The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)

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The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945), much like the previous year’s The Mask of Dimitrios, a little slice of compact noir.  A bit closer perhaps to the B picture, but equally entertaining.  George Sanders, perpetually cast as an odious, if not downright despicable character, gets the role of a staid patriarch in this one.

He is the current head of the Quincey family, who although still with bits of their former wealth, lost most of the family fortune in the Depression.  They still have a beautiful home filled with beautiful things, but Harry has been reduced to working in a textile factory as a pattern designer.  He is a bachelor and supports his two nebishlike sisiters, Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Hester(Monya MacGill).

Harry’s a bachelor and the three siblings share the familial home with the usual squabbles one would expect.  It is never made perfectly clear exactly who Harry is Uncle to, as no children of the three are ever mentioned.  Harry’s life is, to be quite honest, pedestrian, quiet, and boring.

Along comes business woman Deborah Brown (played exceptionally well by Ella Raines), who in short order becomes “the only woman he [Harry] ever loved.”  They decide to wed but Lettie, the more “attached” sister, doesn’t want to turn over the house to the potential newlyweds.

The plot beyond that you’ll need to check out for yourselves, and as you may imagine there are more than a few twists in the back half of this one.    In a real oddity, at the end of the picture the viewer is presented a screen reading “In order that your friends may enjoy this picture, please do not disclose the ending.”  If that doesn’t pique your interest, nothing will.

There is, somewhat strikingly, a none too subtle hint in incest in Lettie attachment to Harry which surprisingly escaped the censor’s eye.  Or perhaps, as is more likely the case, the censors focused more on the ending.  Universal actually filmed and tested up to five different endings (sources vary) before settling on the one ultimately used.

I can’t comment on how the ending matches with the successful play this is taken from. I really enjoyed the ending, with the exception of the very final scene (well, prior to the disclaimer anyway).  The finale is even tighter than the earlier expository section of the film, and drives suspense not only from the subject matter, but also the speed and intensity with which it is delivered.

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry is strikingly good – and available from amazon.com via something termed artiflix- which I am not familiar with.    Casting is overall really good, with George Sanders (of whom I am not a huge fan) providing a wonderful performance at the shy, somewhat timid man coming out of his shell at the expense of his sisters.

Although usually pushed into the noir category there is also more than a touch of Hitchcock here as well- using his time tested method of a normal daily occurrence with a phenomenal twist.  One of the things I would have changed is a scene where Harry is playing piano and singing with some of his friends in a local bar.  His vocals are obviously dubbed and I would have preferred either the actor’s own voice or at least a dubbed track in the same general vocal range.  As it is reminded me of Celine Dion’s voice coming out of Louis Armstrong’s mouth.

Sixty years after release it is hard to say to what degree censorship of the time impacted the ending, but the result is still quite satisfying.

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