A Place of One’s Own

Despite the great acting ability of James Mason, I find it hard to believe he could play a retiree in the 1945 movie “A Place of One’s Own.” At the time, Mason was only 36 yet he played a man in his sixties. The imdb.com biography of Mason says he never wore makeup, but he must have relented for this film. It looks like the makeup artist added a few wrinkles here and there on Mason’s face along with the mutton chops and moustache.

Barbara Mullen and James Mason hear strange things in the speaking tube in "A Place of One's Own."

Barbara Mullen and James Mason hear strange things in the speaking tube in “A Place of One’s Own.”

A Place of One’s Own, made at Gainsborough Studios in London, tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Smedhurst, a retired couple (from the drapery business) who decide to buy the long-boarded-up Bellingham House in Newborough. The movie opens by showing the long-on-the-market and decrepit mansion being overtaken by weeds and vines. Legend says a murder took place there many years ago; the housekeepers conspired to poison the lady of the house to prevent her from marrying. Smedhurst (Mason) scoffs at this nonsense, of course, but one gets the feeling ominous things will happen to unravel his scepticism.

It’s the year 1900 and Smedhust signs the lease at the broker’s office. Mrs. Smedhurst (Barbara Mullen) wonders why the house remained unsold and empty for so long, and then Mr. Smedhurst asks the real estate broker “How long ago did Miss Harkness die?” We learn the house has been on the market since Miss Harkness’ death 40 years ago. The Smedhursts settle in their mansion, where they notice odd things occurring. Someone whistles through the house talking tube, even though only the Smedhursts occupy the house. Mrs. Smedhurst thought she heard a woman’s voice who sounded very far away on the speaking tube.

The Smedhursts clean up the house and kit it up with fine furniture and a staff including a maid and a gardener. No mention is made of where these workers come from, but I assume the Newborough population would shy away from entering Bellingham House. Ghostly things start to occur more frequently when Mrs. Smedhurst hires a companion named Annette (Margaret Lockwood). She’s young and beautiful, and she says she had a strong premonition to take the job. Unluckily for her, the ghost seems to take a liking to her.

The quite dramatic “possession” scene occurs while Annette plays a tune on the piano. Just as the Smedhursts and the invited guests scoff again at the haunted house idea, Annette suddenly goes from a ham-fisted plodder on the piano to a virtuoso. She plays a song she’s never played before, fighting the urge like a badly controlled marionette. The ghost story is suddenly in full gear while we wait for Annette’s rescue with the help of Smedhurst and others. The slow build-up eventually leads to a satisfactory payoff, which rewards the viewers attention.

At one point in the film, the gardener finds a locket buried in the garden. It’s caked with dirt, but it is mysteriously bright and clean the next morning. If the ghost has the power to clean things, why did she let the house get so dirty for 40 years?

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