HE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY is another interesting Siodmak, his second collaboration with producer Joan Harrison, not as successful as PHANTOM LADY. Still, it’s a fascinating film, influenced by MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, bordering on the Gothic, tinged with perversity and marred by a duplicitous ending no one is meant to believe. Milquetoasty George Sanders lives with two sisters in the vast house that is all the remains of the family fortune. Ella Raines appears in town and threatens the homely menage. Will George choose his sisters or his lover? Geraldine Fitzgerald is entertainingly chilling as George Sanders’ possessive sister; Angela Lansbury’s mother, Moyna MacGill, is the other sister, well-meaning and adorably flighty. A roving camera and superb mise-en-scène. A film that seems less than the sum of its parts but that nonetheless lingers in the mind the way other, more seamless films, don’t. Travis Banton designed the outfits.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg was the son of Geraldine Fitzgerald and…who? That’s the overall arch of the book. Was it Orson Welles or a Sir Edward Lyndsey-Hogg, a minor British aristocrat? Whilst the answer to the question takes several turns in the book, we also hear about his directing ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’, some of the early key concert movies like ‘Let it Be’, a pioneer of the MTV video clip (most of the early Rolling Stones videos), a director of Brideshead Revisited on TV and The Normal Heart off-Broadway.
It’s a lovely book; a not very distinguished career in cinema, but with landmark work in tv and theatre; and then of course through his mother — who most of us probably now remember for her work with Bette Davis in Dark Victory or as Isabelle Linton in Wyler’s Wuthering Heights — he knew all the greats of the classic era (Welles himself but Marion Davies, Hearst, right up to Lumet, Gloria Vanderbilt) then on his own (the Beatles, the Stones, everyone in music really) right up to turning Larry Kramer’s A Normal Heart into a hit in the 80s at the height of the AIDS pandemic. Wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of Hollywood in the 40s, Dublin in the 50s, post-war New York, Swinging London etc.
The book’s conclusion about paternity has been disproved in Patrick McGilligan’s Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane, but Lynsay-Hogg’s views on so much of the landmark work he helped create on film and in the theatre makes for an insightful and entertaining read: and the book is also an interesting exploration of the lure of celebrity as social currency that each of the protagonists deploys to advantage: would paternity have been such a question if the father were rumoured to be Joe Blow instead of Orson Welles?