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Rex Harrison - 8/31
Remind Me
,The Long Dark Hall

The Long Dark Hall

By 1950, Rex Harrison's Hollywood career was considered, in the words of Hedda Hopper, "dead as a mackerel." His last film, Unfaithfully Yours (1948) from writer/director Preston Sturges, was well reviewed but a box-office disappointment. He was married to Lilli Palmer but had an affair with actress Carole Landis, which became a public scandal after her suicide. He compounded it all by telling the New York press that "he didn't give a damn what illiterate alcoholics like Louella Parsons and her ilk wrote about us," as Palmer related in her biography, a comment that set the entire Hollywood press against him. He ended his contract with 20th Century Fox and returned to the New York stage, where he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in Anne of a Thousand Days, but in Hollywood he was persona non grata.

It would be three years until his next film, and it would be back home in Britain. Harrison and Palmer had fallen in love with Italy and bought a plot of land on the Italian coast, gambling on a role in an Italian film that Harrison was being considered for. "The film fell through, but by a stroke of luck was replaced by another, and the lovely house that I built still stands there on the hill above Portofino." The new film was The Long Dark Hall, with Harrison and Palmer in the leading roles, he as a married man having an affair with a showgirl, she as his loyal wife.

The story, a wrong man murder mystery turned courtroom drama, is framed by a reporter narrating the tale to a writer who needs a true story of a man convicted of a crime he did not commit. Our reporter has just the thing. Harrison is proper English gentleman Arthur Groome, a husband and father driven to obsession in his affair, and he provides the police with all the circumstantial evidence they need after she is murdered by a shadowy serial killer. Palmer never falters in her support when he goes to trial for her murder, playing the dutiful wife who loves him unconditionally despite his affair. Anthony Dawson brings weird menace to the role of "The Man," as the nameless killer is identified in the credits, as he plays mind games with Palmer during the trial. Dawson was later utilized by Hitchcock as a more mercenary would-be murderer in Dial M for Murder (1954).

"I must say, to my shame, I hardly asked to see the script," Harrison recalls in his autobiography, and he remembers being taken aback by the part. "Not the sort of role I'm accustomed to playing." The part does, however, offer plenty of actor showcase scenes: breaking down on the stand, confessing his obsession, finally facing his sin and apologizing to his wife as all seems lost.

Nunnally Johnson originally wrote the script, adapted from British crime novelist Edgar Lustgarten's first book "A Case to Answer," for Universal Studios, which it subsequently sold. Johnson gets screenplay credit with "additional scenes and dialogue" by British screenwriter W.E. Fairchild, who gives the script a decidedly British cultural flavor, both on the streets and in the courtroom. The direction is credited to two men: Reginald Beck, a longtime editor in the British film industry who went on to a long collaboration with Joseph Losey, and Anthony Bushell, an actor and assistant director to Laurence Olivier on Hamlet (1948).

By Sean Axmaker

"Change Lobsters and Dance," Lilli Palmer. Macmillan Publishing Co., 1975.
"Rex: An Autobiography," Rex Harrison. William Morrow and Co., 1974.
"Screenwriter: Nunnally Johnson," Tom Stempel. A.S. Barnes and Co., 1980.