• Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, The



    Released by: Olive Films
    Released on: March 31, 2015
    Director: Robert Sidomak
    Cast: George Sanders, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ella Raines, Sara Allgood, Moyna McGill, Samuel S. Hinds, Harry von Zell
    Year: 1945
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    The Movie:

    Brother to the better-known Curt Siodmak—a scenarist for Universal who wrote some of the studio’s classic horror films in the 1940s—Robert Siodmak was born in German in the year 1900. Of Jewish heritage, he and his brother fled the country when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party rose to power. They found work in Hollywood, and in 1941, Robert directed several B features for lesser companies before coming to the attention of Universal, who signed him to a seven-year deal. He brought a sense of Gothic panache to the economical Son of Dracula before turning his attention to film noir with Phantom Lady (1944). He made several films for the studio, most of them stylish little thrillers in the same vein as Phantom Lady. His 1945 effort The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry has long been held in low esteem, however, and with good reason.

    That many film historians place The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry within film noir is dubious and is likely due more to Siodmak’s involvement than to any plot device or sense of style the director brings to it. Rather, the film has a touch of Grand Guignol, a Southern Gothic melodrama (set in the Northeast) without the subgenre’s usual horror asides. Based on a play by Thomas Job, the film concerns an aging bachelor, Harry Quincy, who works as a designer for a local mill. When a beautiful young woman, Deborah, comes to work at the mill, Harry falls in love for the first time in his life. There’s only one problem: He lives with his two sisters in the family mansion on the edge of town. Once Harry and Deborah marry, they hope to live in the home alone. Harry’s sister Hester finds a new home, but Lettie, who feigns illness, finds the task impossible. Hester accuses Lettie of stalling in the hopes of sabotaging Harry’s marriage—and she’s right. Tired of waiting, Harry and Deborah agree to elope, but Lettie fakes a collapse and is rushed to the hospital. Deborah forces Harry to choose between her and Lettie, and Harry chooses Lettie, only to discover that her collapse was a ruse. He comes to regret his decision, and the situation spirals out of control, resulting in a murder for which the wrong person is convicted.

    The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry is one of Siodmak’s lesser films, thanks in part to its butchered ending, which was rewritten to avoid the tampering of the Motion Picture Production Code. In fact, so upset was longtime Hitchcock collaborator Joan Harrison, who produced the picture, that she left Universal for more amicable pastures. At least the Hays Office was unable to nix Lettie’s incestuous designs on her brother; as with the homosexual subtext of The Picture of Dorian Gray the same year, Lettie’s forbidden longings were so coded into the script’s dynamics that it went over the heads of the Hays’ censors.

    Not helping matters any are the performances of George Sanders (as Harry) and Ella Raines (as Deborah). Both walk through their parts, though the character of Deborah is something of a throwaway. On the other hand, Geraldine Fitzgerald (as Lettie) and Moyna Macgill (as Hester) appear to have recognized just how delicious their roles were—and played them accordingly.

    All that said, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry isn’t a bad film; it just isn’t a very good one. For those who take issue with its minor plot holes and silly contrivances, it’s at least relatively short and fast-paced. And some of the film’s aspects are fun, even if they’re entirely unbelievable.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Olive Films has released The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry on Blu-ray in 1080p with an MPEG-4 AVC encode. The film’s original 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is utilized, and the transfer obviously has been taken from less-than-pristine elements. There’s hardly a frame that isn’t infected with scratches or speckling, though neither of these affect the film’s black levels and detail. For the most part, detail is strong, though there are occasional soft spots. In some ways, the print damage actually plays in the film’s favor, adding to its melodramatic charm and allowing a sense of nostalgia for those who remember seeing such films/prints projected in second-run theaters.

    Audio is provided in DTS HD-MA, which, for the most part, serves the film well. There are minor fluctuations in volume, though dialogue is always understandable, even during a couple of fuzzy moments. The score itself remains mostly unharmed. There are no subtitles.

    The Blu-ray is free of extras.

    The Final Word:

    The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry is one of director Robert Siodmak’s lesser films, though it still has some merit. Olive’s Blu-ray presentation is bare bones, and the transfer is taken from a fairly beat-up print. Yet, the flaws inherent in the print also add charm and a sense of nostalgia to the proceedings. For those interested in what kind of films Universal was making outside of the horror genre in the mid-1940s, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry provides the answer.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!




















    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Barry M's Avatar
      Barry M -
      A George Sanders walkthrough? Sold! Thanks for the heads-up. I'd quibble about that "better-known Curt Siodmak" though.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Better known to us horror fans, perhaps. I generally love Robert Siodmak, whether he's making film noir, action, or horror. This film is one of his lesser directorial efforts, but it's still worth a viewing.
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Solid review, Chris! I quite like this film though at the same time, I recognise its flaws. I may import this release somewhere down the line, as I'm not sure where my copy of the film has gone.