The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (Robert Siodmak / U.S., 1945):

Robert Siodmak the wily designer, weaving patterns: "I start out with a line. Then I draw another line. Then I draw another..." The joke is that the uncle is just a middle brother, a weak-kneed bachelor (George Sanders) stranded in small-town New Hampshire with a dotty widow (Moyna MacGill) and a hot hypochondriac (Geraldine Fitzgerald) for sisters. The family is Depression-busted but still nested in the local manse, stifled with the submerged incestuous desires of expiring aristocracy. In breezes Ella Raines, a New York fashion ace who brings a dash of Hawksian fortitude to the surroundings, promptly understands the innuendo of the telescope in Sandersís attic, and looks enough like Fitzgerald to set the strange triangle in motion. "Are we going to move out, or are they going to move in?" Trafficking in sabotaged relationships and perverse awakenings, the ironic farce is couched in snapshots of provincial America as fond and sardonic as any in Shadow of a Doubt: The coed softball match, the barbershop quartet, the ice-cream parlor for biddies, all the Nabokovian delectations that modulate toward the image of the poison in the cup of hot chocolate. Siodmakís investigation of suppressed and stirred selves allows not only Sanders to look naked and touchingly unguarded without his mordant veneer, but also lets Fitzgerald bloom, one moment a premature spinster suddenly glowing at her vanity table and the next clad like Electra in severe blacks, exulting in her mocking triumph at the gallows. The censors can add as many safety-hatch dream quotas as they want, but they canít erase the wicked gleam in the negligee-cloaked heroineís eye as she sizes up her murder-minded brother and murmurs, "We understand each other." With Sara Allgood, Samuel S. Hinds, Harry von Zell, Judy Clark, Coulter Irwin, and Craig Reynolds. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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