Something Is Always Left Behind

“Though I wait for thee a thousand years, through waiting will I love thee yet the more. And though I fill an ocean with my tears, my joy will thus be greater than before. And this my prayer for evermore will be, that in the end thou will come back to me.”

- from A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN (1945)

Autumn officially arrives tomorrow. It’s my favorite time of year and I eagerly look forward to cooler temperatures and longer nights. As summer gives way to fall my appetite for things that go bump in the night becomes almost insatiable and nothing’s quite as satisfying as a good ghost story. I’ve been reading a lot of spooky Victorian tales lately, which inspired me to revisit Bernard Knowles’ supernatural thriller, A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN (1945).

When I first watched A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN a few months ago I wasn’t fully engaged with the film and it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I knew I had to watch it again before I shared my thoughts on it and I’m so glad I took the time to reconsider this fascinating little British movie.

It’s important to note that A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN was produced by Gainsborough Pictures during the company’s final years. Bad business decisions, the stress of WW2 and increasing competition from other studios such as Ealing, Pinewood, Denham and the powerful Rank Organisation had lessened Gainsborough’s ability to capture the British public’s imagination. When Gainsborough produced A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN the studio was best known for making period costume B-movies with questionable morals held together by stellar actors such as James Mason, Margaret Lockwood, Stewart Granger, Dennis Price and Patricia Roc. A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN was one of the studio’s less successful pictures but it’s undoubtedly one of their most interesting. It suffers from a low-budget, questionable casting decisions and awkward editing choices. But while watching the film a second time I was won over by its gentle Victorian manner, quick dialogue and intriguing plot twists. This unusual romantic thriller isn’t as polished as other exceptional supernatural films from the ‘40s such as THE UNINVITED (1944), THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR (1947) and THE PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948) but it has its own unique charm.

The film features James Mason as an elderly retiree who buys a large estate in the English countryside called Bellingham House. Soon afterward he hires a young woman named Annette (Margaret Lookwood) to keep his wife (Barbara Mullen) company while he’s busy running the property and enjoying his free time. The three develop a close friendship but their idealistic surroundings soon turn sinister when they start receiving strange calls on the house speaking tube (an antique intercom system) and Annette finds herself seemingly possessed by the ghost of a murdered woman who once lived at the house. Annette’s budding romance with a handsome doctor (Dennis Price) is threatened as she slips deeper and deeper into a sort of trance that develops into a serious illness. Is Bellingham House haunted or is Annete’s strange behavior caused by sexual frustration and repressed feelings? The film doesn’t leave much room for guessing but it’s open to lots of interpretation. Although I hesitate to call A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN a horror film due to its gentle nature, it is a supernatural film and does contain some genuinely creepy moments. Including an especially memorable sequence where Annette is awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of someone playing one of Chopin’s “Preludes” on the piano only to discover no one’s responsible for the ghostly music.

I really like James Mason but he’s oddly cast here along with Barbara Mullen. Mason and Mullen were in their early ‘30s and they’re playing characters in their late ‘60s while sporting bad makeup, wigs and in Mason’s case, some phony facial hair. Mason’s a great actor and he’s not particularly bad as the old Mr. Smedhurst but his performance is distracting and more comical than necessary, which lessens the impact of the film. As a matter of fact, A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN is filled with funny lighthearted moments but some of them work well. Particularly the banter shared between the house servants and local policemen but the humorous script (written by Brock Williams and based on a novel by Osbert Sitwell) often diminishes any suspense that director Bernard Knowles tries to build. Knowles got his start working as a cinematographer with Alfred Hitchcock on films like THE 39 STEPS (1935), SABOTAGE (1936), SECRET AGENT (1936) and JAMAICA INN (1939). A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN was the first feature film that Knowles ever directed and while his inexperience might be evident at times, it’s also apparent that he knows how to scare an audience. A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN could have benefited from a bigger budget, a streamlined script and more age appropriate casting but Knowles makes it work with the help of his leading lady, the beautiful Margaret Lockwood.

In the ‘40s Lockwood was Britain’s #1 box-office star and she’s wonderful here as a woman possessed by a lovesick ghost. The script asks a lot of the actress and she’s definitely up to the task. The subject of spirit or demonic possession was relatively unexplored in movies at the time so Lockwood didn’t have many other performances to reference when she created the tortured Annette. Lockwood is especially noteworthy when she’s forced to slip in and out of character while fending off feelings of sadness, fear and duress. I also enjoyed watching a young and handsome Dennis Price play Lockwood’s love interest. Price is well known among horror fans like myself who enjoy his later performances in movies like THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (1964), VENUS IN FURS (1969), THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970), TWINS OF EVIL (1971), VAMPYROS LESBOS (1971) and THEATER OF BLOOD (1973). A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN was only Dennis Price’s second film and features his very first appearance in a horror movie or thriller. It’s doubtful that Price knew the direction his career would eventually take but it’s fun to see him tackling supernatural subjects for the first time here as a handsome romantic hero. Actor Ernest Thesiger (THE OLD DARK HOUSE; 1932, THE GHOUL; 1933, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN; 1935) also makes a brief but notable cameo appearance in the film, which should please horror aficionados.

