Monday, January 14, 2019

Aunt Clara (1954)

Eccentric old millionaire Simon Hilton knows the end is near, and he also knows his family are a greedy bunch of wretches, so he decides to play a little trick on them. Knowing that they'll all be to busy with their holidays and leisure time to bother showing up for his birthday, Simon intimates that those who show up might benefit favourably in his will. Once they show up, suddenly sucking up, Simon's will announces that they'll receive very little, while the only member of his family who was too busy taking care of others to appear will get the lion's share of his money and holdings-His niece Clara.

Since Uncle Simon had rather a few...somewhat unsavoury businesses, his dutiful manservant and confidant Henry feels he has to 'protect' Clara from these by either trying to steer her clear from them, or by misleading her into believing they're more innocent ventures. Whether or not she's fooled is one thing, but also important is the whereabouts of Uncle Simon's other beneficiary Julie, who seems to have vanished without a trace...or so her weaselly former employers say...

Aunt Clara is a sweet and entertaining comedy. Moving at a brisk pace, it covers a fair bit of ground without feeling overstuffed. We even get a good amount of setup before the lead actually shows up.

Clara is quite an interesting and most definitely cuddly character. You're never quite sure about her. Is she as blissfully unaware as she lets on, or does she know more about the truth than others suspect? Henry is a likeable old sod, and while it's a bit of a surprise to find out the character you've been following for the first 10 or so minutes is a crook, he's not that bad of a guy and there's never a point where you feel like slapping him upside the head, especially by the end when Clara's intervention sets him right.

I liked the prologue in the Blitz. It wasn't necessary to show for the story since Uncle Simon dies early on, but I felt it informed the relationship between him and Henry.

Some elements feel a bit hokey, like the instant love story, but that's forgiveable. Really my only problem with Julie's part of the story is that it takes so long for her to show up (enough time that I was actually a little confused about who she was at first), and that her first scene with Clara is offscreen, despite seeming like an important moment we should see.

Aunt Clara is very funny, with quite a few quotable lines. The film gets a little melancholy in the end in an unexpected way, and has a surprisingly moving ending for what I assumed was just a silly comedy going into it

After I finished the movie, I read a comment online about how comedies back in the olden days were so much sweeter, innocent, and less crass than today's. Very true, but it also got me thinking. While it of course wouldn't be a problem is Aunt Clara was set in a 'naive dreamworld' where nothing is wrong, the film isn't really like that. Instead it acknowledges that there are unsavoury and larcenous things in the world (all with a comedic glance of course), and shows how they can be remedied. Quite an admirable message!

The actors in Aunt Clara all do fine jobs. Leads like Ronald Shiner are fun, giving an exuberant air to proceedings. We get minor roles from British stalwarts like Sid James, and even a cameo from a real life personality, Prince Monolulu, who often frequented racetracks. And most importantly, Margaret Rutherford is simply adorable as the titular Aunt Clara! She plays the role very well, getting across all facets of her character, and nailing both humorous and dramatic moments. The only odd thing is that she's meant to be a niece to Uncle Simon, yet looks at least two decades older than him. Rutherford was only 62 at the time, but she always had that elderly quality to her, like she was born a dotty and doting old grandmother.

Aunt Clara has got to be a prime example of Margaret Rutherford's filmography, and of British comedy cinema of the period...

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