Man, James Mason is all over the list; at least, the years where he rose to stardom. This one, The Man in Grey, was arguably the film that launched his stardom in his native Great Britain, as well as that of the production house Gainsborough Studios. I was a little antsy when the film started with Gainsborough Studios’ production logo, a seated woman in ridiculously lavish ‘royalty portrait’-esque regalia, and I immediately expected a black-and-white Merchant Ivory sort of film. Needless to say, I was completely right. This is a high-society melodrama the likes of which Merchant Ivory must have seen over and over in their childhood.
Mason is the titular ‘Man in Grey’, Lord Rohan, who finds himself wed to a Ms. Clarissa; rather unhappily, but he hopes the coupling will produce an heir. Clarissa, however, meets and finds a kinship with Mr. Rokeby, a member of a troupe of traveling players, which also includes Hesther, an old schoolmate of Clarissa’s. She invites Hesther to be her companion at the Rohan manor, and you can pretty easily guess that Hesther falls for the Lord Rohan. The love quadrilateral is the principal story to be told here, and it is as melodramatic as one would expect from such a film, but in an oddly enjoyable way. The plot goes exactly where it should, and even has its cake and eats it too with the ending, which makes use of the “generations later” framing device. I will give one warning about the film, though; one of the prominent characters is a young lad named Toby, who works, I assumed, as a servant at the Rohan manor. Toby, I could easily tell, was played by a young white boy; the character, however, is black, and so this film has one of the more egregious examples of blackface for cinema of the time. It was acceptable back then, but it might ruffle some feathers today, so heads up.
I looked at the film, a heavy period piece from the Regency era filled with melodrama, and I wondered how I could possibly find enjoyment out of such a film. Nevertheless, by the end, I found I had liked it a good deal. It was a surprisingly entertaining British picture, with a solid story at its core, and some decent performances as well. Good, solid film all around. Now, whether Gainsborough Studios was important enough to warrant a slot on the list just for that is debatable, but I won’t begrudge The Man in Grey any; I liked it too much to. As long as you don’t detest melodrama, I think you’ll be able to get through this one pretty well. I guess one shouldn’t ask for too much from too many films, otherwise you may not be able to enjoy films like this one.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10