Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Upturned Glass (1947)

Directed by Lawrence Huntington; produced by Sydney Box and James Mason

British films noir differ from their American counterparts in a number of ways. The protagonist in the British version of this genre is rarely a private detective, and if there are police involved, they are usually secondary or even tertiary characters, looking into matters in the background. The hero is often someone investigating a crime of which he or someone for whom he cares is accused, or trying to battle his way out of a situation that is, at worst, the result of his folly, rather than criminality. There is also frequently a large dose of psychology.

Some of these characteristics, especially the last, are present in The Upturned Glass, a largely effective story of love and revenge. James Mason plays a brain surgeon who, after a lifetime of detachment, falls in love with a married woman. This is usually a recipe for disaster in movies, and this case is no exception. After devastating news, Mason plots his revenge against the woman he views as responsible for the destruction of his happiness. This plan proceeds rather differently than expected.

Narrated partly in flashback, the story itself is successful for the most part. The movie really belongs to Mason and his performance. He depicts his character as very emotionally aloof, yet with deep feelings once they are aroused. He never sheds a tear, but his sense of pain and loss are conveyed very clearly. A moment when he is asked if he has children pays dividends when Mason answers, “No,” with a shrug of the eyebrows, yet paragraphs are spoken by the action.

Other performers are just as good, though not as central to the story. Pamela Kellino (Mrs Mason at the time) co-wrote the screenplay and plays a villainess most convincingly. Rosamund John, the love interest, is rather bland, though perhaps deliberately so, in view of Mason’s initial apathy toward her, stated explicitly in the narration. Brefni O’Rorke (in his penultimate film) has a small but important role as an alarmingly amoral doctor. Kellino’s collaborator on the script, and the original story’s author, John Monaghan, has a bit-part as an American soldier.

The direction is very good, creating some truly tense moments, especially after a murder is committed.

But what lets the movie down is the abrupt and nonsensical ending. It comes out of nowhere and doesn’t fit with either what had happened before or with the characters. Perhaps there is a connection with the theme of madness which is touched upon in the film. (An interesting digression could have been made into the implied theory that all murderers are insane to some degree or another; this could have been contrasted or compared to O’Rorke’s character.) Unfortunately, I don’t think that was the reason for the unsatisfying conclusion. It may have been caused simply by the desire to see justice done, regardless of how it fit with the story, or it may have been that the writers genuinely felt that the finale completed the movie. I disagree with this.

The Upturned Glass, therefore, is an excellent example of how British movies treated the noir genre, but not an entirely successful film.


  1. I came across this one while browsing YouTube awhile back. I found it...curious. I agree the ending suddenly seemed to come from a different movie, but that seems to be a common drawback in film noir--that genre tends to go "over-the-top" towards the end of the film. Plus, I think you're right, that they felt they couldn't show someone "getting away with it."

    On the plus side, James Mason was a famed Crazy Cat Man, so I give the movie points just for that.

  2. that's always bugged me; when you have an ending that came out of nowhere and leaves the movie goer asking more questions about it, than the entire movie itself. that or when one gets a "sense" that the writers were "tired" and said "we need to put this to rest", and it's apparent that they were "rushed" into making the conclusion because they wanted it to be over with. ☺♥

    1. That's exactly what an acquaintance and I were discussing: the rushed ending, as if the writers grew tired of the project two thirds of the way through. It's apparently rather common in movies.

    2. Also, with regard to the picture we discussed, if you want to contact me with an email address I can send it to you.