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The Queen of Spades
The Queen of Spades FilmPoster.jpeg
Theatrical re-release poster
Directed byThorold Dickinson
Written by
Produced byAnatole de Grunwald
Starring
CinematographyOtto Heller
Edited byHazel Wilkinson
Music by
Production
company
De Grunwald Productions for Associated British Picture Corporation
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 16 March 1949 (1949-03-16) (London)
  • 30 June 1949 (1949-06-30) (US)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
Box office£107,250 (UK)[1]

The Queen of Spades is a 1949 fantasy-horror film based on the 1834 short story of the same name by Alexander Pushkin. It stars Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans and Yvonne Mitchell. Evans and Mitchell were better known at the time as stage actors; this film was their cinematic debut.[2]

Plot

Captain Herman Suvorin is a Russian officer of the engineers in St Petersburg in 1806. He constantly watches the other officers gamble at faro, but never plays himself because he is adverse to the risk of losing his money.

Herman overhears gossip among several military officers about the aging Countess Ranevskaya who knows the secret of winning at cards and won a large sum of money after selling her soul. Later Herman purchases a book titled The Strange Secrets of the Count de Saint Germain purporting to tell the true stories of people who sold their souls for wealth, power or influence. One chapter of the book describes how in 1746 a "Countess R***" obtained the secret the three winning cards from the count and subsequently won a fortune from gambling. The countess had to promise not to disclose the secret. Herman assumed the "Countess R***" was Countess Ranevskaya.

The countess (now very elderly) has a young ward, Lizavyeta Ivanovna. Andrei, a military officer of noble birth and a friend of Herman, encounters Lizavyeta in a bird market and decides to be her suitor. At the same time, Herman tries to seduce Lizavyeta with love letters, in order to persuade her to let him into the countess's house. Andrei discovers Herman's advances, breaks off their friendship and warns Lizavyeta that Herman is dangerous. Lizavyeta rejects Andrei's warning.

Herman gains access to the house where he accosts the countess, demanding the secret. He offers to assume her sin in exchange for the secret. He repeats his demands, but she does not speak. He draws a pistol and threatens her, and the old lady dies of fright. Herman then flees to the apartment of Lizavyeta in the same building. There he confesses to frightening the countess to death with his pistol. He defends himself by saying that the pistol was not loaded. He escapes from the house with the aid of Lizavyeta, who is disgusted to learn that his professions of love were a mask for greed.

Herman attends the funeral of the countess, and is terrified to see the countess open her eyes in the coffin and look at him. Later that night, Herman reads a chapter of his book titled The Dead Will Give Up Their Secrets. Subsequently, the ghost of the countess visits his apartment. The ghost names the secret of the three cards (three, seven, ace), but orders him to marry Lizavyeta as a condition. The next day Herman tries to reconcile with Lizavyeta but she again rejects him.

Herman takes his entire savings to a gaming salon, where men (including many military officers) gamble at faro for high stakes. When he arrives, Andrei challenges him to a duel. Herman accepts the challenge on condition that Andrei play a hand of faro with him; Andrei accepts the condition. Herman bets all his savings on the three of spades and wins. Herman and Andrei agree on a second round, which Herman wins on the seven of spades. A third round is agreed. In his deck of cards, Hermann spots the ace of spades in front of the queen of spades. Herman places his selected card face down on the table and bets on the ace—but when cards are shown, he finds he has bet on the queen of spades, rather than the ace, and loses everything. Showing compassion, Andrei escorts a very distraught Herman from the gambling table, who mumbles repeatedly "three, seven, ace … three, seven, queen".

In a short conclusion, Lizavyeta and Andrei celebrate their future happiness together by fulfilling Lizavyeta's dream of purchasing every bird in the bird market and setting them all free.

Cast

Production

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The screenplay was adapted from a short story of the same name by Alexander Pushkin, with a script written by Arthur Boys and Rodney Ackland.[3] Ackland was also originally the film's director, before disagreements with producer Anatole de Grunwald and star Walbrook, caused him to be replaced at a few days notice by Thorold Dickinson, who also rewrote sections of the script.[2]

The film was shot at Welwyn Studios in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, using sets created by William Kellner, from original designs by Oliver Messel.[3][4] It was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best British Film and was entered into the 1949 Cannes Film Festival.[5]

Release

The Queen of Spades was once considered lost, but was rediscovered and later re-released in British cinemas on 26 December 2009.[3][6] It was released on Region 2 DVD in January 2010.[3]

Reception

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Writing in 1949, The New York Times Bosley Crowther noted "a most beautifully accomplished cast, exquisite baroque production and staging of a tense and startling sort. If it's romantic shivers you're wanting, this is undoubtedly your film."[7]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 95% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 21 reviews, with an average rating of 8.09/10.[8]

Wes Anderson ranked it as the sixth best British film.[9] Martin Scorsese has described Thorold Dickinson as an underrated director, saying of The Queen of Spades that "this stunning film is one of the few true classics of supernatural cinema."[3] Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews rated the film an A−, calling it "A masterfully filmed surreal atmospheric supernatural tale".[10]

References

  1. ^ Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p489
  2. ^ a b "The Queen of Spades (1949)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Tale of luckless director dealt bad hand". The Herald. 24 December 2009.
  4. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Queen of Spades, The (1949) Credits". www.screenonline.org.uk.
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Queen of Spades". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 11 January 2009.
  6. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (17 December 2009). "The Queen of Spades | Film review" – via www.theguardian.com.
  7. ^ C, B. (1 July 1949). "At the Little Cine Met" – via NYTimes.com.
  8. ^ "The Queen of Spades (1949)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  9. ^ "100 Best British Films: Directors". timeout.com. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  10. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. "queenofspades". Sover.net. Dennis Schwartz. Retrieved 22 August 2018.