The Queen of Spades (1949)

 Run Time: 95 min. | b/w
Director: Thorold Dickinson
Stars: w. Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans,
Ronald Howard, Yvonne Mitchell
 Genres: Drama| Horror
Storyline
Set in 1806, a bizarrely-mounted adaptation of Alexander Pushkin’s story of a Russian officer obsessed with learning the secret of winning at cards. He should have taken up Solitaire.

4 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    At long last, "The Queen of Spades" has appeared in a form worthy of its excellence. Anchor Bay’s new DVD set includes a beautiful presentation of it, along with the 1945 anthology horror film "Dead of Night." I’ve read nothing but good things about "Dead of Night," but haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet. To me, it’s immaterial. I would pay three times as much for the "Queen of Spades" alone. Once seen, it’s hard to forget.

    Anton Walbrook may have played more multi-dimensional characters in other films, but never with the same frightening intensity as in this one. The cast is uniformly excellent, but it’s his performance as Hermann that really makes the film memorable. Hermann is a strange sort of cinematic hero with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. His personality is dominated by four of the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, wrath, and greed. As for lust, he lusts only for power, money and influence, his declarations of love being completely false. Gluttony is not an issue, as he lives in poverty in order to horde what money he has. As for sloth, he exerts extraordinary effort into fulfilling his schemes, which are entirely self-serving. Sounds like a thoroughly unpleasant fellow. But Walbrook makes this brooding, scheming, petty, and utterly reprehensible nonentity with a Napoleon complex into a fascinating character study — a real tour-de-force. The Vienna-born Walbrook (originally named Adolph Anton Wilhelm Wohlbrueck) exaggerates his Teutonic accent to Peter Lorre-like intensity, to great effect. It’s this film that made him one of my all time favorite actors.

    The look of this film is also extraordinary. Even in this pristine presentation, the cinematography is very dark and deeply shadowed. The shadowy look of the film, along with some oddly angular or distorted shots, is suggestive of expressionist style. The story is told very directly and the plot moved along efficiently, with no superfluous action, which adds to the unreal atmosphere of the piece. Everything associated with the story seems to take place in quick succession. In a city as huge as St. Petersburg, Hermann wanders from the spooky booksellers’ shop directly to the old countess’s house purely by chance. Every element of the story is essential, and executed with maximum effect and style. The funeral scene in particular is unforgettable.

    What a pleasure to find that this terrific, but relatively obscure, film has finally gotten a DVD release, and looks better than I’ve ever seen it looking. Almost everyone who’s commented on it cites the fact that it is little known, and maybe this new DVD will change that a bit.

  2. IMDBReviewer

    August 1, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    The Queen of Spades is directed by Thorold Dickinson and adapted to screenplay by Rodney Ackland and Arthur Boys from the story written by Alexander Pushkin. It stars Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans, Yvonne Mitchell and Ronald Howard. Music is scored by Georges Auric and cinematography by Otto Heller.

    A Tale of Old St. Petersbvrg.

    "In 1806 the craze for gambling had spread throughout Russia. Faro-a simple card game similar to our snap-was all the fashion, and fortunes were won and lost on the turn of a card. As a result there arose many superstitions concerning the cards-one of these was the evil influence of THE QVEEN OF SPADES."

    The dead shall give up their secrets.

    Haunting, poetic, lyrical, romantic and visually arresting, Thorold Dickinson's take on the Pushkin story is a magnificent picture of many wonders. It's a film that (thankfully) is hard to pigeon hole, it's very unique, a uniqueness that marks it out as an oddity of sorts, ensuring it has stayed as a cult classic rather than a mainstream one. However, now widely available on DVD (the Optimum Region 2 issue is a spankingly fine transfer), and with Martin Scorsese lending his weight to the film's greatness, it's hoped that more people will get to see and embrace this masterpiece.

    Dickinson (Gaslight) was only brought in at the last minute, literally days before the picture went into production. Armed with only a tiny budget and confined to the stages of Welwyn Studios, the director gave a lesson in classic film making. The story is a more than solid source to work from, Walbrook's Tsarist Captain Suvorin aspires to gain wealth by learning Countess Ranevskaya's (Evans) secret to wining at the card game Faro. Working from a book he located about people making deals with the Devil, Suvorin worms his way into the affections of the Countess' ward, Lizaveta Ivanova (Mitchell), so as to get close to the aged and fragile Countess and put the squeeze on the old dear. He is obsessed and oblivious to the feelings of others and ignorant to the age old adage about being careful about what you wish for…..

