“Three Wicked Melodramas…”

The Man in Grey” is one movie of a three-movie set recently issued by the Criterion Collection as part of its Eclipse series. That series has been a boon lately for those of us interested in discovering wonderful and often long-forgotten directors. Criterion, which is known for its high-end restorations of a variety of films, has made the decision to issue Eclipse DVDs in inexpensive editions that make them easier to buy for institutions or individuals.

James Mason, with his smoldering acting style and tendency to play mysterious characters, has a heyday here. (He also has a role in one other movie in the set, The Wicked Lady.) He plays Lord Rohan, a nasty aristocrat in Regency-era England who marries young and naïve Clarissa strictly to produce an heir. The heir is produced and the two live separate lives, which produces further melodrama, as Clarissa meets a dashing “strolling player” and is reunited with a friend from school who appears to be on her side. But is she? A sort of historical film noir, “The Man in Grey” will appeal to fans of old movies, to fans of James Mason, and probably anyone who likes a romping good tale of intrigue and menace.

What was particularly pleasing about the structure of the movie is that it begins and ends in contemporary (i.e. 1943) wartime London, in which the effects of Lady Rohan are being sold at auction. We learn the story behind those artifacts, and then return to the auction house for the closing minutes of the film. This scene, with its subtle and clever commentary on the past and the present, adds a lovely dimension to the story. It’s worth the wait.

(This film is not rated, though it has at least one disturbing violent scene.)


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