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Uncle Silas

Posted by martinteller on October 4, 2012

In the mid-19th century, Caroline (Jean Simmons) is a teenage girl on the verge of womanhood.  She lives with her wealthy, ailing father Austin (Reginald Tate).  Her uncle Silas (Derrick De Marney) is a scandalous figure, accused once of murder but acquitted.  Austin has faith in him, despite the suspicions voiced by family friend Dr. Bryerly (Esmond Knight).  Austin eventually catches on to his brother’s devious scheme, but collapses and dies before he can alter his will.  Now an unsuspecting Caroline is in Silas’s care, and her inheritance is in danger… as is her life.  And how does the eccentric, alcoholic governess (Katina Paxinou) fit into all this?

This is a fine thriller with a lot of creepy gothic ambiance.   The set design is lavish but not too lavish, creating just the right atmosphere when needed.  The cinematography by Robert Krasker (The Third Man) is simply grand.  Deep, noirish shadows, dramatic angles, startling use of first-person camera and bizarre, surreal montages.  Simmons — herself only 18 at the time — projects enough naive innocence for the character’s gullibility to work.  De Marney is pure two-faced sleaze, and Paxinou steals every scene, going gleefully over-the-top in a most agreeable fashion.  The array of supporting villains and allies are all well-played, too.

The pacing is a little uneven… the menacing bits come in dribs and drabs for quite a while, with some meandering in between.  It’s not a huge problem, but does create a few dead spots.  The worst aspect of the film, however, is Alan Rawsthorne’s score.  It’s horrendously busy and oppressive, at times practically unlistenable.  This flaw and minor pacing issues aside, however, director Charles Frank delivers quite an enjoyable film that packs some stylish tension.  Rating: Very Good (83)

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One Response to “Uncle Silas”

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