The Queen of Spades (1949) Poster

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Here's hoping this great film will receive more recognition.
Bobs-93 June 2003
At long last, "The Queen of Spades" has appeared in a form worthy of its excellence. Anchor Bay's new DVD set includes a beautiful presentation of it, along with the 1945 anthology horror film "Dead of Night." I've read nothing but good things about "Dead of Night," but haven't gotten around to seeing it yet. To me, it's immaterial. I would pay three times as much for the "Queen of Spades" alone. Once seen, it's hard to forget.

Anton Walbrook may have played more multi-dimensional characters in other films, but never with the same frightening intensity as in this one. The cast is uniformly excellent, but it's his performance as Hermann that really makes the film memorable. Hermann is a strange sort of cinematic hero with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. His personality is dominated by four of the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, wrath, and greed. As for lust, he lusts only for power, money and influence, his declarations of love being completely false. Gluttony is not an issue, as he lives in poverty in order to horde what money he has. As for sloth, he exerts extraordinary effort into fulfilling his schemes, which are entirely self-serving. Sounds like a thoroughly unpleasant fellow. But Walbrook makes this brooding, scheming, petty, and utterly reprehensible nonentity with a Napoleon complex into a fascinating character study -- a real tour-de-force. The Vienna-born Walbrook (originally named Adolph Anton Wilhelm Wohlbrueck) exaggerates his Teutonic accent to Peter Lorre-like intensity, to great effect. It's this film that made him one of my all time favorite actors.

The look of this film is also extraordinary. Even in this pristine presentation, the cinematography is very dark and deeply shadowed. The shadowy look of the film, along with some oddly angular or distorted shots, is suggestive of expressionist style. The story is told very directly and the plot moved along efficiently, with no superfluous action, which adds to the unreal atmosphere of the piece. Everything associated with the story seems to take place in quick succession. In a city as huge as St. Petersburg, Hermann wanders from the spooky booksellers' shop directly to the old countess's house purely by chance. Every element of the story is essential, and executed with maximum effect and style. The funeral scene in particular is unforgettable.

What a pleasure to find that this terrific, but relatively obscure, film has finally gotten a DVD release, and looks better than I've ever seen it looking. Almost everyone who's commented on it cites the fact that it is little known, and maybe this new DVD will change that a bit.
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10/10
The Strange Secrets of the Count de Saint Germain.
Spikeopath12 May 2012
The Queen of Spades is directed by Thorold Dickinson and adapted to screenplay by Rodney Ackland and Arthur Boys from the story written by Alexander Pushkin. It stars Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans, Yvonne Mitchell and Ronald Howard. Music is scored by Georges Auric and cinematography by Otto Heller.

A Tale of Old St. Petersbvrg.

"In 1806 the craze for gambling had spread throughout Russia. Faro-a simple card game similar to our snap-was all the fashion, and fortunes were won and lost on the turn of a card. As a result there arose many superstitions concerning the cards-one of these was the evil influence of THE QVEEN OF SPADES."

The dead shall give up their secrets.

Haunting, poetic, lyrical, romantic and visually arresting, Thorold Dickinson's take on the Pushkin story is a magnificent picture of many wonders. It's a film that (thankfully) is hard to pigeon hole, it's very unique, a uniqueness that marks it out as an oddity of sorts, ensuring it has stayed as a cult classic rather than a mainstream one. However, now widely available on DVD (the Optimum Region 2 issue is a spankingly fine transfer), and with Martin Scorsese lending his weight to the film's greatness, it's hoped that more people will get to see and embrace this masterpiece.

Dickinson (Gaslight) was only brought in at the last minute, literally days before the picture went into production. Armed with only a tiny budget and confined to the stages of Welwyn Studios, the director gave a lesson in classic film making. The story is a more than solid source to work from, Walbrook's Tsarist Captain Suvorin aspires to gain wealth by learning Countess Ranevskaya's (Evans) secret to wining at the card game Faro. Working from a book he located about people making deals with the Devil, Suvorin worms his way into the affections of the Countess' ward, Lizaveta Ivanova (Mitchell), so as to get close to the aged and fragile Countess and put the squeeze on the old dear. He is obsessed and oblivious to the feelings of others and ignorant to the age old adage about being careful about what you wish for.....

Filmed in subtle black and white by Otto Heller (They Made Me A Fugitive), film is big on shadows, odd camera angles, clinical sound work and haunting imagery. Atmosphere is everything in a film like this, and this has it in abundance, even during the more exuberant passages, such as the gaiety of a dance, there's a disquiet hanging in the air, William Kellner's brilliantly baroque sets observers of impending doom. A number of images burn into the soul, a spider climbing its web, a doused candle and the eerie sight of distorted figurines in glass jars, these are just some of the shots worthy of inspection. Mirrors, too, play a prominent part in proceedings, hauntingly so, while many of the characters have an other worldly sheen to them.

3, 7 & Ace.

Mostly the film is highly thought of by those that have seen it, what negative reviews I have come across appear to be written by horror fans unhappy with not getting the horror film suggested by tag words such as ghost and the Devil. For the first hour it's pretty much about characterisations, psychological make ups and back story, it's not until the hour mark when things start moving towards the spooky. But this film is not horror, as mentioned earlier, it's hard to pigeon hole it for it covers a number of bases. It's more in line with Rebecca and either of the Gaslight movies, an opulent period piece with supernatural overtones, while the visual style of it is very much like The Spiral Staircase. If you like those movies? Then it's pretty nailed on that this is the movie for you. Cast are terrific, Walbrook (Gaslight/The Red Shoes) is intense and maniacal, Evans (The Importance of Being Earnest) is oddly scary but pitiful, Mitchell is beautiful but perfectly staid and Howard (son of Leslie) is straight backed and gentleman like.

