Kind Lady (1951)
Directed by John Sturges (who would earn his only Academy Award nomination for directing Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)) this unassuming thriller is a remake of the 1935 film featuring Aline MacMahon in the title role. It’s an above average drama that stars Ethel Barrymore instead in a role which seems tailor made for the actress’s ability. She plays a mentally strong but physically weak older woman whose friendly nature causes her to be taken advantage of by a charming man with sinister intentions. Maurice Evans plays this role to perfection as do his accomplices Angela Lansbury Keenan Wynn and Betsy Blair. The always solid John Williams plays a typically suspicious role as does Doris Lloyd (who played a different role in the 1935 film) as Barrymore’s maid. Edward Chodorov wrote the original play (from a Hugh Walpole story); he also wrote the screenplay with Charles Bennett (Foreign Correspondent (1940)) and Jerry Davis. The film which “feels” much like Gaslight (1944) received an Oscar nomination for B&W Costume Design.
It’s Christmas-time and Mary Herries (Barrymore) asks her live-in maid Rose (Lloyd) to give the carolers some money. Mr. Foster (Williams) knocks on the door seems he’s the bank’s new representative and he has some business to attend to with Mrs. Herries. After it’s concluded Mrs. Herries gives Mr. Foster a gift to pass along to the former representative and then asks what Mr. Foster himself would like for Christmas. He declines but she insists that it will be a book. Another gentleman knocks on the door and asks Rose about the door knocker. She summons Mrs. Herries who confirms to the inquisitive man that the knocker was made by the Italian artist in question. She asks how he knew to which he replies that he’s an artist too before he leaves saying “Merry Christmas”.
The next day after returning from a drive with her chauffeur (Arthur Gould-Porter) Mrs. Herries notices the artist in the park across the street. She walks to him and notices that he’s painting her home’s facade (we will learn of his facade soon). She comments that his work is satisfactory and he asks if he might show her some of his paintings. She returns home and is followed shortly thereafter by the artist who introduces himself as Henry Elcott (Evans) and has three of his paintings under his arm. Rose is wary of him but Mrs. Herries insists that there is no danger. He proceeds to show Mrs. Herries his paintings and then notices her wonderful furnishings including her fancy cigarette case. When she turns to ring for Rose to bring some tea he pockets the case and then says he must leave; he rushes out leaving his paintings behind. Mrs. Herries notices her case is missing.
Later Mrs. Herries is picked up by her chauffeur and taken to a bookstore. Elcott who has followed her there deposits her cigarette case next to some books that she’s looking at and apologizes for having taken it. He says that he had pawned it for the money but after he had sold a painting was able to return it to her. He then says that he’d love to show her more of his work and that his flat is just around the corner if she’s interested. Being the kind forgiving woman that she is Mrs. Herries goes to Elcott’s squalid apartment where she learns that he paints while another woman takes care of their infant and his wife who’s portrait is on the wall works. Mrs. Herries thinks this is a despicable arrangement tells him so and leaves. However later Elcott receives 25 pounds from Mrs. Herries which he shows to his wife Ada (Blair) as proof of his painting’s value.
Elcott then shows up at Mrs. Herries home again toting the painting of his wife in which she’s expressed an interest. He says that his wife and child are across the street in the park and goes to the window to point them out to her. When he does and Ada stands his wife faints falling to the sidewalk with her baby. Elcott Mrs. Herries and others all rush to Ada and the baby carrying them inside. A doctor (Victor Wood) also enters the home and offers his services. He says that Ada may have pneumonia and that she shouldn’t be moved. Mrs. Herries says that she can there and tells Elcott to take his wife to the bedroom at the top of the stairs. After another visit from the doctor Mrs. Herries is told that Ada’s recovery might take a couple of weeks; she says that it’s alright. Elcott escorts the doctor to the door and tells him that he won’t need him again and that he won’t be able to pay him right away either.
