Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Queen of Spades

Anton Walbrook.

When I did my introduction for The Fighter (2010) I mentioned The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939) as being one of Britain’s rare films that actually dealt successfully with our national sport, incidentally it was one of the first feature films where football was a central element in the plot. As the title suggests it was a murder mystery that revolved around a game of football involving one of the worlds best known football teams. Thorold Dickinson, a rather neglected British film director, screenwriter and producer who first feature film The High Command was made in 1937, directed the movie. In 18 years he only completed a total of nine feature films, his last being in 1955.

By far his best-known film is the creepy ghost story The Queen of Spades made in 1949. A film he agreed to direct with only three days warning, filming was at a small studio in Welwyn Garden City and it was based on a short story by the Russian author Alexander Pushkin. Set in Imperial Russia in 1806, its central character is Captain Herman Suvorin a solider in the lowly German engineers who is driven insane by his desire for success and fortune at the card game Faro, but does not have the funds or the confidence to join other solders at the gambling table. Intrigued by the men’s gossip that tells of the legend of an old countess who it is alleged sold her soul to the devil in exchange for the secret of success at cards. He sets out to obtain the secret from the old lady.
The 31 year-old Edith Evans

There are great performances from Anton Walbrook as Suvorin and Dame Edith Evans, an actress better known for her work on the British stage until she appeared as the bitter and twisted old countess in Dickinson’s film. This movie has not been seen in British cinemas since it initial release until December 2009 when a special digital re-issue was shown. It is now available for the first time on DVD, which includes an introduction by one of Dickinson’s biggest fans Martin Scorsese who describes it as “a uniquely haunting film with a strong sense of sexuality and desire, of warring passions and impulses within people, of love turning bad” It has such a uniquely foreign feel that while watching this rare movie its difficult to believe that it’s British. This rare treat with its great sets, clever use of light and dark and brilliant mobile camera work is well worth a look especially if you’re a fan of old black and white movies.

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