Cast & Crew
In December, in turn-of-the-century London, the wealthy and generous Mrs. Mary Herries shows her new banker, Mr. Foster, her magnificent art collection. That same day, an impoverished artist named Henry Springer Elcott comes to the door and admires her Benvenuto Cellini doorknocker. Soon after, Mrs. Herries talks with Elcott after seeing him painting a picture of her house. Elcott then comes to call bearing paintings, which he hopes she will buy. After admiring her beautiful things, he suddenly leaves, but does not take his paintings. A moment later, she notices that he has stolen an expensive cigarette case. A few days later, Elcott approaches her in a bookshop and returns the cigarette case, apologetically telling her that he pawned it, but redeemed it after selling a painting. He then convinces her to come to his flat, which he shares with his sweet, malnourished wife Ada and their baby, to see more paintings. At the flat, Mrs. Herries leaves abruptly when Elcott bristles at one of her comments, but she sends a check and a note instructing him to buy his wife warm clothing. Elcott then takes a portrait of Ada to Mrs. Herries, while Ada and the baby wait outside. When Ada faints, she is brought in by a passerby, who says he is a doctor and suggests that Ada may have pneumonia. The sympathetic Mrs. Herries takes Ada into her home, where she remains for two weeks. Mrs. Herries becomes increasingly suspicious of Elcott, but does not say anything because she has grown fond of Ada. Elcott, who secretly is in cohoots with the phony doctor, soon begins to behave as the master of the house, causing Dora, Mrs. Herries' cook, to quit abruptly. When Mr. and Mrs. Edwards, supposed friends of Ada, suddenly show up on the doorstep, Mrs. Herries has had enough and decides to move Ada to a nursing home and send the rest packing. When the Edwardses and Elcott menacingly enter Mrs. Herries' room, she orders them out, but Elcott demands money for all of his "work," and they tie her up and close the windows. Because Edwards overhears Mrs. Herries' faithful maid Rose calling the nursing home, he has his wife cancel the order and locks Rose in her room. On Christmas Eve, when the local constable comes for his promised gift, Elcott elicits the man's sympathies by saying that Mrs. Herries has become violently mentally ill. Soon Elcott begins to sell Mrs. Herries' fine antique furnishings, telling the buyers that she is ill and is moving to the country. Ada is now better, but concerned because the baby has been sent away. Elcott dismisses her concerns and orders her to care for Rose, who is still a prisoner. That afternoon, they bring Mrs. Herries downstairs to sign a power of attorney, but she refuses. When art dealer Monsieur Malaquaise comes by, she gives him a note, but Elcott had prepared the man with the insanity story. That same day, Rose's sister and brother-in-law, the Hartleys arrive, inquring about Rose's whereabouts. Elcott says that Rose left suddenly and implies a scandal, then offers them Rose's uncollected wages. Although Mrs. Harkley wants to call the police, her husband is satisfied with the money. Meanwhile, Mrs. Herries talks to Ada and concludes that she is a dupe. When Foster comes to call that afternoon, Elcott, who claims to be Mrs. Herries' nephew, is irritated when Foster says that in order to sell the house, the bank needs to examine Mrs. Herries personally. At just that moment Mrs. Herries starts down the stairs and Foster seems to conclude that she is indeed ill. Meanwhile, Mrs. Herries has convinced Mrs. Edwards, who has grown afraid of Elcott, that she can have money hidden in her room in exhange for a key. At the same time, Foster is talking to his superior at the bank and says that he wants to investigate Elcott. After giving Mrs. Herries the key, Mrs. Edwards tells her husband that they should leave immediately, but he refuses and strikes her when she protests. That night, a frightened Ada brings Mrs. Herries the portrait that Elcott had painted of her and reveals that her dead body has been painted into it. Ada then admits that in Paris, Elcott murdered another woman whose portrait he had painted. Mrs. Herries then gives Ada the key so that she can free Rose. A few moments later, Edwards sees the now freed Rose and kills her. Elcott is furious and, upon Mrs. Edwards' suggestion, concludes that Ada freed Rose. Just then, Foster telephones to say that he wants to see Mrs. Herries that night. Elcott decides that they must leave that night and goes to Mrs. Herries' room, where he finds the portrait. He then moves her in the wheelchair to which she has been tied and places her by the open window. Elcott lies to Edwards that Mrs. Herries knows that it was he who killed Rose. Elcott's plan is to have Mrs. Herries' "fall" occur at eight o'clock, when the constable is due to come by. At exactly eight, Edwards goes upstairs and throws the wheelchair-bound woman out the window. Elcott is pleased that Foster, too, has arrived at the propitious moment, but as they go to answer the door, Mrs. Herries and Ada appear in the drawing room. It is then revealed the women had placed Rose's body in the wheelchair after Ada warned Foster, who has come with the police. They take the Edwardses and Elcott away and Mrs. Herries says that she is all right now.