From the opening credits that are off kilter written on scratchy looking paper, accompanied by Auric's blunderbuss music score, to the "devilment" of the denouement, this is a classic Ealing film for true classic film fans. 10/10
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10/10
A wonderful, neglected gem
Rosabel20 June 1999
This is a wonderful, unusual suspense story - the black and white cinematography is masterful, adding to the creepy atmosphere. Anton Walbrook plays Capt. Suvarin with his characteristic silky menace. Everyone in this film is just perfect, even the charming prince who falls in love with the little paid companion - a thankless role frequently played with insipidity. And Edith Evans is utterly unique as the old Countess, haunted by her fear of death and unable to find peace. The card scene at the end of the film is unforgettable.

I don't know why this film is so unknown. It reminds me a little of "The Haunting" based on a Shirley Jackson novel, in that one is never really sure if supernatural activity is really going on, or if the main character has finally lost his mind and is imagining everything. I long for the day when this film reappears on video.
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10/10 - a timeless masterpiece
Dunks4 July 2002
Adapted from a short story by Pushkin, this brilliant film is far too rarely seen or mentioned, which is tragic, because it is without question one of the best British films ever made.

I was fortunate enough to see it on cable, where by coincidence it was shown right after 'The Third Man' and just before another Brtish b/w masterpiece, 'The Haunting' -- what a triple bill! In fact there are several connections between QOS and 'The Haunting', including Jack Clayton, who produced the former and directed the latter, and composer Georges Auric, who scored both. There are also close connections with The Archers (Powell & Pressberger) -- Anton Walbrook featured in three P&P films, and co-writer Rodney Ackland also scripted one of those films, P&P's '49th Parallel'.

Watching 'Queen Of Spades' it's obvious that many of the team who made it learned their craft in the silent era -- lighting, costumes, set design and cinematography are all fantastic, and though on a slightly smaller and more restrained scale, QOS is almost on a par with Von Sternberg's baroque masterpiece 'The Scarlett Empress'.

Brilliantly directed by Torold Dickinson (who also did 'Gaslight', in which Walbrook also features), the incredible, wildly expressionistic b/w cinematography is by legendary Czech-born DOP Otto Heller, who began his career in 1922(!) and who also shot Olivier's 'Richard III', 'The Ladykillers', Powell's 'Peeping Tom' and those three classic Michael Caine films of the 60s, The 'Ipcress File', 'Alfie' and 'Funeral In Berlin.'

The casting is perfect, and it's easy to see why Anton Walbrook was one of Michael Powell's favourite actors. His portrayal of the odious Suvorin is a tour de force, and he is matched by the great Edith Evans as the Countess. The crucial scene in which Suvorin tries unsuccessfully to beg, cajole, and finally force the secret of the cards from the Countess is truly electrifying -- Walbrook is absolutely rivetting, and Evans -- who has no lines and plays the scene only with her eyes -- shows why she was considered one the greatest actors of her generation. The climax of that scene, the look of stark horror on Walbrook's face, is one of the most powerful film moments I've ever seen, perhaps only surpassed by incredible card-game scene at the end of the film.
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10/10
An Ace Pushkin adaptation!
DrMMGilchrist21 June 2004
Warning: Spoilers
*Possible semi-spoilers, but as the story has been around for over 150 years, these may not surprise many...* 1806 Sankt-Peterburg: Herman Suvorin (Anton Walbrook) approaches middle-age as a bitterly disappointed man. Outranked by young bucks in more fashionable regiments – men from aristocratic families who can afford to waste money on gambling, drinking and wenching – he envies the meritocratic rise of Napoleon. When he learns that old Countess Ranevskaya (Edith Evans) – the grandmother of one of the officers he envies – allegedly sold her soul to the Devil in exchange for learning an infallible way of winning at Faro, he sees a chance of advancement. But how can he, a mere Captain of Engineers, and a commoner, get access to the old lady's household to learn her secret? The Countess has a pretty, downtrodden young companion Lizaveta (Yvonne Mitchell) – sure to be easily beguiled by his attentions...

However, Andrei (Ronald Howard), an aristocratic officer and friend of the Countess's grandson, begins to see through Herman's schemes. Can Liza be saved from seduction? And can Herman himself escape the curse of the cards? 'The Queen of Spades' is a magnificent black-and-white chiller from the golden age of British film. Made on a post-war shoestring budget, it nevertheless conjures powerfully the atmosphere of early 19C Peterburg: the gaming houses, the palaces and street-life. Indeed, it brings out the story's powerful prefigurings of Gogol' and Dostoevskii, and its ambiguities. Are there really supernatural forces at work, or is it all in the anti-hero's obsessed mind? - Either interpretation is possible.

