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“This is a very rare book. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. … Who knows what you may learn from it. You might end up by gaining a fortune or losing your precious soul.” So said a wizened, antique bookseller (Ivor Barnard) to Captain Herman Suvorin (Anton Walbrook) as he sold him a tome of supernatural secrets. Join the Decades of Horror: The Classic Era’s Grue Crew – Chad Hunt, Erin Miskell, Jeff Mohr, and Joseph Perry – as they journey back to 1949 and take a gamble on The Queen of Spades.
Decades of Horror: The Classic Era
Episode 9 — The Queen of Spades (1949)
Is The Queen of Spades the best horror film of 1949? It is according to Bloody Disgusting and Rotten Tomatoes. The film was thought to be lost until 2009 and when Jeff noticed it was now available for streaming, he excitedly added the film to the schedule as his next pick. The Queen of Spades tells the story of a young countess who strikes a Faustian bargain with the devil and exchanges her soul for the ability to gamble and win at Faro. Years later, a lower class, army officer, who resents the aristocracy and is obsessed with gaining comparable status in society, stalks Lizaveta Ivanova (Yvonne Mitchell), the ward of the now elderly Countess, to gain access to the secret of the cards. In the process, he causes the death of the Countess and finds himself haunted by the woman’s spirit.
After viewing The Queen of Spades, your intrepid Classic Era Grue Crew couldn’t agree on whether it was a horror movie or not. Erin, Joseph, and Chad questioned its horror bonafides while Jeff stuck with the hand he dealt himself and played his “deal with the devil” and “evil haunting” cards. After all, it was the best horror film of 1949, right? However, Joseph is quick to point out the competition in 1949 was as thin as a playing card, causing us all to question the value of it being referred to as the “year’s best.”
If you have not heard of the 1834 Alexander Pushkin story on which the film is based, you will find yourself in the same boat as we did when we were surprised to learn there had been over twenty adaptations of the story over the years. It’s also likely you have not heard of the film’s director, Thorold Dickinson. You will be shocked to learn what Martin Scorsese has to say about Dickinson in general and The Queen of Spades specifically. Even Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel) has something interesting to say about this film.
We also discuss the answers to these burning questions. Does the performance of Dame Edith Evans, as the elderly Countess Ranevskaya, live up to her reputation as the greatest actress on the English stage in the 20th century? Why did Anton Walbrook flee Germany? Where have I seen Ronald Howard, who plays Suvorin’s aristocratic friend Andrei, before? Which of these actors played Sherlock Holmes in the 1950s? What does Mary Poppins have to do with The Queen of Spades? Which of the film’s actors also appeared in a Hammer film? What was used for the snow to depict the Russian winter?
If you’re paying attention, you’ll also hear which of us makes these memorable comments:
- “I am down with the young people!”
- “There are many old bitty horror films … you know, that’s a subgenre, I’m not being mean.”
- “The higher the hair, the closer to God.”
- “At first I thought it was film grain, but I think there were actual bees flying in and out of that thing.”
- “Because I’m anal.”
If you’d like to listen to the “The Queen of Spades” radio episode of Mystery in the Air, starring Peter Lorre and first aired in 1947, you can check it out here.
We plan to release a new episode every other week. Our upcoming schedule includes The Last Man on Earth (1964), Village of the Damned (1960), Viy (1967), and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).
Please let us know what you think of Decades of Horror: The Classic Era and what films you’d like to hear us cover! We want to hear from you! After all, without you, we’re just four nutjobs talking about the movies we love. Send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com) or leave us a message, a review or a comment at GruesomeMagazine.com, iTunes, the Horror News Radio App, or the Horror News Radio Facebook group.
To each of you from each of us, “Thank you for listening!”