Hatter’s Castle – 1941 | 102 mins | Drama | B&W
Shot at Denham Studios for Paramount Pictures, this bleak period drama loosely adapted from A.J. Cronin’s bestselling novel is engrossing without ever achieving its aim. Lance Comfort‘s direction is fluid if melodramatic and the director uses the frosty Scottish elements and elegantly designed scenery to great effect. Robert Newton leads the excellent cast, dominating the picture with wild-eyed scene-stealing histrionics. He is ably supported by a wonderfully treacherous Emlyn Hughes and delightfully sincere Deborah Kerr, only James Mason’s restrained doctor is underused and underdeveloped.
Levenford, 1879: Tyrannical Scottish hatter Brodie (Robert Newton) is a rabid social-climber who lives in a castle-like residence dubbed ‘Hatter’s Castle’ and rules his family with a rod of iron. Brodie’s timid daughter Mary (Deborah Kerr) is forbidden from socialising with young men about town, his wife (Beatrice Varley) is riddled with cancer yet her husband ignores medical advice, and his son Angus (Anthony Bateman) is expected to come top of the class and earn a university scholarship.
One afternoon, Brodie’s shop neighbour, Grierson, offers him his ailing business with the opportunity to expand but the oafish Brodie refuses. Meanwhile, Brodie’s caddish new shop assistant, Dennis (Emlyn Williams), overhears the heated conversation and offers Grierson an opportunity to sell his shop to a Glasgow hatter looking to expand to Levenford. Mary becomes romantically torn between respectable Dr Renwick (James Mason) and Dennis the good-for-nothing shop assistant and ex-lover of Brodie’s mistress, Nancy (Enid Stamp-Taylor).
A reluctant Mary is seduced by Dennis one evening and falls pregnant. She is thrown out of her home by her disgusted father, and after being rejected by Dennis – leaves the train carriage to wander off into the darkness. This act proves to be fortuitous when the Tay Bridge subsequently collapses during a gale force wind and the train, its passengers, and Dennis plunge to their death.
Subsequently Brodie’s business and private life begins to collapse around his ears. A new flourishing hat shop opens next door, bank creditors are pursuing him for money, his long-suffering wife dies from cancer, his mistress Nancy walks out on him and finally Angus commits suicide after cheating in an exam. In a fit of rage, Brodie burns down his palatial home, destroying himself along with it.
Lance Comfort: Director
James A Carter: Art Direction
Mutz Greenbaum: Cinematography
Douglas Robertson: Editing
Horace Shepherd: Original Music
Isadore Goldsmith: Producer
Rudolph Bernauer: Script
Carl Merz: Script