Anton Walbrook is brilliant as Herman, although it takes a little while to get used to seeing him without his moustache, which would not have been appropriate to this period setting! While he excelled at playing wise, noble heroes for the Archers (Peter in '49th Parallel', Theo von Kretschmar-Schuldorff in 'The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp', and - most magnificently - Boris Lermontov in 'The Red Shoes'), for Thorold Dickinson both in 'Gaslight' and 'The Queen of Spades' he provided fine studies in scheming ambition, subtle menace and deception. Herman is in some respects a natural successor to his earlier performance (as Adolf Wohlbrück) as another tragic, tormented gambler - Balduin in 'Der Student von Prag' (1935). Herman's bitterness and frustration, his duplicities, his rising hysteria, and the pathos of his final scene are rendered with the conviction and skill which make him one of *the* all-time great film stars (sadly under-appreciated nowadays, while many less gifted actors have cult followings). However reprehensible Herman's behaviour, it is impossible not to feel some pity for him as his military bearing crumples, and the devastation of his breakdown is conveyed in his eyes.

Yvonne Mitchell is poignant as Lizaveta, and Ronald Howard displays some of his father Leslie's sensitive charm as Andrei. Edith Evans, as the Countess, acquits herself well playing a woman some decades her senior: spoilt, vain (still dressing in the high wigs and panniers of thirty years before), bullying - and beneath the show, pathetic and terrified.

As a Pushkin adaptation, I would rate this film as highly as Martha Fiennes' 'Onegin'. As a subtle thriller, it shows what can be done on a low budget with imagination, intelligence and a quality cast. It's a lesson in fine craftsmanship - as small (in budget and length) and intricately fashioned as a Fabergé ornament.
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10/10
The Card Player.
morrison-dylan-fan28 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Along with Hammer studios,I've been trying to find and view more British Horror films.Thankfully,I recently discovered on the IMDb Film Noir board a huge amount of praise,for a dark,atmospheric UK movie,which seems to have almost been completely forgotten in British Horror history.

The plot:

Keeping up a tradition of standing in the corner and never partaking in a game of cards,Tsarist Captain Suvorin begins to contemplate on how he can grip all of the "falling" cash being spent by the gang of card players.Shortly after getting hold of some small change,Suvorin discovers a previously hidden book which details a number of deals that people have done with an alleged "devil",who along with helping the willing soul to achieve their desire's,also makes model figurines for the participant's souls to be stored in after their deaths.

Finding out of a party being held by reclusive Countess Ranevskya,Suvorin quickly learns that Ranevskya is infamous for having turned her luck around and winning a huge amount of cash from a card game decades ago,before retiring to become extremely reclusive.Feeling that Ranevskya's life weirdly mirrors a chapter in the book,about a woman selling her soul to the devil so that she can win a card game,and secretly put all of the money that she had stolen from her husband "back in its place".

Suvorin starts to try getting the attention of Ranevskya's family,in the hope of getting close to the Countess and finding out how she scored such a devilish winning hand

View on the film:

For their absolutely stunning adaptation of Alexander Pushkin's short story,screenwriters Rodney Ackland and Arthur Boys have Ranevskya's past dark dealings be something that slowly manifestation's into Suvorin,as he goes from just wanting to put his friends noses out of place,to being desperate to holding the key of the "dark arts".

Placing the movie in a dark,almost Dickens Gothic setting, (with Countess Ranevskya sometimes looking like the sister of Miss Havisham!)director Thorold Dickinson brilliantly uses disjointed sound effects to show Suvorin's obsession breaking his reality apart,whilst also using complex,but perfectly executed camera moves to greatly increase the mysteriousness of the surrounding,and also turning the card games into truly tense,nail-biting scenes.

Along with the strong directing,and Otto Heller's chillingly moody,low-lit cinematography,Anton Walbrook gives an excellent performance as Suvorin,who Walbrook shows to be a man that is never truly easy in his own skin,and always has an ulterior motive hidden under his sleeve.
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10/10
Simply a Masterpiece
Bucs196025 September 2005
Tchaikovsky took Pushkin's ghost story and turned it into an opera. Producer Anatole de Grunwald turned it into one of the finest Gothic thrillers in film history. Why The Queen of Spades is so overlooked is a mystery to those who have seen it....it is a dazzling tour de force.

Anton Walbrook pulls out all the stops as the army officer obsessed with learning how to win at faro. When he discovers that an aged countess, played by Dame Edith Evans in her talking picture debut, holds the secret he becomes even more obsessed with wresting this secret from her. The countess sold her soul to learn the magic of the cards, 3,7 and Ace and, in the end, that does not bode well for Walbrook.

The baroque sets, assisted by wonderful lighting effects, builds an eerie, almost surreal atmosphere. It will hold you spellbound and haunt you long after it ends.
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9/10
My Win
Spondonman11 March 2007
I've seen this now probably 10 times or more over the decades – it's an out and out genuine British film classic, and still only Thorold Dickinson and Anton Walbrook's second best to Gaslight made 10 years before. The stories themselves had similarities, Walbrook in both playing an avaricious amoral character using a weak-willed woman to meet his own despicable ends. The production values in both were high lending a richly dark and brooding b&w atmosphere on nitrate film stock to compliment the inventive camera-work.

