Wednesday, March 14, 2018
The Man with a Cloak (1951)
Madeleine Minot (Leslie Caron) is a young French girl who arrives in New York in 1848 in search of the ageing and very disreputable Charles Thevenet (Louis Calhern). Thevenet had been one of Napoleon’s generals and remains an enthusiastic Bonapartist. His loyalty to Bonaparte has been equalled only by his devotion to women and dissipation. Madeleine on the other hand is a Republican but for some reason she has convinced herself that she can persuade the old man to leave his fortune to his grandson in Paris. She is in love with the grandson. Once they get the old boy’s money they will use it for the cause of Republicanism (or at least they’ve convinced themselves that they only want Thevenet’s money for that idealistic purpose). 1848 was of course the year that saw the establishment of the short-lived Second Republic in France, which was soon swept away by Napoleon III.
Madeleine and her lover are not the only ones after Thevenet’s money. His mistress Lorna Bounty (Barbara Stanwyck) and his butler Martin (Joe de Santis) have spent years waiting for Thevenet to die so they can get his fortune. It has even crossed their minds that it might be possible to hasten the old man’s demise.
What follows is a battle of wits and wills between Dupin and Lorna.
The plot (based on a story by John Dickson Carr) is absurdly melodramatic and overwrought but it has its moments. There are times however when it threatens to collapse under the weight of its own self-conscious cleverness.
Dupin is supposed to be a mystery man with his true identity only revealed as a surprise twist at the end although in fact his identity is blindingly obvious right from the start. Fortunately it doesn’t really matter since it’s only a literary in-joke and actually the movie might have worked better had that whole idea been ditched.
Joseph Cotten is pretty good too. He has no pride but he has charm. He’s a likeable rogue.
Louis Calhern is excellent, making Thevenet a thorough reprobate but a rather good-natured one. He’s selfish and self-indulgent but he’s never pretended to be a saint.
Jim Backus as the good-hearted Irish innkeeper who allows Dupin to remain permanently drunk on permanent credit is the best of the supporting players.
The period details are impressive. This is an MGM movie so it looks like it’s had a lot of money spent on it, and well spent too.
The Man with a Cloak has been released in the made-on-demand Warner Archive series. I can’t comment on the quality of that disc since I caught this movie on TCM.
Very melodramatic but despite a few flaws it’s thoroughly enjoyable and definitely recommended.