The Queen of Spades

Directed by Thorold Dickinson.
With Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans, Yvonne Mitchel.
UK, 1948, 35mm, black & white, 95 min.
Print source: HFA

One of the finer directors in British film, whose work remains too little known (the negative of his 1940 version of Gaslight was purportedly destroyed to avoid comparison with the Hollywood remake), Thorold Dickinson was a director of documentaries, shorts, and the occasional dramatic film. Dickinson’s expansion of Aleksandr Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades, set in imperial Russia in 1806, is the tale of a young officer consumed by an obsession to learn the secret of winning at cards from a diabolical old countess. Dickinson infuses the film with an atmosphere of the macabre, brilliantly enhanced by the set designs of Oliver Messel, which evoke the suffocating decadence of the milieu. The director’s elegantly prowling, darting camera and his marvelously eerie sound effects (like the rustling silk and tapping stick that herald the ghostly presence of the countess) pull all the film’s elements together in an impressive crescendo.

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Treasures from the Harvard Film Archive: N–R