Relatively poor Captain in the Royal Engineers jealous of the wealthy Cavalry officers around him dreams of making his fortune at faro, and eventually gets his way at the price of his precious soul. How he does it is a spooky tale involving an ancient irritating Countess played by the perfect Edith Evans and his attempt to get her to acquiesce to his demands. Who can forget the funeral scene when Walbrook is wondering how the dead can give up their secrets! Everyone acted their hearts out, Ronald Howard nicely restrained to Walbrook's occasional lapses into melodrama. Auric's music is spot on and as graceful as ever, we even get a preview of Orpheus in here to which he composed the music for the following year. The game of faro as depicted here always struck me as particularly boring, but I suppose it was as good a way as any for someone to lose money fast. The secret of winning money at cards is not to play for money at all and to keep your money. I simply can't understand why anyone would watch this for the full 90 minutes hating almost every minute and then waste more of their time telling us!

An utterly marvellous film, a UK post-War Wonder which will survive all comments positive and negative.
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10/10
Superb - excellent direction.
1bilbo4 December 2004
If you can get hold of a copy of this film - do so!

The plot centers around a card game in which certain cards are said to be lucky. However, a certain countess is said to have made a pact with the underworld in order to know the secrets of the cards. This dreadful woman keeps her servants and paid companions in constant fear and spends her every day complaining about every single thing. What she does not reveal however is her mortal fear of death.

There is a young soldier who would love to get the secrets of the cards from her and agrees to take the sins of her soul upon his in exchange for the knowledge - which does him no good.

Photography and suspense is superb from filmmakers who knew their craft. A must see.
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9/10
A Classic from the golden age of British Cinema
Hugh-1412 April 1999
Why is it that this classic film is not available on any format anywhere? I have to make do with a now very old and worn videotape copy from when this great film was last shown on TV about 8 years ago. A gripping and atmospheric film with excellent performances from Anton Walbrook and Edith Evans, this film is up there with The Third Man as one of the best British films ever made. The real mystery is why has the industry neglected this gem? Score: 10/10
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Great atmosphere in a fine British chiller
Camera-Obscura5 November 2006
This macabre little fantasy has so far largely remained under the radar, which is a shame, because it's one of the better British productions of the '40s and '50s. It's the kind of highly stylized costume mystery/horror, that will undoubtedly appeal to lovers of old British cinema.

The story is based on Alexander Puschkin's novella, "The Queen of Spades (1834), about a young captain in the Russian army (Anton Walbrook), an outsider (because he's German) who secretly covets the wealth and position of his fellow officers. When he discovers that an aged countess has sold her soul to the devil in exchange for eternal fortune at the card table, he attempts to gain entry to the household by seducing the countess' naive ward, but his envy envy leads to the dowager's death, a loveless marriage, and Herman's descent into madness.

The production initially ran into some trouble with director Thorold Dickinson entering the project when a great deal of the pre-production was already done. With his limited resources and the inadequate sets and sound stage facilities of the Welwyn Studios, he incorporated as many camera, lighting and special effects as he could devise, and with good effect. The film looks great. Atmosphere in these kind of films is half the work, and they surely did a great job. The acting is somewhat stagy and highly stylized, but this was probably a common characteristic in British acting in those days, and I don't think of Anton Walbrook as a great actor, but the rest of the cast is fine, with Edith Evans in great form as the countess. All in all, not an undiscovered masterpiece, but a fine British chiller with a great period atmosphere.

Camera Obscura --- 8/10
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8/10
A stylish, dark ghost story
FM-523 December 1998
Anton Walbrook gives a wonderful performance as the ambitious, frustrated Capt. Suvarin, who will do anything, even forfeit his soul, to advance his career. This stylish ghost story avoids the usual cliches, yet manages to create a spooky, brooding atmosphere. It climaxes with what must be the most gripping card-playing scene ever filmed
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8/10
Pushkin, Walbrook and Evans...all in the Val Lewton spirit. Creepy and unsettling
Terrell-48 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
It's comforting to think that Alexander Pushkin, had he been born a hundred years later than he was, could undoubtedly have found employment writing screenplays for Val Lewton. As it is, we'll just have to put up with all those plays, novels, poems, operas and short stories he wrote.

The Queen of Spades, based on a story by Pushkin, is a marvelously atmospheric and menacing tale of obsession and greed. It takes places in 1806 St. Petersburg. Captain Herman Suvorin (Anton Walbrook) is a poor German engineer serving in the Czarist army. Gambling has become the rage and faro is the card game of choice for all the rich, aristocratic and arrogant young officers who laugh at Suvorin. He hasn't the means to gamble and he hasn't the means to purchase advancement. Then he hears the story of Countess Ranevskaya (Edith Evans), who, a generation earlier, is supposed to have sold her soul for "the secret of the cards"...the three cards to choose which will win a fortune at faro. Amazingly, the Countess is still living, almost a recluse, with a beautiful ward. Suvorin determines to find a way to woo the young woman as a method to gain entry into the Countess' palace and to the Countess herself. He is determined to learn from her the three cards. He does, or thinks he does, and we witness madness and death. Says one character, "I believe all human beings are fundamentally good. I'm convinced of it. Yes, and I believe that evil is a force, a mighty force, that is abroad in the world to take possession of men's souls, if they will allow it to." Oh, Suvorin.

Now if Val Lewton had produced this we might have a cult classic on our hands. As it is, we have a movie which has been nearly forgotten. Too bad. The film might have been made with little money but it doesn't look it. Snow and slush cover the frigid St. Petersburg streets. Candles flicker and gutter. Deep shadows hide cubbyholes and doorways. There are ragged peasants and beggars, an ornate opera house and a dazzling ballroom filled with dancing aristocrats. There is the Countess' palace with it's decorated rooms, angled staircases, bare kitchens and cold servants quarters. There is the Countess' bedroom with it's secret passage and the stone steps leading to a hidden entrance. The black-and-white cinematography is excellent; everything shadowed might hold madness or a threat. Making everything work are the two mesmerizing performances by Walbrook and Evans. With these two actors it's a pleasure just to observe Suvorin's growing obsession and to hear the tap of the Countess' cane and the slow, steady swish of her silk gown.

