The Man in Grey
Directed by Leslie Arliss
Written by Doreen Montgomery, Margaret Kennedy, and Leslie Arliss
Gainsborough Pictures/The Rank Organization
First viewing/Amazon Instant Video
#172 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
I certainly could have died without having seen this Regency romance bodice-ripper.
The story is told in flashback after two of the character’s descendents meet at an auction of goods from the Rowan estate.
Lovely, sweet Clarissa (Phyllis Calvert) attends a finishing school in Bath. She alone befriends the charity student who joins their midst, Hester Shaw (Margaret Lockwood). Hester runs away with some sort of scoundrel and leaves Clarissa for several years. In the mean time, their families arrange a “suitable” match between Clarissa and the haughty, cruel Lord Rowan (James Mason). They care nothing for each other, Rowan having married to produce an heir, and live as separately as possible.
Clarissa happens to see an advertisement for a play Hester is appearing in in St. Albans. On her way to the performance, the coach is highjacked by a handsome rascal Peter Rokeby (Stewart Granger) who poses as a highwayman to get the vehicle to stop. He hitches a ride and steals a kiss at goodbye. Clarissa is surprised to see that he is playing Othello to Hester’s Desdemona in a very poor offering of that work. She is so delighted with finding her friend that she offers Hester a job as governess to her young son. Rowan refuses to hire Hester in that capacity but agrees that she can stay on as companion to Clarissa.
As we have previously learned, Hester is a manipulative, deceiving trollop and was made for the surly Rowan. They begin an affair but Hester has marriage on her mind. After another chance meeting between Clarissa and Rokeby, she decides that the best way to get Clarissa out of the picture is to bring her and Rokeby together. Hester succeeds in kindling the fire of love between the two but is forced to resort to more drastic measures to get rid of Clarissa.
Hollywood “women’s” pictures have nothing on this one for intrigue and innuendo. Indeed, it seems specially designed to appeal to the mildly sado-masochistic fantasies of part of its target audience. I found it rather turgid myself. If you are coming for Mason, he has been much, much better elsewhere and basically has a supporting role, the meaty stuff having been reserved for the ladies.
This film also has the unfortunate distinction of being the most racially-problematic British film I have seen yet. Clarissa has a small Black page boy who, though somewhat heroic, is the butt of every one of the rare jokes.