Uncle Harry/The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)

“You must realize by now that Letty has absolutely no intention of giving you up — not until she’s dead!”

Synopsis:
When small-town, middle-aged bachelor Harry Quincey (George Sanders) falls in love with a beautiful young woman from New York (Ella Raines), his plans to marry are foiled by his possessive sister Letty (Geraldine Fitzgerald), and Harry plots his revenge.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
This “unusual little sleeper” (directed by Robert Siodmak) daringly posits an incestuous menage a trois between a beautiful woman, her lover, and her lover’s possessive sister — the “perfect wife” who will do nearly anything to stop her brother from leaving the nest. Despite its fine acting and atmospheric set design, however, the film is unfortunately dragged down by the improbable logic of its characters — we never learn why it’s so hard for Harry to stand up to his manipulative sister, and their quibbles over who will remain living in the family home once Harry is married are inane. Plus, since we never really get to know what makes the weak-willed Harry tick, his drastic turn to murder makes little sense — especially given that his chance for happiness with Raines has already disappeared.

Uncle Harry also suffers greatly from its wildly incongruous ending, demanded by censors who, as Peary points out, most likely “had to be appeased for allowing [an] incest theme.” Ironically, the last few moments of the film actually do nothing to mitigate the raciness that has come before, and have little effect other than ruining the credibility of the story.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ella Raines as Harry’s fiance — her dynamic presence serves as a potent contrast to the staid lives of Harry and his sisters
  • Fine acting by Sanders, MacGill (Angela Lansbury’s mother), and Fitzgerald
  • Several surprising plot twists (but not the final one!)

Must See?
No, but fans of director Robert Siodmak’s work will undoubtedly want to check it out.

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One Response to “Uncle Harry/The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)”

  1. First viewing. A must – in part for the way it plays against expectation, but mostly as another solid Siodmak mystery, right up there with ‘The Spiral Staircase’ and ‘The Dark Mirror’.

    This is a cunning tale which, in the telling, eventually has a ‘secret’ hiding in plain sight. (As a result, the film is actually better on a second viewing.) It’s a story of suffocation by family – and the particular details and circumstances which cause that in this particular family.

    Sanders (wonderfully subdued – and sympathetic for a change) is in a very paternal position, forever keeping the peace at home with his sisters and housekeeper. He probably knows on some level that he is in ‘prison’, but the reality of that doesn’t crystallize for him until he falls in love. ~which causes one sister to feel threatened, for fear of losing the security she so blithely takes advantage of. [Note: it’s almost impossible for me to see this sister as having much sexuality at all, repressed or otherwise. She is more or less a walking lie, concerned merely and selfishly with her own needs and survival; so, to me, Peary’s suggestion of incest is misinterpretation of the storyline.]

    Produced by Joan Harrison (who also worked with Siodmak on ‘Phantom Lady’ and had a close working relationship with Hitchcock), the film has a refreshing woman’s touch in the handling. (Note, for example, the very modern nature of Ella Raines’ character – and the women’s softball game; how often do you see *that* in film?)

    ‘Uncle Harry’ is a comment on feelings of responsibility and misplaced guilt. Things here get tangled and sticky. …Or do they?

    A very satisfying sleeper.

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