THE QUEEN OF SPADES
(director: Thorold Dickinson; screenwriters: based on a short story by Alexander Pushkin/Arthur Boys/Rodney Ackland; cinematographer: Otto Heller; editor: Hazel Wilkinson; music: Georges Auric; cast: Anton Walbrook (Capt. Herman Suvorin), Edith Evans (The Old Countess Ranevskaya), Yvonne Mitchell (Lizaveta Ivanova), Ronald Howard(Andrei), Mary Jerrold(Old Varvarushka), Anthony Dawson (Fyodor), Miles Malleson(Tchybukin), Michael Medwin (Hovaisky), Athene Seyler(Princess Ivashin), Ivor Barnard(Bookseller), Maroussia Dimitrevitch (Gypsy singer), Violette Elvin(Gypsy dancer), Pauline Tennant (Young countess), Jacqueline Clarke (Milliner’s assistant), Josef Ramart (Countess’ lover); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Anatole de Grunwald; HBO Video (Monogram Pictures); 1949-UK)
“A masterfully filmed surreal atmospheric supernatural tale.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A masterfully filmed surreal atmospheric supernatural tale directed by the legendary Brit filmmaker Thorold Dickinson(“Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer”/”Secret People“/”Gaslight”). It might be the director’s most accomplished work. It’s based on a short story by the great Russian writer Alexander Pushkin, whose story was filmed numerous times but never as good as this version. The macabre script is finely written by Arthur Boys and Rodney Ackland. The haunting film has imaginative sets and makes good use of its illuminating black and white photography by cinematographer Otto Heller. Though starting slowly, it builds in tension to an impressive crescendo. The literary film paints a disturbing picture of a decadent Imperial Russia in 1806.
In Old St. Petersburg, the glum and impoverished German captain, in the Russian engineers corps, Capt. Herman Suvorin (Anton Walbrook), is obsessed with faro, but despite every evening watching the Russian army officers gamble at the local gambling den he never plays to the annoyance of the others. One day the captain buys a mystical book by St. Germain and reads how the still living 100-year-old mean-spirited Russian countess, Ranevskaya (Edith Evans), some sixty years ago, made a pact with the devil by selling her soul to him to learn the secret of winning in cards. The captain is obsessed with becoming rich and dreams if he knew the secret of how to win at cards, he would gain happiness as a respected wealthy man of great status.
The captain schemes to gain access to the Old Countess by feigning a romantic interest through a letter to the countess’s unhappy granddaughter ward and companion, Lizaveta Ivanova (Yvonne Mitchell). Through the naive girl, the captain manipulates, he learns of a secret entrance to the countess’s library and bedroom by means of a hidden stairway. When the captain enters the countess’ bedroom through the secret passage, he frightens her to death before he can learn of the card secret. But the captain has gone bonkers and believes the chapter in the book entitled ‘The Dead Shall Give Up Their Secrets’, and gets into a high-stakes faro game with a rival officer Andrei (Ronald Howard). But just before the captain can play his winning ace, it suddenly turns into the Queen of Spades and he loses everything–including his marbles.
REVIEWED ON 10/15/2014 GRADE: A-