Candles at Nine (1944)

Genres - Drama, Mystery  |   Release Date - May 31, 1944 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 84 min.  |   Countries - UK  |  
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Jessie Matthews made some of the more interesting and entertaining musicals to come out of England during the '30s, most notably Evergreen (1934) and First a Girl (1935). But by the '40s her star had faded, and Candles at Nine was an attempt at a comeback. The results are uneven, at best, however, as the creaky pacing by director John Harlow makes the first half of the movie seem more soporific than atmospheric, with far too much talk in between the action. The scene involving the reading of the last will and testament of the deceased is nicely handled, with a superb use of a slow pan across the jealous disinheritees and a crane shot showing them all scrambling, and one related piece of dialogue is given a fine acting and visual treatment, but around it the camera moves and the dialogue are too dullish. Then, at 22-and-a-half minutes in, the movie finally takes off when Matthews shows up on screen, and the visuals, the editing, the music, and the pacing all come to life. The problem there is that she looks a little long-of-tooth for the role she's playing, in terms of the element of wide-eyed wonder that she must display at her sudden good fortune -- at 37, even with lots of energy and great makeup, she looks awkward doing a role that would have been better suited to her in 1934. Beatrix Lehmann's portrayal of the housekeeper whose services she inherits comes from the Judith Anderson school of performing, and will also recall elements of Cornelia Otis Skinner's work in The Uninvited, and her creepy portrayal is one of the best things in the movie. There are also a couple of charming (and brief) musical sequences, one of them breaking the tension at just the right moment as the thriller's plot winds tighter. The whole thing doesn't hang together seamlessly, but it's an enjoyable diversion, if one hangs in past the first 18 minutes' tedium.