Leslie Arliss’ The Wicked Lady scandalized and delighted audiences in 1945 (the critics were considerably cooler). It tells the tale of Barbara Worth (Margaret Lockwood), a lady of absolutely no morals whatever. It doesn’t take long in the film before she has stolen her best friend’s (Patricia Roc) fiancé (Griffith Jones) for no reason other than she could — and the fact that he has a lot of money. Worse, she mocks her predecessor’s fashion sense by noting that the wedding gown that lady had chosen is something she “wouldn’t even be buried in.” She’s just plain not nice. No sooner is she married — by which I mean at the wedding reception — than she’s fallen for and in the process of seducing another man (Michael Rennie). From here it’s a small step to becoming a highwayman (mostly for the thrill of it) and becoming a highwayman’s (James Mason) mistress — with time out here and there for the odd murder. It’s amusing melodramatic trash, yes, but it’s rather lost its edge to shock. (I suspected this when Chip Kaufmann kept telling me what a great print this was — and, yes, it is — rather than answering my question about how it stood up against Michael Winner’s outrageous R — nearly X-rated — 1983 remake.) Despite all the perfidious doings, the original just feels too proper. What makes it hold up is mostly attributable to Maregaret Lockwood. She manages to seem a lot more wicked than the film itself manages — not in the least because she truly appears to enjoy her villainy.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Wicked Lady Sunday, Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.