The Wicked Lady
Promotional poster
Directed byLeslie Arliss
Written byLeslie Arliss
additional dialogue
Gordon Glennon
Aimee Stuart
Based onnovel Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall
Produced byR. J. Minney
executive
Maurice Ostrer
StarringMargaret Lockwood
James Mason
Patricia Roc
Griffith Jones
Michael Rennie
CinematographyJack E. Cox
Edited byTerence Fisher
Music byHans May
Production
company
Distributed byEagle-Lion Distributors Limited (U.K.)
Universal (U.S.)
Release date
15 November 1945
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
Budget£900,000[1] or $672,000[2]
Box officeover $1 million (US rentals)[3][4]
£375,000 (UK rentals)[5] or $2,250,000 (UK gross)[6]

The Wicked Lady is a 1945 British costume drama film directed by Leslie Arliss and starring Margaret Lockwood in the title role as a nobleman's wife who becomes a highwaywoman for the excitement. The film had one of the largest audiences for a film of its period, 18.4 million.[7]

It was one of the Gainsborough melodramas, a sequence of very popular films made during the 1940s.

The story was based on the 1945 novel Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall which, in turn, was based upon the (disputed) events surrounding the life of Lady Katherine Ferrers, the wife of the major landowner in Markyate on the main London–Birmingham road.

The film was loosely remade by Michael Winner as The Wicked Lady in 1983.

Plot

In rural England in the late 1600s, Caroline invites her beautiful friend Barbara to attend her marriage with wealthy landowner and local magistrate Sir Ralph Skelton. But the scheming Barbara soon has Skelton entranced, and it is Barbara who becomes Lady Skelton, as Caroline looks on. At the wedding reception, however, Barbara meets a handsome stranger, Kit Locksby. It is love at first sight for both, but it is too late.

Married life in the country becomes a bore for Mrs. Skelton—that is, until a visit from her detested sister-in-law Henrietta. In a game of Ombre, Henrietta wins Barbara's prized jewels, including her late mother's ruby brooch. A chance remark about a notorious highwayman, Jerry Jackson, gives Barbara an idea. Masquerading as Jackson, Barbara stops Henrietta's coach and retrieves her brooch and the rest of her jewels. Intoxicated by the experience, she continues to waylay coaches until one night, she and the real Jerry Jackson finally meet. Jackson is amused to find his imitator a beautiful woman. They become lovers and partners in crime. Yet at the same time, she warns him never to be unfaithful to her with another woman. Together, they profit off of unfortunate travellers. But their plot to rob a huge gold shipment goes awry, resulting in the death of one of Sir Ralph Skelton's tenants. Skelton offers a handsome reward to anyone who can assist in Jerry Jackson's capture. So one evening, when Barbara finds Jackson in bed with another woman, she anonymously betrays his whereabouts to her husband. Jackson is captured and sentenced to be hanged.

In London, Barbara views the execution with Caroline. In his speech from the scaffold, Jackson talks only of faithless women but does not refer specifically to Barbara. Then a riot breaks out. The two ladies are rescued by Kit Locksby, who has recently become engaged to Caroline. After the hanging, Jackson's accomplices cut him down and revive him. He later breaks into Barbara's bedroom at the estate and rapes her. Fearing his next move, she begs Kit to marry her. But he will not betray Caroline. Late one evening, Barbara, in highwayman's gear, awaits her husband's coach with a loaded pistol. Jackson shows up and realizes Barbara's scheme. He plots to warn Skelton, but Barbara kills him. When the coach with Caroline, Ralph, and Kit arrives, Barbara, still in disguise, hijacks it and attempts to shoot her husband—not knowing the three have agreed to find a way for both couples to be together. Kit shoots her, but she escapes. Back at the estate, a mortally wounded Barbara confesses all to Kit, pleading he stay with her until the end. After her death, Caroline and Skelton reunite, determined to put the past behind them.

Cast

Production

Magdalen King-Hall's Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton was published in 1944.[8] Mason, Lockwood and Arliss' involvement in the movie adaptation was announced in November of that year.[9]

In a 1945 issue of Picturegoer, Arliss said that it was Eleanor Smith (author of the book which had inspired his 1943 hit The Man in Grey) who gave him King-Hall's novel. He went on to say:

I told Maurice Ostrer of Gainsborough Pictures that I had found my ideal film subject and found that he had already purchased the rights himself! The character of Barbara is wicked enough even for me, and how vastly interesting is this most complex character as it develops through the action of the story.[10]

Lockwood later wrote in her memoirs, "This was an enchantingly 'wicked' part. At first, as usual, I did not like the thought of playing a villainous role again, but it was such a good one that I knew it would be madness to refuse it."[11]

Stewart Granger turned down the role that Mason played. Lockwood practiced riding for the role and added a black beauty spot.[12]

Caroline, the character played by Roc, is a movie script addition, not existing in the novel.

