The Queen of Spades DVD
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Directed by Thorold Dickinson
Produced in 1948
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Rick Burin celebrates the release of Thorold Dickinson's opulent and long sought-after 1940s masterpiece.
In the summer, Radio 4 held a poll to find the most sought-after out-of-print British film. The winner, by a landslide, was The Queen of Spades, Thorold Dickinson’s bizarre, brilliant 1949 movie, a blend of historical fable and supernatural thriller. Shot for a pittance in a tiny studio next to a Shredded Wheat factory, by a director who’d had just six days to prepare, it’s an opulent, flamboyant film quite unlike anything else in British cinema.
Anton Walbrook plays a Russian army captain who becomes obsessed with uncovering the secret of a card game that could make his fortune. When he learns that an aged countess (Dame Edith Evans) traded her soul for the knowledge, he inveigles his way into her household by seducing her naïve ward (Yvonne Mitchell). “Take life as you find it,” Walbrook’s banker advises him. “I’d rather take it by the throat and force it to give me what I want,” Walbrook hisses, eyes flashing.
Dickinson believed “each film should be a little world in itself” and the one he conjures up in The Queen of Spades is remarkable. Beginning in a gypsy nightclub, the air heavy with smoke, whisky and song, we're a world away from the sedateness of most British movies of the period. The film has a uniquely European flavour, welding its fantastical elements to something that looks and feels like an Ophuls melodrama: all lovestruck waifs, clandestine opera house liaisons and snowy streets. The expressionist photography and Walbrook’s mesmerising, stylised performance, meanwhile, recall silent film.
This masterpiece of atmosphere and suspense uses numerous innovations. When an unseen ghost invades Walbrook’s quarters, the sound you’re hearing is buildings being blasted during the Blitz, mixed with winds from the Scott of the Antarctic soundtrack and the noise of a jet engine reversed. Budgetary constraints influenced the striking visual style while doing nothing to hamper Dickinson’s ambition. The incredible cathedral sequence utilised the following props: one column, one “flat”, one doorway.
This welcome release will not only satiate Radio 4’s audience, but should see The Queen of Spades re-established as one of the most extraordinary films ever to emerge from these Isles.
This atmospheric suspense thriller, one of the finest British films of the forties, is based on a short story by Pushkin. Anton Walbrook stars as Russian army captain Herman Suvorin, who secretly covets the wealth and position of his fellow officers and becomes obsessed with learning the secrets of the card game Faro. When he hears that the elderly Countess Ranevskaya (Edith Evans) has struck a bargain with the devil to gain the very knowledge he so desires, he worms his way into her household and does all he can to wrestle the knowledge from her - but the price turns out to be higher than he could ever have imagined.
Publisher: Optimum Releasing
Length: 91 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Cat No: OPTD1684
Format: DVD B&W
- New introduction by Martin Scorsese
- An analysis of the film by Philip Horne
- Original trailer
- Two audio interviews with Thorold Dickinson from 1951 and 1968.
“Also an Opera”
by Michael Cherry on 8th January 2010
Fans may also be interested to know that the story is also the plot of an opera by Tchaikovsky, frequently known as Pique Dame Read on
Fans may also be interested to know that the story is also the plot of an opera by Tchaikovsky, frequently known as Pique Dame Hide
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