Tag Archives: inheritance

The Gay Sisters (1942)

“Let that be a lesson to you not to go driving around the county deceiving strange men.”

After the death of his wife on the Lusitania, wealthy New-Yorker Penn Sutherland Gaylord (Donald Woods) decides to ‘do’ something and goes off to fight and subsequently die on the fields of France. This leaves his three small children, Fiona, Evelyn, and Susanna orphaned. Before Gaylord leaves to fight in WWI, he imagines that he’s taking care of his children’s future by leaving an iron-cast will which includes a vast fortune and the splendid Gaylord mansion to his three daughters. Early scenes show Gaylord with his eldest daughter, Fiona–a proud, imperious child who hides her emotions in front of the servants.

The film then flashes forward. The Gay sisters (as they are now known) are all adult. Fiona (Barbara Stanwyck) and Susie (Nancy Coleman) still live in the Gaylord mansion while Evelyn (Geraldine Fitizgerald) is married and living in England. The Gaylord estate has been tied up in litigation for years, and has gradually been bled dry with multiple versions of the will, various lawsuits and a series of  lawyers. Think Jarndyce vs Jarndyce in Bleak House and you get the picture. Fiona–the oldest girl and the backbone of the family is the tough one of the bunch–the most vocal and the one who’ll fight to the death to keep the mansion.

The Gaylord mansion is, apparently, in the crosshairs of Charles Barclay (George Brent), one of the will’s contestants. He wants to demolish the Gaylord house and build some monstrosity (according to Fiona) to be known as Barclay Square. It looks as though the litigation will continue when sister Susie who’s in love with artist Gig Young (played by Byron Barr before he changed his name to Gig Young) secretly goes to Barclay on a mission to persuade him to drop the suit. Her action causes a chain of events to take place….

The Gay Sisters, directed by Irving Rapper, certainly has the feel of a novel, so it should come as no surprise that it’s based on a book written by Stephen Longstreet. While the film isn’t bad (I actually rather enjoyed it), it never quite reaches the heights it strains to touch. It’s not quite soap opera, not quite drama and not quite romance, and yet at the same time, I suspect that the novel was a grand mixture of these elements. As it is, the film develops some intriguing asides but then wraps them up all too implausibly as the plot dashes to the final scenes.

The sisters are a mixed bunch with Evelyn (back on a visit) the bitchy pretentious one who sports a monocle, and Susie is the most human of the litter. That leaves Fiona played with Stanwyck’s usual backbone. It’s difficult to feel much sympathy for the sisters who collectively moan about how poor they are, and yet none of them work and there’s more than one fur coat flapping in the breeze. At one point, Fiona mentions she inherited a cool $100,000 dollars from an aunt–quite a fortune in those days. It might as well be $100 from the way it’s mentioned almost as an aside–while today, sixty years later, $100,000 is still a large amount of money to the average working stiff. But that’s just the money issue; when it comes to character, Evelyn is nasty, and the way Fiona used Charles isn’t exactly charming either. That leaves Susie, but there’s dirt in her past too. Perhaps the novel managed to be a grand tear-jerker, but somehow that’s lost in the film version. That said, the sympathy that does come to the sisters comes courtesy of understanding the burden of responsibility of having a great house, and a great name and two dead parents. The weight of this burden taints all three sisters in different ways, but the film makes the point that they certainly haven’t had a normal life (whatever that is).

If you’re a Stanwyck fan, you won’t be able to resist watching the film just to see her in this role.

Quotes:

“We’re all little people trying to find and grab what happiness we can . We fight back and love each other, work a while and die still little people. But once in a while one of us has a chance to do something . Life hands it to us on a platter.” (Gig Young to Evelyn)

“Love is something you cut out of yourself or it moves in and cuts you apart.” (Fiona to Susie)

 

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Filed under American, Barbara Stanwyck

The Inheritors (1998)

 “A poor wretch has a hard life everywhere.”

The Inheritors is set in Austria before WWII. Hillinger, an unpleasant old farmer is found murdered. At the reading of the will, held in a local tavern, the village gathers to hear the division of the spoils. Everyone is shocked to learn that the farmer has left his property to the ten peasants who work the land. The peasants are a hodgepodge crew managed by a foreman (Tilo Pruckner). Local landowner, Danninger (Ulrich Wildgruber) approaches the foreman and offers to buy the land. Seven of the peasants–headed by Lukas (Simon Schwarz)–refuse to sell and decide to stay and farm the land themselves.

inheritorsWhile the film is essentially dark and bleak, there are light moments (the insults written in the will, for example) that alleviate the sense of hopelessness and encroaching doom. There are also moments of absurdity (the elephant) that may or may not appeal to the viewer. The story also involves a predictable subplot. Clearly the film is an allegory–with the innocent and the powerless attempting to fight political institutions. Ultimately, the film is rather painful to watch, and the suffering spread across the screen diminishes the film’s Marxist message. A film with a political message must leave the viewer with something other than depression at its conclusion. From director Stefan Ruzowitzky, in German with English subtitles.

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Oriana (1985)

Venezuelan Gothic

Maria (Daniela Silverio), a young French woman, inherits a hacienda in Venezuela from her Aunt Oriana (Doris Wells). Maria and her husband travel to the hacienda with the idea of selling it and returning to France. When they arrive, the remote hacienda is in a terrible state of repair. Apparently, Oriana wouldn’t allow the house to be cleaned, and she insisted that she even wanted the dust to remain untouched until her niece arrived to claim her inheritance.

The well-dressed French couple enters the hacienda, and they enter another world. As Maria tries to complete an inventory prior to the sale, memories overwhelm her. She spent one summer with her aunt in her peculiar household in Venezuela, and the film goes back and forth in time sifting through Maria’s memories. From the beginning of the film, there’s clearly a mystery afoot, and Maria’s memories gradually reveal the secret of the hacienda for the viewer.

Oriana unfolds with a strong strain of Gothicism. The lush Venezuelan jungle surrounds the hacienda, but inside the house all life and joy seems extinguished. There’s a surly uppity servant, rooms not to be entered, precious objects that are not to be touched, and an ugly secret to be uncovered.

Unfortunately, the film is rather dull, and the characters too uninteresting to arouse little more than mild curiosity about Oriana’s story. The film jumps back and forth in time with the adult Maria’s return to the hacienda, and the adolescent Maria visiting the hacienda for the first time. There seems to be little gained from showing the adult Maria wandering around a filthy hacienda pouring over various objects. Each object sparks a trip down memory lane, and then we get a little bit more of the story of Oriana. This sort of scene works once, but then after that it’s redundant. In spite of the film’s exotic location, Oriana failed to arouse enough interest and suspense to keep me committed to the plot.

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Filed under Venezuela