Review: The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)

Just a few minutes into The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry I realized it was one of those films that I would probably like to some degree regardless of how good the actual movie was. After the opening credits when I got the first glimpse of the small New Hampshire town the movie was set in, I figured the scenery alone could be enough to make me like it.

Sometimes I’m easily pleased, and that’s all I need. :-) I love movies that are set in small, scenic towns like the one where this story took place, and I have always been enamored with pictures of states like New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut. So I was excited to watch it right from the start.

Based on a play called Uncle Harry by Thomas Job, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) tells the story of Harry Quincey (George Sanders), a bachelor who lives with his widowed sister Hester and his possessive sister Lettie in the small New Hampshire town of Corinth. Harry is a designer in a fabric mill and as the narrator points out, he “works from 9 to 5, day in day out.” After many years of toiling away at the mill and taking care of his sisters, his mundane life was shaken up by the arrival of Deborah (Ella Raines), a sophisticated co-worker from his company’s New York office.

Harry and Deborah end up falling in love, which did not sit too well with the jealous Lettie. Almost from the moment they became a couple, she tried to break them up. After Harry and Deborah got engaged, Lettie tried to sabotage their relationship even further by refusing to leave the house that the family shared so that Harry could start his new life there with Deborah. She even went so far as to fake an illness that left her bedridden, which kept Harry from fully committing to Deborah. When Lettie’s scheming nature prompts Deborah to leave town with another man, Harry began to plot revenge on his sister.

To describe any more would spoil the rest of the movie, which has a bit of a surprise roll your eyes ending that differs from the play. The ending, which was selected from 5 different alternatives, was supposedly necessary in order to meet the requirements of the Hays Code, but I have to admit that it was not the ending that I would have chosen if it were up to me. So the movie did leave me a bit disappointed at the end, but overall I did really enjoy it. It was the first time I had ever watched Geraldine Fitzgerald in a movie, and I really enjoyed her performance as Harry’s sister Lettie. Several times throughout the movie I noticed that his other sister, played by Moyna MacGill, looked an awful lot like Angela Lansbury, and sure enough, when looking at the credits I discovered that she was Angela’s mother.

The Fabulous Costumes of Designer Travis Banton

In addition to the scenery in the movie and the acting of George Sanders and Geraldine Fitzgerald, I also enjoyed many of the fashions in the movie, especially those worn by Deborah. The costume designer for the film was Travis Banton, who had once designed the wedding dress that Mary Pickford chose to wear when she married Douglas Fairbanks in 1920. Banton was the chief designer at Paramount Studios from 1929-1938 and also worked for Universal Studios, designing clothes for such notable actresses as Clara Bow, Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Mae West, and Marlene Dietrich.

Travis Banton’s wikipedia page states that his clothes were marked by simple but stylish cuts (often on the bias), rich fabrics (such as satin and lame), and extravagant decoration (beads, fur, and feathers). I loved several of Deborah’s outfits, but my favorite was what looked like a silk pantsuit worn with a belt encrusted with shiny jewels or stones. You’ll have to excuse my rather rudimentary description, as I certainly don’t claim to be any sort of fashion expert. :-) You can find a more detailed biography of the man who was considered one of the most important costume designers of the 1930’s on the website of the Texas State Historical Association.

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry was directed by Richard Siodmak who also directed other popular film noir such as Phantom Lady, The Spiral Staircase, The Killers, and Criss Cross. The movie was produced by Joan Harrison, who had worked for Alfred Hitchcock for many years including as producer of his tv series Alfred Hitchcock Presents from 1955-1962. After the filming of The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry ended, Joan apparently resigned from Universal Pictures out of anger over the rather lame ending that was chosen for the movie. Given my feelings about the ending, I can certainly understand her frustration!

Have you ever liked a movie simply for the fashions or the scenery? If so, which ones?

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8 Responses
  1. Just Audrey says:

    I also love old movies set in small towns. :) And George Sanders is always amusing. The fashion does look interesting in this!

  2. Ginny says:

    I wish I could live in a town like that, too. :-) I used to think George Sanders was sort of boring when I first started watching old movies, but I’ve changed my tune and have really come to enjoy him over the years. He’s one of the reasons I chose to give this movie a try.

  3. Karen says:

    I enjoyed reading your post — I don’t hear a lot about this movie! And I share your feelings about the end; it was really good until then. Interesting facts about Moyna MacGill and about Joan Fontaine resigning!

  4. Ginny says:

    Thanks Karen! It’s one of the hidden gems I sort of found accidentally while browsing the classic movie options through Netflix Instant.

  5. [...] Killer is Loose and The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry – These are both examples of hidden gems, movies that I had never heard of before but very [...]

  6. [...] by Travis Banton, a costume designer I first discovered when I saw his designs in the movie, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945), which I reviewed last year. I gave some biographical information in that post if you would [...]

  7. [...] When I first started watching the movie, I was struck by how beautiful and vivid the colors were. I was also happy when I realized it was set in a small, scenic New England town for the same reasons I discussed in my review of the movie The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry. [...]

  8. J. Bruce Fox says:

    To me Ella Raines was good in about anything, glamorous, sultry, well she had it all except a husband who appreciated or needed her. His was a career driven choice. Planes in combat.

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