Anton Walbrook was one of the great actors of his time. Sometimes he would almost teeter on the brink of mannerism, but he'd invariably deliver performances of startling quality. With his intensity, his Austrian accent and his ability to draw out a vowel for effect, it was difficult not to keep your eyes on him. At 53 he is playing 20 years younger and does so with ease. Edith Evans was 57 when she made this, her first film after years of stardom in the theater. She plays a selfish, irritable 90-year-old woman, querulous and suspicious. When Suvorin and the Countess finally meet in the Countess' bedroom, an acting student could learn much just by watching the two. Walbrook has all the lines; Evans watches and reacts. It's a toss-up as to which betters the other.

I think both Pushkin and Lewton would have enjoyed this movie.
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10/10
Both beautiful and chilling...
TheLittleSongbird12 May 2014
Any other version of Alexander Pushkin's short story classic The Queen of Spades, that isn't one of the brilliant Tchaikovsky opera, has to be really outstanding to beat this film, which is often considered the definitive version. And it's easy to see why. The costumes and sets are very handsome and the cinematography is sumptuous while also brilliantly having an ominous effect. The score from Georges Auric, who also wrote the score for 1946's La Belle et La Bete (another classic), is haunting without ever being obvious or intrusive(in fact a lot of it is a large part of what makes the atmosphere so effective). While Thorold Dickinson directs with a more than sure hand, there are some imaginative touches and he allows the atmosphere to really speak, a good thing considering that it is a ghost story, and the dialogue is intelligently written and easy to understand while respectful to Pushkin. The story is hugely compelling, yes it is a slow-burner(which is not a hindrance at all, the film was unlikely to be as effective otherwise), but the spooky atmosphere and the high levels of suspense make the film's best scenes chill the blood even now. In particular the card scene, a scene that you'd be hard pressed to find a better one on film. The acting is spot on, especially from Anton Walbrook, who gives perhaps a career best performance, and a heavily made up(and effectively) Edith Evans- looking deliberately older than her years- who is terrifying and tormented. Yvonne Mitchell is an affecting Liza and I haven't seen Ronald Howard more endearingly sensitive than here. All in all, beautiful and chilling both as an adaptation of a classic and as a film in general, one of the best and maybe most under-appreciated in the genre. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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7/10
Make that 7.5.
JohnHowardReid25 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Yvonne Mitchell told me that the screenwriter, Rodney Ackland, directed the first three weeks of shooting and that his work included the discovery of the secret passageway scene. Fortunately, Ackland's footage melts into Thorold Dickinson's seamlessly. In fact, I noted in a late 1950's review that this adaptation of Alexander Pushkin's short story was "brilliantly directed by Thorold Dickinson" and produced on a lavish scale. But the narrative does tend to sag badly in the middle and the interesting story of the old countess's supposed witchcraft is not developed as well as it might have been. Fortunately, the players all acquit themselves well, particularly Dame Edith Evans (in her first screen role, according to the movie's publicist). I do have one important reservation, however: Not even a single member of the English players make even the slightest attempt at a foreign accent. It's a bit disconcerting to find Anton Walbrook surrounded by all these very British voices in an allegedly Russian setting – and most especially such an atmospherically opulent setting as was here designed by Oliver Messell.
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6/10
Good plot, stretched over too long a running time
The_Void28 July 2009
I've waited a long time to see this film, and now after finally tracking down a copy; I have to say, unfortunately, that I have only been setting myself up for disappointment. I'm also really surprised to read all the favourable reviews that the film has gotten. The Queen of Spades is very much of the 'slow burn' variety; and like the classics produced by Val Lewton, relies mostly on it's atmosphere and story to keep things interesting - and that is really where the film falls down. The basis for the story is actually really good, and is based on a Russian short story by Alexander Pushkin. The story focuses around a very simple card game that was very popular around the time in which the film is set. An army officer, fanatical about cards; but not wealthy enough to play himself, hears about an elderly countess who apparently sold her soul to the devil in return for the ability to always win at cards. The officer then endeavours to track down the old countess in order to learn her secret so he too can win at cards.

The film is based on a short story; and therein lies the problem with it. Basically what we get is a very thin sliver of plot stretched over ninety five minutes; thus meaning two thirds of the film is boring. The film is very slow for the first two thirds (and peppered with 'filler' dancing scenes) and I started to lose interest at several points as it seems to take forever to get to the point. The film does finally pick up in the final third; and although by then I could have cared less, it has to be said that the film does become rather interesting. The story is rather original too; despite the obvious 'selling a soul to the devil' theme. The idea of selling your soul to the devil will always be intriguing no matter how many times it is done; but this film doesn't even capitalise on that as it's not often mentioned. Curiously, neither is the mechanics of the central card game (although that's not surprising considering how simple it is!). I think that if the director had opted to cut out all the filler and trim the running time down to around sixty minutes, then the film could have been a classic. Unfortunately, it's just an overlong horror film with a few redeeming values.
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4/10
Deuce of Clubs!
spookyrat11 May 2019
Technically The Queen of Spades is likely all you'd expect in a film regularly lauded as a classic of the genre: extravagant sets and costumes, atmospheric lighting and some inventive camerawork. But in terms of a sustained narrative, it has to be said, that it disappoints.

