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  Wicked Lady, The Stand And Deliver
Year: 1945
Director: Leslie Arliss
Stars: Margaret Lockwood, James Mason, Patricia Roc, Griffith Jones, Michael Rennie, Felix Aylmer, Enid Stamp-Taylor, Jean Kent, Francis Lister, Beatrice Varley, Amy Dalby, Martita Hunt, David Home, Emrys Jones, Helen Goss, Muriel Aked, Ivor Barnard
Genre: Drama, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: English nobleman Sir Ralph Skelton (Griffith Jones) looks set to marry his fiancée Caroline (Patricia Roc), but unbeknownst to them both someone is about to make an entrance in their lives and upset the applecart. That someone is Barbara (Margaret Lockwood), Caroline's cousin who she was close to in childhood, but they have not seen each other for five years, so Caroline is excited at meeting her again. However, Barbara is not the sweet girl she remembered, and is immediately attracted to Ralph thinking of how stirring it would be to become a real Lady. One day, while out riding, she pretends to fall from her horse and when Ralph goes over in a state of concern, she takes him in her arms and kisses him passionately: he is now hers to do with as she pleases. Caroline's wedding is called off now Barbara is set to wed Ralph, but marriage won't suit her... what will suit her is the life of a highwaywoman...

One of the biggest successes of its day in Britain, and still one of the country's most notable moneymakers, The Wicked Lady puts paid to the notion that all films of that era were staid, prim and proper. Yes, its wanton anti-heroine can't hope to get away with her crimes, but we're invited to indulge her on her way to Hell, and she's by far the most fun of all the characters she shares the screen with, fellow highwayman Captain Jackson (a dashing James Mason) apart. One of the hit costume melodramas created by the Gainsborough studio, it was scripted by director Leslie Arliss from Magdalen King-Hall's novel, and surprisingly didn't hit censor problems at home, no, it was America that coudn't take Lockwood's heaving bosom and demanded her cleavage be covered up in reshoots for the U.S.A.

Perhaps Gainsborough were able to get away with as much as they did because they were a respectable studio and the film was studded with respectable stars, but there's a surprising amount of innuendo. At times it's like watching a Carry On film made fifteen years before they really hit their stride, and there's no doubt about what Barbara has on her mind when marriage to Ralph proves deathly dull, despite her now comfortable circumstances. There was another nobleman she met and danced with at her wedding reception, Kit Locksby (Michael Rennie), who caught her eye and she his; the tragedy of this is that if she'd met him before Ralph, she would have been much more content, and Caroline would have been safe to marry her love. In fact, it's only those closeups of Caroline bravely fighting back the tears that prevents the film from being too much of a giggle.

But it does provoke laughter, mainly because Barbara is running devious rings around everyone else. When she loses her late mother's brooch in a card game, mention of Captain Jackson puts an idea in her naughty head, so she disguises herself and promptly steals her heirloom back when she holds up the carriage of the lady who won it from her. This gives her a taste for crime, and she makes habit of it until she meets her match in the real Jackson who naturally she falls for, and vice versa, the story making it plain what they are doing in the tavern and in the bushes after those discreet fadeouts. Lockwood is such a treat to watch that it's a shame she has to be punished, but it can't all go her way, and clever shots like Barbara kneeling in front of the hearth and looking as if the flames of Hades are licking around her point out her ultimate destination. Watch out, too, for Mason, her equal if he'd been more ruthless, in such scenes as the one where he cheerfully goes to the gallows as if he's a celebrity. They don't really make films like The Wicked Lady anymore, Michael Winner's remake showed that, but we still have still the original and best to delight us. Music by Hans May.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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