After some days have passed the cook Dora (Phyllis Morris) quits and tells Rose that she should do the same. She can’t stand Elcott who’s become a resident along with his wife nor his bossy behavior. Mrs. Herries is visited by her niece Lucy (Sally Cooper) who notes that Elcott is painting her aunt’s picture as payment for her hospitality. After she leaves the Edwards arrive: Mr. Edwards (Wynn) Mrs. Edwards (Lansbury) and their ill-behaved daughter Aggie (Sherlee Collier) are said to be Ada’s family come to visit with bags in hand! Rose reports this and the cook’s departure to Mrs. Herries who has finally figured things out. She tells Rose to call a nursing home to send an ambulance to come and get Ada and not to be frightened. Elcott enters Mrs. Herries room to introduces the Edwards family. He finds that she is finally wise to the situation that he’s taken over her home. But with the imposing physical presence of Edwards and the tie-downs which Mrs. Edwards removes from her purse Mrs. Herries finds that she’s powerless to do anything about it. Mrs. Edwards then secures Mrs. Herries in a sitting position on her bed while Edwards catches Rose calling the nursing home. Mrs. Edwards is then able to cancel the call per Elcott’s instructions such that the takeover is complete.
Behind a cover story that old Mrs. Herries is losing her mind Elcott is able to satisfy the local constables (Patrick O’Moore and Keith McConnell) that she must be moved to the country. The postman (Leonard Carey) confirms this diagnosis since she forgot his Christmas gift. This makes the selling of her home’s antiques (John O’Malley plays the dealer) acceptable and accounts for any screaming they might hear coming from upstairs. Rose has been locked in her quarters as well. Edwards becomes the butler who screens the visitors while his wife replaces the cook. Eventually Ada assists too. For her part Mrs. Herries refuses to sign a power of attorney for Elcott. In order to make Mrs. Herries realize the hopelessness of her predicament Elcott boldly invites an art dealer (played by Henri Letondal) to visit her and price her valuable paintings (a Whistler an El Greco a Rembrandt). Even though she slips him a note about her predicament he returns it to Elcott on his way out (because he’d been told in advance that she was crazy). When Rose’s family the Harkleys (Moyna MacGill and Barry Bernard) show up Elcott is quick enough on his feet to invent a story that she’d gone off with a married man and then pays Mr. Harkley Rose’s back wages to seal the deal. Mr. Foster who’s been asked to secure a buyer for the home by this evil squatter is the only one who has any doubts about Elcott’s story (he’d seen Elcott with Mrs. Herries’s cigarette case).
*** SPOILERS ***
To escape her seemingly hopeless predicament Mrs. Herries begins to work on Ada whom she correctly assumes is “not one of them”. She then correctly assesses Mrs. Edwards motivation by paying her 200 pounds (she’d had in her desk) for the key to Rose’s room. Edwards is upset that his wife wants to leave their setup before they receive their cut from Elcott. Meanwhile Mr. Foster communicates his doubts about Elcott and Mrs. Herries wishes to his boss but his superior is reluctant to accept his employee’s suspicions. As requested Ada brings the painting of herself to Mrs. Herries who uncovers the truth about an earlier similar situation she was involved in with Elcott in which the homeowner was killed. For no particular reason Mrs. Herries also discovers the name of the painting’s artist. Ada is then convinced to use the key to unlock Rose’s door. However Rose is caught escaping and killed by Edwards which horrifies Ada. Mr. Foster calls and requests a meeting in an hour with Elcott to examine Mrs. Herries for the home sale. Elcott realizes his gig is about up and instructs Edwards to eliminate the old lady as well. Edwards finds her positioned in her wheelchair in front of an open window where Elcott had left her. He rushes into the room and pushes her out the window where she falls to the pavement below. Mr. Foster and the constables he’d been working with rush to the scene while Edwards rushes downstairs to join his wife and Elcott. Suddenly the living room doors are thrust open by Mrs. Herries who has Ada behind her. It was Rose’s dead body that was pushed out the window. Mrs. Herries opens the door to allow Mr. Foster and the constables to enter and arrest the guilty.