It has been associated with the equally uneven 1945 anthology horror film Dead of Night and TQOS storyline similarly identifies, as being better suited to a short, rather than feature film. The thin (and it almost grieves me to say it, predictable) storyline just isn't suited to being dragged out to 95 minutes, no matter how good the acting (a little too stagey for my liking). The first two acts introducing Suvorin, the card game Faro, the countess and her back story and the sketching of Suvorin's plan to seduce her ward to learn the countess's secret of success, creep along at glacial pace and frequently can't help but lapse into an almost comic melodrama. If you've a liking for gypsies, you'll see plenty of them singing and dancing ... for whatever reason I'm not really sure. Things aren't really helped by the overindulged musical soundtrack, which doesn't really lend itself to a film purporting to tell a story of supernatural dread.

Turning the usual on its head (to an extent) the third act does tend to hit its straps more successfully than the earlier parts of the film. An uneasy eeriness certainly does prevail over a couple of key late scenes, but then it's all over ... cue the credits.

I have to admit that I was expecting greater things from the legendary director Thorold Dickinson, whose other films I haven't seen. Perhaps I can't be too hard on him, as he was only brought into the production a few days before the cameras began to roll. But spades doesn't measure up as a strong suit to play in this case.
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8/10
Queen of Spades
Scarecrow-8823 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A Captain of the Russian army, with little money, becomes mad for the secret of three cards which could yield a fortune. That Captain, Suvorin(Anton Walbrook, who is mesmerizing)reads about Countess Ranevskaya(Edith Evans)who, facing public scrutiny after she commits adultery with a thief who desires money from a locked box, sells her soul instead of being found out of her sins. Given the powerful secret of three cards, she carves out quite a wealthy living at the gambling table. Suvorin wants the secret of the cards more than anything and will manipulate her servant, Lizaveta Ivanova(Yvonne Mitchell)so that he can get in to meet the Countess. Using a handbook regarding selling your soul for profit and success, he uses certain poetic words to work over a naive, impressionable Lizaveta, who is burdened by the demanding Countess. What happens to Countess when a crazed Suvorin puts a pistol to her one snowy night, makes up the haunting elements of this well-mounted, extravagantly produced, beautifully lighted tale.

You could call this a macabre costume drama..even at 95 minutes, this is epic in scope accurately depicting the 19 Century well with large, massive sets. It's quite stunning to behold, actually. The film might start out rather slow, but it gets better and better as time passes and the greedy dementia of Suvorin, a man who wants to know what wealth and privilege taste like, takes shape when it appears the secret he so longs for seems completely out of reach. The final 30 or so minutes is really marvelous as the supernatural elements come into play creating quite a spooky mood. And, the tragedy of Suvorin is a very powerful ingredient to the story.
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7/10
Admirable Russian Story.
rmax3048239 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This is a nifty tale of passion and mysticism revolving around the obsession of an impoverished Army Captain in the Russian Army in the Napoleonic era to make a fortune at gambling. Anton Walbrook is Herman, the protagonist who looks like Roman Polanski. He's distant from the other officers, a bit unfriendly, and seems content to stay that way but, man, would he like to beat them all at a game of cards and carry off a king's ransom in kopeks.

The problem is that, as it stands, he can't afford to "risk the necessary to obtain the superfluous." That kind of phraseology, plus certain other things like the retention of patronyms, makes me think the writers hewed fairly close to Pushkin's original story. And, well, why not? It's easier to steal dialog than to make it up.

Dame Edith Evans is all lace and ancient fragility, is terribly wealthy, lives in a remote estate, and is rumored to have sold her soul to the devil in order to learn how to win at cards. Walbrook would like nothing more than to squeeze the secret out of her or, given his crafty nature, wheedle it out of her. However, she won't see him.

So Walbrook sets about courting Evans' beautiful young ward, Yvonne Mitchell, who looks like a cross between Brenda Marshall ("The Sea Wolf") and Isabella Rosselini ("Blue Velvet"). It could be worse. Leona Helmsley might have been somewhere in that mix. Walbrook's seduction is clandestine and passionate and Mitchell falls for it, although in truth he has no more interest in her than in his old boots.

A meeting with Mitchell gets Walbrook inside Evans' estate. He sneaks into the old woman's room and begs her for the secret of the cards. She stares back in silent expectation. (A terrific performance on her part.) When she doesn't answer he pulls out a pistol and threatens her, at which she crosses herself and passes away. When he confesses this to Mitchell, who loves her guardian, Mitchell throws him out.

Later he seems to be visited by Evans' ghostly presence who whispers to him that the three winning cards in the game of faro are the three, the seven, and the ace. But the presence confides this only on the condition that he marry Mitchell. Walbrook DOES seek out Mitchell and ask to marry her but she heaps calumny upon him and slips away.

Walbrook is humiliated but he seems to think, well, what the hell, he's got the three secret cards anyway. Three, seven, and ace -- right? He borrows every penny his life is worth, shows up at the officers' card game, and begins to play. First hand: the three wins, and Walbrook doubles his bet. Second hand: the seven wins, and Walbrook doubles his bet again, while everyone gulps with awe at the amount of cash now at stake. Third hand: he doubles his bet yet again. Result: you'll have to see it.