    Filmed in subtle black and white by Otto Heller (They Made Me A Fugitive), film is big on shadows, odd camera angles, clinical sound work and haunting imagery. Atmosphere is everything in a film like this, and this has it in abundance, even during the more exuberant passages, such as the gaiety of a dance, there's a disquiet hanging in the air, William Kellner's brilliantly baroque sets observers of impending doom. A number of images burn into the soul, a spider climbing its web, a doused candle and the eerie sight of distorted figurines in glass jars, these are just some of the shots worthy of inspection. Mirrors, too, play a prominent part in proceedings, hauntingly so, while many of the characters have an other worldly sheen to them.

    3, 7 & Ace.

    Mostly the film is highly thought of by those that have seen it, what negative reviews I have come across appear to be written by horror fans unhappy with not getting the horror film suggested by tag words such as ghost and the Devil. For the first hour it's pretty much about characterisations, psychological make ups and back story, it's not until the hour mark when things start moving towards the spooky. But this film is not horror, as mentioned earlier, it's hard to pigeon hole it for it covers a number of bases. It's more in line with Rebecca and either of the Gaslight movies, an opulent period piece with supernatural overtones, while the visual style of it is very much like The Spiral Staircase. If you like those movies? Then it's pretty nailed on that this is the movie for you. Cast are terrific, Walbrook (Gaslight/The Red Shoes) is intense and maniacal, Evans (The Importance of Being Earnest) is oddly scary but pitiful, Mitchell is beautiful but perfectly staid and Howard (son of Leslie) is straight backed and gentleman like.

    From the opening credits that are off kilter written on scratchy looking paper, accompanied by Auric's blunderbuss music score, to the "devilment" of the denouement, this is a classic Ealing film for true classic film fans. 10/10

  3. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Adapted from a short story by Pushkin, this brilliant film is far too rarely seen or mentioned, which is tragic, because it is without question one of the best British films ever made.

    I was fortunate enough to see it on cable, where by coincidence it was shown right after ‘The Third Man’ and just before another Brtish b/w masterpiece, ‘The Haunting’ — what a triple bill! In fact there are several connections between QOS and ‘The Haunting’, including Jack Clayton, who produced the former and directed the latter, and composer Georges Auric, who scored both. There are also close connections with The Archers (Powell & Pressberger) — Anton Walbrook featured in three P&P films, and co-writer Rodney Ackland also scripted one of those films, P&P’s ’49th Parallel’.

    Watching ‘Queen Of Spades’ it’s obvious that many of the team who made it learned their craft in the silent era — lighting, costumes, set design and cinematography are all fantastic, and though on a slightly smaller and more restrained scale, QOS is almost on a par with Von Sternberg’s baroque masterpiece ‘The Scarlett Empress’.

    Brilliantly directed by Torold Dickinson (who also did ‘Gaslight’, in which Walbrook also features), the incredible, wildly expressionistic b/w cinematography is by legendary Czech-born DOP Otto Heller, who began his career in 1922(!) and who also shot Olivier’s ‘Richard III’, ‘The Ladykillers’, Powell’s ‘Peeping Tom’ and those three classic Michael Caine films of the 60s, The ‘Ipcress File’, ‘Alfie’ and ‘Funeral In Berlin.’

    The casting is perfect, and it’s easy to see why Anton Walbrook was one of Michael Powell’s favourite actors. His portrayal of the odious Suvorin is a tour de force, and he is matched by the great Edith Evans as the Countess. The crucial scene in which Suvorin tries unsuccessfully to beg, cajole, and finally force the secret of the cards from the Countess is truly electrifying — Walbrook is absolutely rivetting, and Evans — who has no lines and plays the scene only with her eyes — shows why she was considered one the greatest actors of her generation. The climax of that scene, the look of stark horror on Walbrook’s face, is one of the most powerful film moments I’ve ever seen, perhaps only surpassed by incredible card-game scene at the end of the film.

  4. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    This is a wonderful, unusual suspense story – the black and white cinematography is masterful, adding to the creepy atmosphere. Anton Walbrook plays Capt. Suvarin with his characteristic silky menace. Everyone in this film is just perfect, even the charming prince who falls in love with the little paid companion – a thankless role frequently played with insipidity. And Edith Evans is utterly unique as the old Countess, haunted by her fear of death and unable to find peace. The card scene at the end of the film is unforgettable.

    I don’t know why this film is so unknown. It reminds me a little of "The Haunting" based on a Shirley Jackson novel, in that one is never really sure if supernatural activity is really going on, or if the main character has finally lost his mind and is imagining everything. I long for the day when this film reappears on video.

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