The One about Leslie Ariss’ “The Man in Grey”

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Today’s cinema selection goes to “The Man in Grey” directed by Leslie Ariss. A film that was featured in the Eclipse Series “Three Wicked Melodramas from Gainsborough Pictures”.

With World War II affecting cinema worldwide, for Gainsborough Pictures, their production of melodrama films were important in entertaining people who wanted something different than films about war or British royalty. And what Gainsborough Pictures provided for audiences were films with a touch of sinful and tantalizing tales of bad relationships and within the problematic situations of its imperfect, amoral characters, there would be a sense of hope. Maybe.

And to kick off the melodramatic years, “The Man in Grey” made its debut in theaters. A tale of a love quadrangle in 19th century England about four individuals. One woman who will do anything it takes to become wealthy, one woman who just wants to be loved. A tale of love and deceit.

Needless to say, the film received the ire of film critics who saw the film promoting adultery but also showcasing marriage in negative light. The British Parliament wanted films that focused on nobility and films geared towards a wartime audience. But that is not the kind of films that Gainsborough Pictures wanted to make. Despite the controversy that this film had received, news of the film made audiences come out and watch it. And eventually, “The Man in Grey” became one of the highest grossing films in England in 1943. And “The Man in Grey” would eventually make Margaret Lockwood, Phyllis Calvert, James Mason and Stewart Granger stars overnight, but its the writing and acting performances that would lend to the film’s efficacy.

The four primary characters are no doubt imperfect. Clarissa is a woman of good intentions, but has an affair because she is not in love with her husband; Hesther is called a “slut” by Rockeby, knowing that her intentions are not pure but evil and malicious and will do anything to be wealthy; Rokeby is a man who also may not be the gentleman as we thought he would be and may know Hesther from long ago; and Lord Rohan may be a man who honors his family name but he is also a man who will do anything to protect the Rohan name.

But not everyone is bad. If there is one person that is seen a good amount of times throughout the film that possibly is seen as someone that is good or someone of hope, it would be the young character, Toby (portrayed by Harry Scott). A young servant (or slave) who tried his best to protect his employer, Clarissa. Interesting though is the fact the Gainsborough Pictures cast a Caucasian boy and had him in black face.

Overall, “The Man in Grey” is a film that no doubt received plenty of hostility against it. Imperfect characters who live a life of indecency, sure, affairs are probably not going to stun viewers in today’s climate but considering that the film was in 1943 where America was abiding to its its Motion Picture Production Code, in Britain, Gainsborough Pictures were working on films that can easily be classified as indecent and sinful.

But the film’s take on the importance of status is shown throughout the film. Clarissa’s family must maintain the status of wealth through marriage, while Hesther, who’s family has fell on hard times may be her family’s last hope in becoming wealthy, is a woman who objects to how the wealthy behave and becomes belligerent towards the lifestyle.

But as Clarissa marries a man that she doesn’t love in order to continue the Rohan name and for her to continue to live wealthy, Hesther finds a new way to achieve wealth improperly.

As the first melodramatic film from Gainsborough Pictures, “The Man in Grey” is a period film that features wonderful costume design and also solid performances from its four talents. Featuring an engaging storyline about love and deceit, “The Man in Grey” is a wonderful first film for Gainsborough Pictures.


 

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Dennis A. Amith