Edwin B. Willis
Best Costume Design
Kind Lady (1951)
Kind Lady (1951) is the second film version of the popular Edward Chodorov play which in turn was based on Hugh Walpole's story, "The Silver Casket." The first film adaptation in 1936 starring Basil Rathbone as the evil con artist and Aline MacMahon as his hapless victim was effectively creepy. However, the 1951 version might have a slight edge over it due to John Sturges' expert direction, which has a more menacing tone and plays up Barrymore's claustrophobic fear of entrapment. Maurice Evans is also unforgettable as the malevolent Elcott.
Maurice Evans had previously been offered a contract at MGM during Thalberg's regime but turned it down when he received word of Thalberg's sudden death. The MGM brass were not pleased. In his autobiography, All This....and Evans Too, Evans wrote, "Fortunately for me, Hollywood memories are notoriously short, so that thirteen years after the Thalberg affair no one at MGM realized I had once earned their censure. I accepted the lead opposite Ethel Barrymore in their remake of Kind Lady and made pretend I'd never set foot in the studio before. Amongst those so blissfully ignorant of my earlier misdemeanour was the boss man himself, Louis B. Mayer. His executive, Benny Thaw, and I had just signed and exchanged the Kind Lady contracts when Benny asked whether I had ever met the boss. I said I'd never had the pleasure, whereupon I was ushered into the inner sanctum and there behind acres of desk sat a gnome-like figure. He jumped to his feet and, offering his hand - which I had difficulty reaching across the mahogany barrier - he proceeded to shower praises on my head. He had seen everything I had done in New York and was delighted to meet me. In the midst of this effusiveness, Benny Thaw mentioned that I was to start working for MGM on the morrow. Never has a torrent of cordiality been so suddenly damned. Next morning, when we passed each other in the corridor of a studio building, a nod and a grunt was all he vouchsafed to what was another of his slaves."
Regardless of Evans' bemused attitude toward MGM, Kind Lady features one of his best performances and is also a great showcase for the talents of Angela Lansbury as the villainous maid, Keenan Wynn as the homicidal butler, and Betsy Blair as Elcott's pathetic wife. At Oscar time, Kind Lady won the Academy Award for Best Black and White Costume Design.
Director: John Sturges
Producer: Armand Deutsch
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Jerry Davis
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Editor: Ferris Webster
Art Direction: William Ferrari, Cedric Gibbons
Music: David Raksin
Cast: Ethel Barrymore (Mary Herries), Maurice Evans (Henry Springer Elcott), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Edwards), Keenan Wynn (Edwards), Betsy Blair (Ada Elcott).
BW-78m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford
Kind Lady (1951)
According to a Daily Variety news item, M. Svet, who painted the portrait of Ethel Barrymore that is seen in the film, was the wife of Dore Schary, then head of production at M-G-M. Filming was interrupted on the production in early January 1951 when Barrymore became ill. Because of scheduling problems with other films and a stage role of Maurice Evans, when production did resume, in early Feb, Barrymore had to interrupt filming on the Twentieth Century-Fox picture The Secret of Convict Lake (see below) to complete her role in Kind Lady. According to a November 15, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item, actress Dawn Addams was to make her debut in the picture, but she was not in the released film.
According to an article in Los Angeles Times on October 4, 1951, shortly after Kind Lady opened in Los Angeles, representatives of the Wage Earners Committee, an anti-Communist group, picketed outside the United Artists Theater on Wilshire Blvd., carrying banners proclaiming Edward Chodorov, author of the play on which the film was partially based, as "top Communist." The article quoted committee president Norman S. Smith as saying that Chodorov had been named as a member of the Communist party by screenwriter Martin Berkeley when HUAC hearings were held in Los Angeles on September 19, 1951. Smith further stated that Chodorov had been mentioned twenty-one times in a California report on Communists in the state. An Los Angeles Times article on October 5, 1951 stated that pickets had been withdrawn after the committee was informed that M-G-M had purchased the play years before and that Chodorov "has nothing more to do with the film and receives no royalties from it." Stating that the committee did not want to impose a financial hardship on a private employer or individual engaged in "legitimate endeavors," Smith emphasized that the committee had "served notice" that it might at any time publicize those who help promote Communists. For their work on the film, Walter Plunkett and Gile Steele received an Academy Award nomination in the Costume (Black-and-White) category.
Kind Lady was previously filmed in 1935 under the same title. That film was directed by George B. Seitz and starred Aline MacMahon and Basil Rathbone (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). On December 2, 1949, a Ford Theatre adaptation of the story was televised on the CBS network, directed by John Sturges and starring Fay Bainter and Joseph Schildkraut was broadcast. A Broadway Television Theatre production of the story, starring Sylvia Sidney, was broadcast on non-network television on November 30, 1953.