There have been a couple of negative comments on the film and I can understand why. The sound isn't everything it could be. But, at least on my DVD, it was clear enough to follow with little trouble. Then, too, it might be that some people were hoping for a different kind of story, one of those depressing Schlachtfests where half a dozen happy-go-lucky adolescents get disarticulated by chain saws.

This isn't that kind of movie at all. What we have is the suggestion of the supernatural, not horror. But careful attention has been paid to elements like set dressing and wardrobe. And the acting is of at least professional caliber. Walbrook sounds stagy but very effective in his role of scuzz bag. Oh, how he HISSES his declaration of love into Mitchell's ear. There are mazurkas, gypsy singers, much lace and feathers, vodka in one gulps, gentle falls of phony snow, operas, slaps across the face inviting duels. Yet it's not a "big" film with a multitude of foofaraws. No sweeping vistas or vast crowds. Scenes mostly take place in cluttered rooms or nooks and crannies on the streets. It reminded me quite strongly of "Dead of Night" (1945) and, less so, of Val Lewton's supernatural thrillers at RKO.

At any rate, I found it enjoyable, though for the first few minutes I wondered where it was going.
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6/10
Best Film nominee my arse! Cinematography and acting can't save this overrated film from a dumb plot points and stupid characters.
Death_to_Pan_and_Scan18 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Yes, the cinematography is quite good and the cast includes some respected actors and its from a Pushkin short story, hopefully the source did a better job of telling the story. It's a good concept, but I wasn't overly impressed with the execution. The film had some annoying plot points that weighed this film down and which may or may not be attributed to the source material.

I didn't like any of the characters the least bit, so I hope I wasn't supposed to. I couldn't begin to feel sorry for young Lizaveta Ivanova being willingly under the thumb of a truly obnoxious rich old crone who had apparently sold not only her soul to the devil, but her personality as well. I can't imagine too many people really missing Old Countess Ranevskaya when she died, she was like the poster child for why some young people neither like nor respect their elders. She was a grumpy unlikable old control freak only slightly less annoying than Tallulah Bankhead's religious freak in Hammer's "Die! Die! My Darling!". Anton Walbrook did a good job of portraying Suvorin, the gambler who doesn't want to actually gamble anything. He's a man who is looking to sell his soul to gain wealth and power, yet by his actions he seems to be lacking one to bargain with.

***SPOILER ALERT*** Here are some stupid plot points that helped kill this film for me: #1- Oh no, she has found the secret staircase behind the bookshelf! Where is the key, I must find it! Big.F-ing.Deal. So there's a secret staircase, with which she could do what…escape your royal annoyingness forever by slipping out through the room that you rarely seem to leave? If she could leave by that door she could just as easily walk out the front door and get herself a life of her own. I can't see why the secret room should be such a big deal if it has no treasure hidden within it, which seems to be the case since no one found anything other than a staircase concealed there. It only seems to exist to give Savorin an escape route later in the film. Yes, the look she gives Savorin as he exits the bookcase is a nice shot.

#2- The ending scene of the Faro game created good tension, but ended rather stupidly. The mysteriously changing Faro card: This could be pretty eerie if it made any sense. So we are to assume the old woman did it from beyond her grave? Would the devil she sold her soul to really care to help her shortchange another wishing to sell his soul for the same secret? If I want to watch a movie centering around a deck of playing cards, I think I'll go watch the superior original "Manchurian Candidate" again.

#3- The happy sappy crappy ending with the birds. If Ivanova wanted a real happy ending much earlier, she could have freed herself from the cage she allowed herself to be in.

Somehow this overrated film was nominated for the BAFTA for Best British film the same year that Carol Reed's great "The Third Man" deservedly won it. The only other film also nominated that year that I had heard of was "Kind Hearts and Coronets". "Queen of Spades" was produced by Anatole de Grunwald whom the movie trailer on the DVD tells me also produced other 'great' films which I have not seen and as such I am expected to assume that this film must then be some must-see masterpiece. This wouldn't be the first or the last time that a producer made an acclaimed film and followed it with a mediocre overrated picture.

This pretty costume drama of a film meandered around boring me for a while, then gave me a bad romance between a stupidly smitten girl and conniving man and adds a third to the triangle with a boring character and after the death of an obnoxious old woman concludes with a tense, but ultimately ridiculous card game.

Do you really want good 'slow burn Brit horror'? Watch the 1973 "The Wicker Man" instead.
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6/10
Good looking
begob21 April 2016
A middle ranking soldier in the Russian imperial army is stung in to taking on his superiors at a card game, convincing himself that the secret of success lies in the spooky past of an aristocratic dame. Can he win? And at what cost?

Melodrama with a noir feel, which just about qualifies as horror. The photography is outstanding, with light/shadow/angles creating soulful atmosphere, and the director does some great combinations of music and close-ups on old actresses.

At first the story is a bit slow and muddled, but it does wind up to an intense climax. The characters don't really matter or say anything true, and the most touching scene is with an extra mourning over a coffin. The actors are good although sometimes stagey - that's the dialogue for you. Also lots of nice touches with minor characters, and I got the feel there was a lot of satire sacrificed for the sake of an underwhelming romance.

Music is orchestral, mostly effective, sometimes overblown - but the gypsy singers create an exotic mood + the coffin scene has a mournful hymn.

