REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


THE QUEEN OF SPADES Associated British-Pathé, UK, 1949; Monogram Pictures, US, 1949. Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans, Yvonne Mitchell, Ronald Howard, Anthony Dawson, Miles Malleson and Ivor Barnard. Written by Rodney Ackland and Arthuir Boys, from a story by Alexander Puskin (first published in the literary magazine Biblioteka dlya chteniya, March 1834). Directed by Thorold Dickenson.

   Probably the most splendid ghost story ever filmed: lavishly produced, directed with moody elegance, intelligently written, and acted to a fare-thee-well, this is a film I can recommend to anyone who loves a fine, gothic chiller, with ghosts, obsession and satanic bargains. And it also has a used book store.

   Anton Walbrook stars as Suvorin, a frugal Russian Army Captain absorbed by a passion for money and how to get it. It’s a one-dimensional part, but Walbrook plays it with a fruity obsession worthy of George Zucco, which fits perfectly into Director Dickenson’s gothic milieu. Ronald Howard is the less interesting Decent Sort one usually sees played in horror films by John Boles or David Manners.

   Be that as it may, both men are pursuing Yvonne Mitchell, the ward/companion/indentured servant of Edith Evans, a lady of advanced years who looks more like Kharis than anybody’s guardian — she even drags a foot as she walks. Of course Ronnie is in love with the lady, but Anton has his own uses for the niece.

   Did I call Evans a “Lady of advanced years?” In this movie she’s so old, Suvorin finds her mentioned in an old book (found of course in a creepy used book store run by Ivor Barnard, who looks like a cross between Satan and a Pulpfest dealer) and learns that in her youth — sometime in the last century — she was rumored to have sold her soul to the Devil for the secret of wining at cards.

   Consumed with a desire to worm his way into the household and learn the dowager’s secret, Suvorin romances the niece from afar, arranges an assignation, and once inside breaks into Evans’ bedroom and wheedles, cajoles, bargains and threatens her until …

   I won’t give anything else away, but I will say that what follows resonates with surprising emotion, as we explore the feelings of the characters involved. It’s also elaborately creepy, a ghost tale set in magnificent surroundings that somehow add to the macabre atmosphere of the story, and leads to the strangest ending I have ever seen in a scary movie.

   Try this one; you won’t regret it.