Aloof, rouged and razor cheeked, a would-be heiress but instead reluctant makeshift Governess (Valerie Hobson) arrives at Clare estate to help run the show. Of course, what she’d rather do is be acknowledged as the right and proper family member she is, murder her infuriatingly conciliatory but guarded uncle, his gibbering son and make off with the brooding man in the outhouse brandishing a rifle (Stewart Granger).
Instead, she sighs, buttons up and resigns to marry her uncle’s toothy son so at least she can claim some lineage and acreage. What she doesn’t bank on though is the appeal of Granger’s overly effectual gypsy coal eyes peeping over the top of a bandanna, looking wistfully through the window as she embroiders and sighs some more. The throwing her forcefully against the stable walls versus bone-crushing daming duties element carries some force too, no doubt, in her decision to trust Granger to sew up a few loose ends so he can also claim his right to Clare and they can be together legitimately.
Hobson doesn’t have Margaret Lockwood’s perilously mischievous cute facial features, but there’s a more austere cunning between those eyes which makes this film a tad less inadvertently whimsical than some other real estate deadlock melodramas of the 1940s. The final courtroom scenes indulgently bring to the fore Granger’s plummy but hammy acting style but are most memorable for the Gothic costumes, lighting and composition, which is stunning.
This overly convoluted but nonetheless heavily similar melodrama to The Wicked Lady, precedes said film by two years and is lauded as the first melodrama from Gainsborough studios. As in The Wicked Lady, Margaret Lockwood stars as a greedy, eyes fixed firmly on the goal of grabbing the country manor, she-devil. Her aptitude for cunning is quite frankly wasted on the menial role of Governess, which James Mason intuits as he refuses her the role, deeming her unsuitable. Instead, he allows her to stay as lady’s companion to his wife, Phyllis Calvert. As in The Wicked Lady’s similar wifely role covered by Patricia Roc, Calvert represents rosy-cheeked duty, lack of drama and well-meaning naivete. Bless her.
Probably advisable not to dwell too much on the parallels between the two films as there are too many to mention. Instead, appreciate that the magic ingredient in The Man in Grey is Stewart Granger, providing light relief as a slightly more complex and human character than the dutifully devillish Mason and who is genuinely very funny (and slightly incongruously so) in his loveable goof stage performance as Othello. Actually, we don’t really know what to make of him. We know he’s both mercurial and untrustworthy but we have a hunch he’s OK and not necessarily devious, unlike Lockwood and Mason. Of course, as is the custom in 1943, any self-respecting, ambitiously transgressive brunette will get her comeuppance in the end and in this case, it’s Mason’s turn to get nasty with Lockwood, with worrying relish.