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  Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, The Calamitous Cup Of Cocoa
Year: 1945
Director: Robert Siodmak
Stars: George Sanders, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ella Raines, Sara Allgood, Moyna MacGill, Samuel S. Hinds, Harry von Zell, Judy Clark, Coulter Irwin, Craig Reynolds
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Middle-aged bachelor Harry Quincey (George Sanders) lives in this small town where the local paper mill employs many of its citizens, including him as he designs patterns for them, being of an artistic bent, but never really fulfilling his potential. He stays with his two sisters, Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Hester (Moyna MacGill) in a comfortable house where they have resided for some years now, and though they are close, he does wonder if he grew old before his time - younger employees call him Uncle Harry - and what he might have done had he been married, for instance, or pursued his art. Then he meets Deborah Brown (Ella Raines) and things shake up...

Sometimes simply known by the truncated title of Uncle Harry, this was a curious tale of mid-life frustration taken to dangerous lengths, directed by one of the most promising and respected talents of nineteen-forties Hollywood, Robert Siodmak. A German émigré who fled the Nazis, as so many of his countrymen did, he was building a very nice career for himself in America, but the consensus appears to be he was the victim of his own success, so much in demand that he was priced out of the market until he decided a better option was to return to Germany once the war was over and the nation was in the process of rebuilding. Thus, Hollywood lost a man who could have been huge.

As it is, he remains a cult figure especially among film noir fans, with a filmography full of interest for the casual classic movie buff, and this example could have been one of his greatest achievements, except for one decision that was out of his hands, and more or less ruined the picture. You have to wait till the very end to find out what that is, but leading up to that you may be taking in the excellent acting and unconventional plotting and wondering why this movie is not better known. Then that tacked on conclusion shows up and all is revealed, though to be fair nobody involved in the hands-on manufacture of the project was happy about that either, the culprit being the censor.

For example, the producer was the pioneering Joan Harrison, discovered and helped out by Alfred Hitchcock as a writer on a few of his films, then graduated to being one of just three woman producers in a key period in Hollywood's Golden Age. You could identify the notably female quality of this effort as down to her endeavours, as not only were the female characters far stronger-willed than the males, but for much of the screen time it was Sanders sharing the limelight with a largely feminine cast, crafting a fascinating dynamic not often witnessed in this era. Harrison was obviously keen to bring this script, based on a popular play, to movie theatres, but she reckoned without the powerful Production Code forcing her hand on the ultimate direction of the storyline, specifically the finale.

So outraged was she at this cowardly tinkering that she upped and left Universal, where it had been made, in protest, effectively tearing up her contract with them. Arguably, she never quite reacquired her previously promising rise through the ranks, and after a few more films she settled for television, returning to her native Britain. So the censors ruined things, and not for the last time; when you realise what the problem they had with Uncle Harry was, and how we have seen so many narratives that concluded as Harrison wanted since, it's enormously dispiriting as all the creatives here were firing on all cylinders. Sanders had one of his best roles as the downtrodden but polite title character whose chance at love with Deborah could reform the rest of his life, while Fitzgerald, a rebel who rarely won the roles she deserved, was in turn devious and pathetic as the possessive (some say incestuous) sister who can't let Harry go. You should not allow the disappointment of this to put you off watching if it piques your interest, but what might have been was painful to contemplate.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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