Overall: lots of quality, but script/direction should have been sharper.
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2/10
I was disappointed
lucky_dice_mgt23 August 2008
Well this movie did not do it for me. I watched it 3 times and I found much of the dialog to be hard to decipher and there were long passages of very boring scenes { like the dancing scenes while the card playing was going on } . Nothing scary happens and I was hoping the movie had more of a diabolical evil feel to it { since it involves cards, evil, the devil, selling ones soul, etc..} .

I personally am a huge fan of slow burn, P.G. horror films, but this film is not nearly as good as other slow burn horror films like Curse of the Demon or Picture of Dorian Gray. In fact, after I purchased the 2 DVD disc set and watched it 3 times, I gave it to a friend of mine for his collection because I didn't even like the other movie included in the DVD set {Dead of Night} . Since I seem to disagree with many other reviewers on this forum, I think it may be necessary for me to make a small list of my top 3 favorite horror films and my top 3 horror films I think are most overrated :

Top 3 :

1. Curse of Frankenstein 2. Night of Living Dead 3. Shockwaves

Top 3 overrated :

1. Halloween 2. Dawn of the Dead 3. Last House on Left
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7/10
A long build for the payoff, but absolutely worth it
lemon_magic1 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I admit,the movie drags a bit in spots for my tastes (I tend to go for slapstick, Monty Python whimsy, and high powered action), but "Queen Of Spades" was a very well done tale of destiny and doom. The nature of the story lends itself to a much shorter "Tales From The Crypt/"Dead of Night" anthology feature if needed (in fact, I can see that it has been done this way), but the heft and quality of the direction, acting and set designs have filled out the potentially "sketchy" parts into something compelling.

The protagonist, especially as played by the actor, is an unsympathetic and unappealing mix of coldness, ambition, ruthlessness and envy...and yet you can't entirely blame him, as Life seems to have dealt him a pretty harsh hand. And whatever his faults and schemes, it turns out that his seeming scheme to seduce the ingénue is really a cover for the chance to beg or force a magical secret out of the girl's aunt. (So he's a scoundrel, but not a cad".) When things go wrong, it's not really his fault (although he is directly responsible for at least one death, it's more manslaughter than murder).

So watching him get his comeuppance is not a particularly comfortable process - most of us can see a little of ourselves in the character as he is depicted here, and we can easily imagine ourselves in the same predicament if Fate were to single us out to doom us with our own character flaws.

We agreed that for a film made in 1949, the movie felt much "older", and I, for one, completely forgot that I was watching a bunch of Brits portraying 19th century era Russians until the credits rolled. And that the movie managed to be really creepy when it wanted to be.

Not for every taste, but worth your time if you like Pushkin, Russians, British cinema or slow-burn tales of the supernatural.
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8/10
Your win.....my win
AAdaSC10 June 2013
In the early 1800s, Russian soldiers entertain themselves by playing cards and whoring with gypsies. However, for one under-achieving military man Anton Walbrook (Suvorin), this is a waste of time. "What?!!" - I hear you cry - "How can that possibly be a waste of time?" - well, I didn't write it, so don't shoot the messenger. Walbrook has a much darker take on life and he's also got a problem with being a bit of a nobody. So he buys a book from a spooky bookkeeper Ivor Barnard. This book holds the key to bargaining with the devil to win a fortune by playing a card game and it names a certain old Countess Edith Evans (Ranevskaya) as having gone through this particular process. Walbrook is desperate to meet Evans and get the secret to everlasting wealth from her, ie, the secret of the cards.

The character names can be confusing in this film, particularly at the beginning, but this doesn't really affect the proceedings as it is fairly easy to understand the relationships between the characters and that's what matters. Edith Evans puts on a good show as a Miss Haversham type, while Yvonne Mitchell (Liza) is OK as her young companion but gets annoying in the scene when she realizes that she has been used by Anton Walbrook. Walbrook holds our interest in the lead role as he pursues his goal for wealth and plays love rival to cavalry officer Ronald Howard (Andrei) for the attentions of Mitchell.

The story is filmed with shadows and mirror images which add to its dark and creepy atmosphere, with great settings and costumes. It's a treat to watch and has some genuinely spooky moments. Did all of that really just happen? Or is it in Walbrook's mind? Either way, the film will leave you with some scary images to mull over while you are lying in bed and trying to get to sleep, together with a feeling of other-worldliness. There is a particularly well done sequence when we hear the dead Mrs Evans coming for Walbrook.

So, it's time to break out a deck of cards and get some wealth - after all, I now know the secret.
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6/10
Takes a bit too long to get going Warning: Spoilers
This movie is not so well known judging the amount of reviews and votes it got here. That is a pity because it really is worth a view. I quite enjoyed but the build-up is slow and quite long, a bit too long as I found myself dozing of a few times. The party scenes with the dancing gypsies were stretched out and really not important to the story. The movie could have done better with some 15 to 20 minutes cut out. The story itself reminded me a bit of Faust where a man would sell his soul to the devil in order to gather fortune. This is what German wants to achieve. He wants to know the secret of the cards so he can become rich by one simple card game. He finds out that the old countess Ranevskaya knows this secret and draws up a plan to get to talk to woman. He does anything to achieve this even seducing and writing love letters to the countess adopted grandchild Lizaveta. So in the last 20 minutes this movie finally gets going with some exciting scenes between German and the countess and the card game between German and Andrei.
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