Shooting

Filming started March 1945.[13]

The film was made at Gainsborough Studios in London with location shooting at Blickling Hall in Norfolk.[14] James Mason disliked Leslie Arliss and hit him during filming.[15]

Lockwood wrote "we enjoyed making that film together. We did not enjoy remaking it, exactly one year later" when they had to re shoot scenes for American censors.[16]

British reception

Release

Queen Mary wished to attend the film's premiere, which caused some concern in light of the film's subject matter, and reportedly the operator in the projection box turned down the sound during key exchanges of dialogue. However Queen Mary told J. Arthur Rank she enjoyed the film and felt it had "a fine moral". Rank later said:

Queen Mary is the only person to see in the film what I see myself. I only agreed to it because there’s a moral in it. You have two pretty girls, Margaret Lockwood and Pat Roc. One of them falls to temptation, and gets shot in the end; the other lives happily. That’s the moral. Both girls are pretty, you see; it wouldn’t have meant anything if one of them had been plain.[17]

Box Office

The Wicked Lady was the most popular film at the British box office in 1946.[18][19] According to Kinematograph Weekly the "biggest winner" at the box office in 1946 Britain was The Wicked Lady, with "runners up" being The Bells of St Marys, Piccadilly Incident, The Road to Utopia, Tomorrow is Forever, Brief Encounter, Wonder Man, Anchors Away, Kitty, The Captive Heart, The Corn is Green, Spanish Main, Leave Her to Heaven, Gilda, Caravan, Mildred Pierce, Blue Dahlia, Years Between, O.S.S., Spellbound, Courage of Lassie, My Reputation, London Town, Caesar and Cleopatra, Meet the Navy, Men of Two Worlds, Theirs is the Glory, The Overlanders, and Bedelia.[20]

In Latin America the film earned $160,475.[21]

US release

Problems with American censors made extensive re-shooting necessary before the film was released in the United States (according to Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies).

The problems were that the women's dress bodices (appropriate for the era portrayed) were very low-cut and showed too much cleavage for the USA motion picture production code. It was a problem Jane Russell had in The Outlaw (1943). TCM sometimes airs the original, uncensored version on its USA basic cable network.

Margaret Lockwood said "We had to do nine days of retakes to satisfy the censor on that film and it all seemed very foolish."[22]

Mason said "I don't like it now", referring to the film after the changes.[23]

Proposed sequel

Maurice Ostrer reportedly wanted to make a sequel but this was vetoed by J. Arthur Rank who had taken over ownership of Gainsborough studios.[24] In 1950 it was announced Arliss had written a sequel, The Wicked Lady's Daughter[25] but it was never made.

References

  1. ^ "Star dotes on chasing sheep". The Daily Telegraph. Vol. VI, no. 30. New South Wales, Australia. 10 June 1945. p. 38. Retrieved 6 October 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  2. ^ "London West End Has Big Pix Sked". Variety. 21 November 1945. p. 19. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  3. ^ "Variety (November 1946)". Variety. 1946.
  4. ^ "Ranks $4,000,000 Likely This Year". 13 October 1947. p. 20.
  5. ^ "US Life or Death to Brit Pix", Variety 25 Dec 1946 p 9
  6. ^ "PRODUCER QUITS RANK IN SPLIT OVER POLICY". The New York Times. 24 January 1947. p. 18.
  7. ^ Channel 4, top 100 film audiences
  8. ^ "An exciting story of a gentlewoman who turned highwayman "Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton"". Western Mail. Vol. 61, no. 3, 218. Western Australia. 2 May 1946. p. 33. Retrieved 6 October 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ C.A. LEJEUNE (19 November 1944). "QUIET FILM DAYS IN LONDON". The New York Times. p. X3.
  10. ^ McFarlane, Brian, 1934- (2018). Four from the forties : Arliss, Crabtree, Knowles and Huntington. [Manchester]. ISBN 978-1-5261-1056-5. OCLC 1050362695.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Lockwood, Margaret (1955). Lucky Star: The Autobiography of Margaret Lockwood. Odhams Press Limited. pp. 107–10.
  12. ^ Lockwood p 108
  13. ^ "Seven big British films start in one week". The Daily Telegraph. Vol. VI, no. 17. New South Wales, Australia. 11 March 1945. p. 27. Retrieved 6 October 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  14. ^ Peden, Murray (1979). A Thousand Shall Fall.
  15. ^ Fowler, Roy (19 August 1988). "Interview with Andy Worker". British Entertainment History Project.
  16. ^ Lockwood p 109
  17. ^ Wood (1952). Mr Rank: A Study of J Arthur Rank and British Films. p. 150.
  18. ^ "JAMES MASON TOP OF BRITISH BOX OFFICE". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane. 20 December 1946. p. 4. Retrieved 10 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939–48 2003 p209
  20. ^ Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 232.
  21. ^ "Rank's $1,000,000,000 a Yr from SA". Variety. 21 May 1947. p. 5.
  22. ^ Schallert, Edwin (9 March 1947). "British Film Star Irked by Censors: 'Silly,' Says Margaret Lockwood in Trans-Atlantic Phone Chat". Los Angeles Times. p. B1.
  23. ^ THOMAS M. PRYOR (15 December 1946). "BRITISH FILM IDOL CASTS ORAL BRICKS: James Mason Says Rank Is Leading the English Movie Industry into Trouble Outspoken Critic". The New York Times. p. X6.
  24. ^ Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939–48 by Robert Murphy p 46
  25. ^ "Kids Like The Kissing". The Sunday Herald (Sydney). No. 64. New South Wales, Australia. 16 April 1950. p. 5 (Features). Retrieved 26 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia.