Based on a play, Kind Lady is also a remake of the 1935 film of the same name. Con-man (Richard Evans as Henry Elcott) and his crew invade the home of an older lady (Ethel Barrymore as Mary Harries). Also starring Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Edwards, Mary’s maid, and Betsy Blair as Henry’s wife, Ada.
Henry insinuates himself into Mary’s life because he’s an artist and she’s a wealthy art collector, who favors up-and-coming artists. Henry, having installed his buddy Edwards and his family (Keenan Wynn, wife Angela Lansbury, and daughter Aggie, played by Sherlee Collier) at Mary’s, plans to sell off Mary’s masterpieces. Part of that scheme requires driving her nuts; that will enable the malefactors to take over her estate.
Looks like an Edwardian setting–there’s a mixture of horse and gas buggies, and telephones and electricity. Rose (Doris Lloyd) brings Mary her Christmas cards. “Where’s Simpson? Is he dead? That’s how she greets the new man from the bank, Mr. Foster (John Williams). Just then, Henry pops in, with a weird inquiry about Mary’s door knob. His shot over the bow, so to speak.
Next thing we know, Henry sets up shop in the street to lure Mary with his work. She invites him to tea; he brings some of his paintings to bait the trap. He offers to do her portrait, and comments assiduously on her paintings. All of his paintings are in different styles (so, are they really his?).
He leaves abruptly…mysterious guy, you know. He’s made off with her cigarette case; running into her in a bookstore, he sheepishly returns it. He invites her up to his shabby digs, an “icebox” she calls it. Then she’s on his case for having a family in such a dump. And, thanks to his diminishing prospects, his wife has to work as well.
Back home, feeling the Christmas spirit perhaps, she writes a note to him, along with a check. So, he comes calling, with Ada and their baby. That is, Ada’s strategically placed in an adjacent square, Ada stumbles and falls in full view of half of London. Summon a doctor! The Prime Minister! At least, a regular minister.
She has to be carried to Mary’s, where a doctor says she’s got pneumonia. Hmm. Anyway, when Mary’s niece Lucy Weston (Sally Cooper), comes calling, the doctor says Ada’s ‘condition’ isn’t pneumonia, it’s…something else–meaning she should stay ensconced at Mary’s for a spell. By now, Henry is coming and going at will, signing for mail, and giving Rose orders.
Which sparks a disagreement between Rose and Dora (Phyllis Morris). The latter is splitting, as she correctly surmises that something fishy is up with those Elcotts. The Edwards, supposedly Ada’s friends, show up; Rose, by now completely suspicious, grumbles to Mary. “The Elcotts seem to have taken over” Mary admits.
She tells Rose to summon an ambulance to send Ada packing. Now Mary tells Henry and the Edwards’ “to get out.” Henry counterattacks, with his cohorts’ help “sit down, old lady” she’s admonished. They actually tie her down in her bed. Henry cheerily informs her “we’ll get to the fortune tomorrow.” They call to cancel the ambulance.
So, both Rose and Mary are marginalized; just in time for Christmas Eve. Both Edwards are installed in their new ‘positions.’ Hmm, here’s a constable dropping by. But he’s just looking for his Christmas gift. Next thing we know, stuff is being trucked away by the lot; doodads, furnishings, everything of value: sold off.
The “old lady” just might be institutionalized; with her isolated, the bad guys can pull all the strings. “Why don’t you just take what you want and go” she says, resignedly, but with contempt. Now they’re even nailing her windows shut.
Ada, who actually is plenty healthy, is also restricted by her husband and the Edwards’; she’s not allowed to see her own baby. But, they’ve got to trundle Mary downstairs to sign a power-of-attorney. Plus an art dealer comes calling to buy some of the masterpieces. The Frenchman looks at the paintings: she hands him a note, undoubtedly asking for help.
Henry’s got the nerve to call her “Aunt Mary.” The art dealer leaves, but not before handing over the plaintive note. Obviously, he’s more interested in getting his hands on the paintings than rescuing an old woman. At this point we begin to wonder just who, if anyone, might help her.
Oddly, it’s now that Henry decides to paint Mary’s portrait. Just then, Rose’s family comes inquiring on her whereabouts. Henry makes up a story that she went away with a married man. The fact is, Rose is being held hostage too. Ada, who’s basically another victim, and therefore a weak link, gets worked on by Mary.
Now Henry shows Mary her portrait–ghastly as a Dorian Gray creep-fest. “It’s corrupt as you are, and vicious, and insane” is her perceptive reaction. Even Mrs. Edwards is getting cold feet. Ah, who’s this? Mr. Foster to see Mary.
He can maybe get to the bottom of this. The bank insists on examining Mary, obviously, they’re wary of the whole sell-off-everything deal (including the house). Foster does get to see her, but only at a distance. Well, Henry’s plot is starting to show cracks here and there.
Henry is convinced that Foster is a “stupid man.” Edwards isn’t so sure that he’s a push-over. Now Mary’s ploy is to bribe Mrs. Edwards to get out–in exchange for the key to Rose’s room. That works. Foster tells his boss his misgivings, but he’s rebuffed. Mrs. Edwards shows her husband the money, but he refuses to leave.
Ada brings her portrait to show Mary. It has a haunting inset that symbolizes the fact that Ada is a captive too–with her baby as hostage. Scraping at another corner of the panting, Mary finds a French signature. Hmm. Conspiracy? I can’t quite tie it all together; Ada’s baby was born in Paris…ok, Henry had done the same trick with woman there, and killed her. Ada knows this.
Anyway, Edward throttles Rose, who’s by now escaped from her room. Henry goes to investigate; thinking fast, Mrs. Edwards fingers Ada for springing Rose. To ramp things up, Foster calls: he’ll be around directly. Henry figures they all have to get gone. The biggest problem is that Edwards has killed Rose.
Foster has a plan going on with the constable; interestingly, Henry is planning to use him for his own purposes. Up in Mary’s room, Edwards dumps the contents of the wheelchair out the window, just as the constable passes by. But, it’s the already dead Rose, not Mary. Racing downstairs, Henry runs into the very alive Mary. The denouement, instead of crowning his cunning plot, has exposed him. The end.
This is great suspense. An excellent plot, with commanding performances that show a great deal of nuance; Kind Lady’s smoothly atmospheric, and very entertaining. All of the characters are interesting, complementing and balancing each other. In particular, Ada and Mrs. Edwards more or less change sides; Mary, though seemingly overwhelmed, never gives up.
Henry, of course, relishing the con-man role, is probably more on edge than Mary, as he must stay two steps ahead of everybody to win out. That proves impossible; as Mary herself points out, he should just be satisfied with a little mayhem and get lost.
You know Farmermouse was loving those brass-era cars; he gives Kind Lady ten scones from the tea tray. 10/10.