Friday, April 10, 2015

Barbara Wants an Inheritance

We return to the work of one of our favorite actresses, Barbara Stanwyck, in The Man With a Cloak (1951).  Ms. Stanwyck plays Lorna Bounty, a former actress who now serves as the housekeeper and mistress of M. Thevenet (Louis Calhern), a wealthy reprobate who is close to death.  Lorna and her associates  (Mrs. Flynn, played by Margaret Wycherly and Martin, played by Joe DeSantis) are impatiently waiting for Thevenet die, so they can lay claim to his fortune.  Unfortunately for them, the arrival of his grandson's fiancee, Madeline Minot (Leslie Caron) appears to be throwing their plans into a cocked hat.  So, when they try to prevent her from seeing the old man, Madeline seeks help from a stranger, Mr. Dupin (Joseph Cotten), a hard drinking reprobate, who thinks nothing of bilking the local tavern owner, Flaherty (Jim Backus) of his liquor. 
Barbara Stanwyck is just magnificent as Lorna Bounty.  She is gorgeous, sexy, and marvelously evil.  Her dislike of Thevenet shines from her eyes, yet she is like a cobra - her eyes draw you in, even as you realize she is going to bite you.  It's amazing that she was given second billing to Joseph Cotton, because, good as he is, SHE is the picture.  And her character is so much smarter than the others in the house.  It's hard not to admire Lorna, Stanwyck is that good.  This commentary from TCM doesn't agree with us.  They feel that she "doesn't quite succeed".  We beg to differ (caution - we're going to avoid revealing the ending, in case you've not seen the film.  The TCM article does have spoilers).

The costumes are by Walter Plunkett, and he does Ms. Stanwyck proud.  Her gowns are  lovely and lavish, appropriate for the way Lorna Bounty sees herself.  Plunkett was a gifted designer who worked in films such as Alice Adams, Adam's Rib, and a little movie called Gone With the Wind.  He worked steadily until his retirement in 1966; he died in 1982, aged 79. 
The Man With a Cloak was released only a few months after Leslie Caron's introduction to American film in An American in Paris. Ms. Caron does not dance here; she is quite effective as the innocent, thrown headlong into a world she does not understand.  Ms. Caron would continue her career, both during her years at MGM, and after, going from musicals to dramas and comedies.  She still continues working in film, has appeared on the Paris stage in Sondheim's A Little Night Music, and has written her autobiography, Thank Heaven.  For many years, she owned a bed and breakfast in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne.  She also has the distinction of having danced with Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Rudolf Nureyev.  It's easy to class her only as a dancer, and forget that her dramatic work far outweighs her musical films.

Louis Calhern's performance as Thevenet is also spot-on.  He creates a character who is known to be disreputable, but Calhern is able to make him somewhat sympathetic.  A portion of Calhern's performance is silent, hearkening back to his beginnings in film, and his roots stand him in good stead.  A remarkable actor, with an exceptional career, he had already appeared in The Gorgeous Hussy, Frisco Jenny, and The Magnificent Yankee.  Still to come were wonderful performances in Executive Suite, Julius Caesar, and High Society - his final film.  He died in 1956 of a heart attack on the set of Teahouse of the August Moon.

Is this a great film? Probably not, but it is enjoyable, with a cast worth watching, and performances that are notable.  We leave you with a trailer from the film.  It is worth a look:

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