Movie Critique - The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: Equally dominated by Sanders and Fitzgerald, the film is sweet, odd and at the same time cringes you at the subtle hints of racy stuff. A controversial melodrama, sadly was let down by a very weak ending.

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry is a 1945 American film noir drama directed by Robert Siodmak, produced by Joan Harrison and is based on the 1942 play Uncle Harry by Thomas Job. The film has George Sanders, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ella Raines, Moyna Macgill and Sara Algood among others. Screenplay was given by Stephen Longstreet and Keith Winter.

The plot is about an aging bachelor, Harry Quincey (portrayed by George Sanders), who looks after his two sisters - Lettie Quincey (portrayed by Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Hester Quincey (portrayed by Moyna Macgill. However their normal and boring routine gets disrupted when Harry falls for a young designer, Deborah Brown (portrayed by Ella Raines), at the mill he works. And then the web of deceit, selfishness and murder gets spun around all of them strangling them tighter and tighter.

Once again we get to meet Christina Lane, author of the 2020 book Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock, in the beginning of the film when it aired on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on Eddie Muller's Noir Alley series. 

We had met her before, sometime during the mid of 2020 when TCM's Noir Alley host Eddie Muller had given the viewers a treat of the 1947 American film noir They Won't Believe Me, which again was produced by Joan Harrison.

I have seen George Sanders in two films last year - the 1945 American horror-drama film The Picture of Dorian Gray and the 1947 American romantic-fantasy film The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

He is in his element as Harry Quincey in the film struggling to get loose of his sisters while trying to settle with his love. The film opens with narration by George Sander's character Henry Quincey giving an introduction to the fiction town, and its people, thus setting the stage of the plot to the viewers. 

Fitzgerald's Lettie is petty, devious, selfish, cruel and spoiled with imagined ailments so she can stay all day in bed and be taken care of. She gives a knockout performance just how she had given in the few films I have watched of hers so far - the 1946 American film noir Three Strangers; and 1939 American romantic drama Wuthering Heights. She gave me chills with her performance as Crystal Shackelford in Three Strangers.

Ella Raines as Deborah Brown becomes a formidable opponent in getting Sanders' Harry's love and attention. While one seeks from a brotherly fatherly perspective the other craves from a husband's perspective. 

Checkout the outfits Raines wears in the film. They sort of emulate what producer Joan Harrison usually wore. Costume designer Travis Banton certainly made Raines shine through the clothes. 

In fact if I may say so, Raines' costumes were superior to Fitzgerald's although hers were superb too. Check them for yourself how Fitzgerald was draped in the movie.

Moyna Macgill's Hester is a widow with a strong back and more hardworking. Moyna Macgill is Angela Lansbury's real mother. Lansbury is famed for her role as Sybil Vane in the 1945 film The Picture of Dorian Gray and years later in the TV show Murder, She Wrote about an amateur sleuth solving crimes. 

Moyna also appeared in a small role as a duchess in the film The Picture of Dorian Gray along-side her daughter Lansbury. You can clearly see how much similar Lansbury looks like Moyna when she was in her late 50s when she started acting in Murder, She Wrote series. 

There are considerable changes from the play to film, specially to keep with the Production Code and eliminating more racier and steamy stuff. Yet the filmmakers make an appeal in the end credits - In order that your friends may enjoy this picture, please do not disclose the ending. 

To satisfy the Production Code, the filmmakers made the ending a bit less twisty and more comic, leaving a distaste in the viewers' mouth. It's ending reminded me of the ending of the 1945 American film noir Fear, which was loosely based on  Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1866 novel Crime and Punishment. That film was released a year after The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry.

The ending was weird, with so many questions unanswered and open. And not a satisfying one at all. Again this film was also released with five different endings, and they selected the current ending of the film based on popularity. This way of showing different endings and zeroing in on one finally was also done for the 1941 America comedy drama film Meet John Doe which I posted a couple days ago.

Joan Harrison was Hitchcock's protégé and had made Phantom Lady at Universal Pictures a year before this film was released. But the result of changing the finale resulted in Joan Harrison from resigning from her role as producer with Universal Pictures, sadly. Even Geraldine Fitzgerald refused to be available for the final ending that the studio decided on, so we don’t see her in the final scene too.

Again there is a subtle show of incest and unhealthy obsession with a sibling in the film. This is what perhaps Joan Harrison had trouble in trying to weed out of the play to pacify the Production Code. 

Equally dominated by Sanders and Fitzgerald, the film is sweet, odd and at the same time cringes you at the subtle hints of racy stuff. With a sister from hell, and a lover from heaven, Sanders' character certainly was stuck between a rock and a hard place. A controversial melodrama, sadly was let down by a very weak ending.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Here is the film poster that Eddie Muller shared prior to the film begins on TCM.

b. This is the second film of Ella Raines produced by Joan Harrison. The first one was the 1944 American film noir Phantom Lady.

c. Harry quotes lines from Robert Frost's Death of the Hired Man poem in the film.

d. A 60 minute radio adaptation was broadcasted by Theater Guild on Air on May 18, 1947 with Geraldine Fitzgerald reprising her role.

e. When Deborah Brown comes to visit the Quincey's they all eat a Walnut Cake along with Coffee. The day I was watching this film I had a particular craving to eat something sweet. Next time I get a craving I might make this Walnut Cake.

f. The singing voices of the barber shop quartet includes Jan Williams, Clarence G. Badger and Norman Neilson.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. The town's statue of Civil War General Melville Quincey is listed as born in 1845. Civil War in America was between 1861 and 1865 which would make Melville Quincey 15 yrs old at the start and 20 years old at the end of the war. A rather too young an age to become a General don’t you think so?

b. Lettie takes only sip of hot cocoa and her cup is still close to full. However the immediate shot when it comes back to her you can see that it is almost empty. She couldn’t have drunk that much hot cocoa in one sip. Perhaps they didn’t refill the cup between takes. 

c. The name Quincey is spelled differently in both the newspaper headlines. But Harry spells it as "Quincey" in his letter, so we have to presume that that is the correct spelling for the film.


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