The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley a couple weeks ago. I had heard of this film previously, after having seen Robert Siodmak’s amazing film noir, Phantom Lady (1944). Through this film, I discovered Ella Raines, an actress I’d heard about, but had never seen in a film. I loved her and thought she brought a new breed of leading lady to film noir. I liked that she took charge of the search for her boss’ (and secret crush) alibi. She did what she needed to do to find the truth and free her boss from an inevitable execution. Phantom Lady was produced by Joan Harrison, Alfred Hitchcock’s protegee.
After the success of Phantom Lady, Harrison and Siodmak teamed up for another film noir, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry. They cast Raines again, as one of the leads in the film. With these pieces in place, plus the addition of George Sanders whom I loved in All About Eve, Lured, and Foreign Correspondent, made me want to see this film. I was so excited to see The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry on TCM’s schedule! After seeing the film… I liked it, but oy vey. The ending. The ending gets a big thumbs down. In fact, despite my liking the film as a whole, the ending was such a bummer that it completely ruined the third act of the film.
In The Strange Affairs of Uncle Harry, Sanders plays the titular “Uncle Harry (Quincy).” He works at the local textile mill designing patterns for their fabrics. His younger co-workers call him “Uncle Harry” as a term of endearment, but Harry implores them to stop–“Uncle Harry” makes him feel old. Harry is approaching middle-age and is very lonely. He lives at the Quincy Family’s large home with his two sisters. The Quincy Family were well-off at the start of the twentieth century; however they lost their fortune during the Great Depression. All that was left was the family home.
Harry’s older sister, Hester (Moyna MacGill aka Angela Lansbury’s mother), is a widow. She loved her late husband very much and it is obvious that she is unhappy living with her siblings. She desperately tries to help keep house, but is constantly at odds with their maid, Nona (Sara Algood), who doesn’t appreciate Hester invading her domain. Harry’s younger sister, Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald), is a spoiled, lazy, witch (with a capital B) who regularly feigns illness to keep Harry by her bedside.
One day at work, Harry meets Deborah Brown (Raines), a young designer from New York City. She is hired to work at the textile factory. She and Harry hit it off and suddenly Harry has a reason for living. He and Deborah fall in love and plan to marry–much to Lettie’s chagrin. Harry asks his two sisters to move to another home. Because she has no intention to leave Harry and move, Lettie continually finds fault with every single prospective home. I wondered why Harry and Deborah didn’t just move into another home, but apparently that was not an option–for whatever reason. Lettie then discovers that Harry and Deborah plan to elope in New York City and she goes to work to sabotage the marriage and Harry’s chance at happiness.
It is obvious from the get-go that there is more than meets the eye with Harry and Lettie’s relationship. They are unusually close for siblings and there is a weird, romantic undertone. In the original play, the incestual element was very obvious; however, this had to be played down for the movie version due to the production code. While I don’t need to see sibling incest in a film, the production code unfortunately had a bigger impact on the film’s ending.
The ending of the film is so absurd. My husband and I watched it and were like “Wait?! What?!” The ending is such a let-down and it completely undermines all the tension and drama built up in the third act of the film. Had the film just ended a couple minutes earlier, it would have been a completely different experience. The original play’s action ended where I wanted it to end, however production code dictated a different ending. Boo Joseph Breen! Apparently there were five different endings filmed for this movie and the ending with the best reaction from the test audiences was chosen. As a representative of a modern 2021 audience, I’d like to tell the 1945 audience that they chose a terrible ending.
I don’t normally like to waste time writing negative reviews and while I liked most of this film, the ending was such a bummer that I can’t get past it and have to spend my time venting about it.
Joan Harrison walked out on her Universal contract over this ending.
I don’t blame her one bit.