the physical beauty of objects, and they succeeded wonderfully. Both the costume design and production design show a fine eye for detail, and though neither is particularly unique or creative, the attention to detail perfectly complements the film's characters.

Remaining: 3176 films, 882 Oscars, 5470 nominations


  1. why is this movie kind lady not on you tube???

  2. I could be wrong, but I believe it's still copyright protected. I tracked it down on Turner Classic Movies, and it seems to get regular play there.

  3. It's an absolutely wonderful movie in every way. What the reviewer above has missed is its tremendous power as a brilliant character study of two very different people pitted against each other. Ethel Barrymore, long a personal favorite, is wonderful as the kind-hearted, slightly gillible gentlewoman Mary Herries, but Maurice Evans is beyond brilliant as the villain. All the supporting players are excellent. Keenan Wynn as cold-blooded an Australian thug and Angela Lansbury as his hard-hearted but more pragmatic spouse are totally convincing. I have seen this film at least half a dozen times, and try never to miss it when it's on. The music is a perfect foil to the action, the sets are superb, the pacing downright compelling. If I had the power to rate it, I'd give it four stars. What I especially love about it is the high degree of sympathy with which it portrays a member of the upper class, and the elegant lifestyle she enjoyed before Mr. Elkott and his cohorts in crime moved in on her. I hope toHeaven no damned fool ever tried to colorize this masterpiece.