During World War II the British government looked to its film industry to provide for a little bit of much needed distraction on the homefront, and Gainsborough Pictures did its very best to deliver. Although beyond tame by today's standards, and in some ways serving as a good lesson that you don't have to get too graphic to still have fun, the studio put out many soap opera type melodramas dealing with wealth, love, lust, and betrayal. Storylines that featured opulent mansions, costumes, and jewels no doubt helped to break up dreary days while still providing subliminal messages on the dangers of excess during a time when rationing was of utmost importance.
The "Man in Grey" was the first, but comparably weakest, of the three films featured here (Gainsborough went on to make many works in this genre). It was however a commercial smash that laid the groundwork for the better films yet to come. The tale also made bigger stars out of the likes of James Mason, Margart Lockwood, Stewart Granger and Phyllis Calvert, and focuses on the repurcussions of a morally bankrupt nobleman who marries a young women, rather openly, only for purposes of gaining an heir. As both husband and wife search for true love in what quickly becomes an open marriage, obvious complications arise as suitors battle over wealth, jealously, and the avoidance of public scandal. The ending performance is fantastic, but overall what was to become known as the "Gainsborough formula" does not quite have all of its hinks worked out of it yet. This film is very watchable in terms of graphics, but it is not quite as cleaned up compared to most Criterion offerings. The audio suffers from being muffled in parts as well. 3 stars ***.
"Madonna of the Seven Moons" also starts off a little bit slow, but the second half of the movie is such a treat that it more than makes up for it. In some ways it is almost two separate movies. Granger and Calvert have excellent chemistry and put in fantastic efforts, leaving you wishing there had been a prequel to the wonderfully smart and energized second storyline that involves small time jewel thieves in Italy. I'll skip most of the plot and its twists for those who like to watch their movies without reading spoilers on the back of the case. Video and audio are for the most part good, overall 4 stars **** despite the overly long plot set-up.
"The Wicked Lady" never quite matches the highs seen in "Madonna", but is a much more even film, very entertaining, and surprisingly very funny. When the title says she is a wicked lady, Margaret Lockwood certainly proves to be very evil indeed, and just when you think you know how far she'll go she stretches her wickedness just a bit further. Like the other pictures, the storyline revolves around man-stealing and greed, and the lengths one will go to not to get caught. The double entendre and snappy dialog between some of the catty women is priceless. Decent video and audio, overall 4 1/2 stars.
Considering I almost purchased Madonna by itself for twenty $, Criterion has put out a very good package here for the money whose only faults I can find is that "The Man in Grey" could have been cleaned up a bit more, and other tales from the genre such as "Fanny by Gaslight" could have been included. Overall a very worthwhile purchase that I could justify just for receiving "Maddona" and "The Wicked Lady" on their own.