Kind Lady (1935)
Quite a bit different from the superior 1951 remake starring Ethel Barrymore this original thriller-drama features Aline MacMahon in the title role of Mary Herries a generous wealthy war widow who’s too trusting for her own good such that she’s taken advantage of by an unscrupulous starving artist Henry Abbott played by Basil Rathbone. It was directed by George Seitz with a screenplay by Bernard Schubert that was based on an Edward Chodorov play from a Hugh Walpole story. The cast also includes Mary Carlisle Frank Albertson Dudley Digges Doris Lloyd (also in the remake) Nola Luxford Murray Kinnell Eily Malyon Justine Chase and Donald Meek (among others).
Miss Herries lives alone in a comfortable urban town-home appointed with valuable works of art she’s collected over the years including an El Greco (and a Whistler) painting and some fine statuettes. She has a live-in housekeeper Rose (Luxford) and a (never seen) cook who attend to her needs. But on Christmas eve she takes pity on a sidewalk artist Abbott who refuses her coin for the sketch he’s drawn and instead requests a cup of tea. It’s snowing and he’s cold so she invites him in and asks Rose to give him something to eat which she does reluctantly. Mary then visits with her niece Phyllis (Carlisle) and soon-to-be American nephew-in-law Peter Santard (Albertson) in her livingroom. While thanking his hostess for her generosity Henry meets Mary sister Mrs. Lucy Weston (Lloyd) who encourages her lonely sister Mary whose husband dies 20 years previously in World War I to show an interest in a man for a change. After her relatives leave however Mary learns that Henry has a wife and daughter. While she goes to get a coat to give to his wife he pockets her jade cigarette case before he too departs. Rose is convinced that the “too good looking” Abbott stole Mary’s case.
Some time later Abbott returns to Mary’s townhouse where he asks to show her some of his paintings. He returns the cigarette case but then begs her to buy one of his admittedly awful attempts to paint art. She agrees but then tells him that she never wants to see him again. Abbott says that he’d brung his wife and that she’d wanted to thank Mary for the coat. He goes to the window and points to Ada (Chase) standing across the street barely out of the pouring rain and holding her baby at which time she collapses to the ground. Mary tells Rose to hurry and go help Ada into the house while Abbott fetches a doctor (Kinnell). The doctor states that Ada needs rest and picks her up to carry her to a bedroom which in the confusion is provided vs. refused. But this was all a ruse the doctor is in cahoots with Abbott who proceeds to take up residence in Mary’s house where he also begins to take charge of any communications (e.g. mail) and everything else such that the (unseen) cook leaves. Rose plans to follow especially after friends of Ada – Mr. (Digges) & Mrs. (Malyon) Edwards and their ill-behaved teenage daughter Aggie (Barbara Shields) and eventually the doctor as well – become squatters in the home.
By the time Mary finally gets the courage to expel them from her residence after Rose told her Ada’s not sick it’s too late. Though she’d planned to close up the house and travel with Rose to America unfortunately she finds herself under Abbott’s control; the timing is such that this happens after Rose had communicated their plans to the local authorities who then don’t suspect anything when Mary and Rose (who is killed by the doctor; her body buried normally via a funeral ostensibly paid for by Mary that doesn’t raise suspicions) are not seen and Abbott explains that he’s keeping the home in order in their absence. Mary is watched and kept in her room; her shutters are nailed shut. Abbott then begins to arrange for the sale of Mary’s artwork even though she refuses to sign over her power of attorney to him. When Paris art dealer Gustave Roubet (Frank Reigher aka Reicher) comes to call Mary passes him a note (while Edwards and the doctor listen from the next room) which due to her strange behavior he then gives to Abbott. So it appears hopeless for Mary until elsewhere Phyllis and Peter are visiting with Lucy; they figure out that something must be amiss and Peter goes to investigate.
Peter meets with Abbott who explains that Mary is traveling and had asked him to store her things but he’s suspicious because Abbott doesn’t know that one figurine had been promised to Phyllis and him as a wedding gift. He also learns that Mary wasn’t issued a passport nor does her name appear on any of the ship’s registers. However he can’t get the authorities to believe that Mary must still be somewhere (trapped) in the house nor can the police figure out on what grounds they could issue a warrant to search the place. Meanwhile a banker named Mr. Foster (Meek) has been summoned by Abbott; he has a similar experience with ‘crazy’ Mary but believes her to be in danger because he’s from the same bank where she’s done her past business. Refusing to give up the note she’d passed him to Abbott Foster finds himself trapped prevented from escape by the others there. In his desperation he picks the aforementioned statuette and throws it through a window at the same time that Peter and the police he’d finally gotten high enough up in the chain of command to convince that Mary was in trouble arrive to save the day. Christmas can be celebrated by all (but Rose) once again in Mary’s home.