If you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned Victorian ghost story with a few surprising plot twists I highly recommend giving A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN a look. The movie is available on video and PAL DVD in the UK. It’s also currently streaming on Netflix and occasionally airs on TCM.

Further reading:
- My fellow Morlock Jeff Stafford reviews A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN for TCM
- A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN at British Horror Films

14 Responses Something Is Always Left Behind
Posted By Jim Vecchio : September 22, 2011 1:31 pm

Enjoyed your piece very much! It sure made me want to dig up a copy of A PLACE OF ONE’s OWN. We could start a whole new thread just mentioning young actors that portrayed elderly characters. As wanting as his performance may have been, it is my opinion (and I know that I may be in the minority) that James Mason played a better old man when he was young than when he was truly old. Of course, being stuck in the fifties and sixties for so long, my particular favorite JAMES MASON performance was in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, which was also Pat Boone’s best performance, though that’s not saying too much.

Posted By Jim Vecchio : September 22, 2011 1:31 pm

Enjoyed your piece very much! It sure made me want to dig up a copy of A PLACE OF ONE’s OWN. We could start a whole new thread just mentioning young actors that portrayed elderly characters. As wanting as his performance may have been, it is my opinion (and I know that I may be in the minority) that James Mason played a better old man when he was young than when he was truly old. Of course, being stuck in the fifties and sixties for so long, my particular favorite JAMES MASON performance was in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, which was also Pat Boone’s best performance, though that’s not saying too much.

Posted By Suzi : September 22, 2011 2:58 pm

I have never seen this film. The photography looks terrific, and I am on a James Mason kick. Two good reasons to see the film.

Posted By Suzi : September 22, 2011 2:58 pm

I have never seen this film. The photography looks terrific, and I am on a James Mason kick. Two good reasons to see the film.

Posted By Jenni : September 22, 2011 5:21 pm

Since I’ve seen and enjoyed Portrait of Jennie, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,and The Uninvited, I will be looking for A Place of One’s Own to view. It sounds wonderful to me, albeit James Mason trying to play an old man. Margaret Lockwood was a great actress, I’ve enjoyed many of her films, especially in The Lady Vanishes with Michael Redgrave. Did she try the Hollywood route? Did it ever beckon to her and she decided to not try it? If you don’t know, I’ll travel over to Wiki and see. Again, great post.

Posted By Jenni : September 22, 2011 5:21 pm

Since I’ve seen and enjoyed Portrait of Jennie, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,and The Uninvited, I will be looking for A Place of One’s Own to view. It sounds wonderful to me, albeit James Mason trying to play an old man. Margaret Lockwood was a great actress, I’ve enjoyed many of her films, especially in The Lady Vanishes with Michael Redgrave. Did she try the Hollywood route? Did it ever beckon to her and she decided to not try it? If you don’t know, I’ll travel over to Wiki and see. Again, great post.

Posted By dukeroberts : September 22, 2011 7:17 pm

Thanks for the heads up on this one. I love The Uninvited, so if it can be compared to that then it should be enjoyable.

Posted By dukeroberts : September 22, 2011 7:17 pm

Thanks for the heads up on this one. I love The Uninvited, so if it can be compared to that then it should be enjoyable.

Posted By Laura : September 22, 2011 8:00 pm

In response to Jenni, Margaret Lockwood made two films in the U.S. which were released in 1939 – Paramount’s RULERS OF THE SEA with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Fox’s SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES with Randolph Scott. (Reviews can be found if you search my blog.) I believe that’s all she did in the U.S.

I particularly loved her in the romance LOVE STORY with Stewart Granger.

Best wishes,
Laura

Posted By Laura : September 22, 2011 8:00 pm

In response to Jenni, Margaret Lockwood made two films in the U.S. which were released in 1939 – Paramount’s RULERS OF THE SEA with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Fox’s SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES with Randolph Scott. (Reviews can be found if you search my blog.) I believe that’s all she did in the U.S.

I particularly loved her in the romance LOVE STORY with Stewart Granger.

Best wishes,
Laura

Posted By Jenni : September 22, 2011 9:49 pm

Thank you for those answers, Laura!

Posted By Jenni : September 22, 2011 9:49 pm

Thank you for those answers, Laura!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : September 29, 2011 2:18 pm

Thanks for the feedback everyone! I’ve been recovering from a car accident so haven’t been online much. Feeling better so wanted to mention to Jenni that when I was researching the film I read a lot of articles on Margaret Lockwood and it seems that she really disliked her experience working with the Hollywood studio system so she preferred working in England. She also seemed to suffer a bit from what we now call “stage fright” and was a rather reserved and shy person so that may have kept her away from Hollywood as well.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : September 29, 2011 2:18 pm

Thanks for the feedback everyone! I’ve been recovering from a car accident so haven’t been online much. Feeling better so wanted to mention to Jenni that when I was researching the film I read a lot of articles on Margaret Lockwood and it seems that she really disliked her experience working with the Hollywood studio system so she preferred working in England. She also seemed to suffer a bit from what we now call “stage fright” and was a rather reserved and shy person so that may have kept her away from Hollywood as well.

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.