Cast & Crew
In October 1848, when young Frenchwoman Madeline Minot arrives at the New York townhouse of Thevenet, the elderly grandfather of her lover, Paul De Lage, she is disturbed to observe a rowdy party inside. Thinking that she must have the wrong address, Madeline goes to nearby Flaherty's tavern and confides in Dupin, a kind, but cynical man who is unable to pay his bar bill. Although Dupin advises her to go back to France, she returns to the house with a letter from Paul, a French patriot who has been estranged from his grandfather for many years. Once admitted to the house, Madeline is suspicious of the glamorous Lorna Bounty, Thevenet's housekeeper, and frightened of Thevenet's pet raven, Villon. Thevenet, who is dying of dissipation, dismisses her letter, which seeks money to finance the intellectuals of the new French revolution, but allows her to stay. Later, in the kitchen, Lorna, Martin, the butler, and Mrs. Flynn, the cook, express concern that after years of waiting for Thevenet's money, they may be cheated out of it by Madeline. That night, as Madeline sleeps, Thevenet enters her room and warns her to be careful. The next morning, when Madeline goes to mail a letter to Paul, she sees Dupin entering the tavern and asks for his help, telling him that the servants are trying to poison Thevenet. Dupin accompanies her to a pharmacist, who tells them that the substance she found in Thevenet's room is merely sugar water. Dupin advises her to see Thevenet's attorney, Durand, deducing that the servants are withholding the old man's medicine. Dupin then goes to the house on the pretext of looking for Madeline and meets Lorna, whom he recognizes as a former stage actress. That night, as a wild Halloween party is being held at Thevenet's, Madeline again goes to Dupin, worried that Lorna is killing Thevenet with drink. Dupin then goes to the house and flirts with Lorna until Thevenet suddenly screams that everyone should get out and asks to speak with Dupin alone. Thevenet, who likes Dupin because he is both a cynic and a poet, tells him that Madeline needs a friend. After Dupin warns Thevenet that he is a fool to reward his murderers with his fortune, Thevenet orders Martin to send for Durand. Later, Dupin accepts a loan from Lorna to pay his rent and tavern bill, then kisses her. After he leaves, Martin follows him, but Dupin eludes him. The next evening, as Dupin dines with Madeline in a restaurant, Thevenet dictates a new will to Durand, then secretly drops poison into his bedside brandy glass. Just after signing the will, he starts to have an attack, and an unnerved Durand finishes the glass of brandy and calls for the doctor. When Madeline and Dupin return to the house and see a coffin being carried out they assume that it contains Thevenet's body but learn from Mrs. Flynn that it is Durand who has died. They go to see Thevenet, who can neither speak or move, apparently the victim of a stroke. Thevenet uses the movement of his eyes to draw Dupin's attention to the empty brandy glass and further glances toward Villon and the barometer on the wall. Unable to decipher Thevenet's clues and suspicious of Lorna's lack of concern, Dupin takes the glass and leaves. Madeline runs after him and Dupin says that he had been concerned that Lorna might kill Durand if Thevenet wrote a new will and tells her about Thevenet's clues. At the pharmacist's, they learn that the glass contained arsenic that Thevenet himself had bought many months before. Dupin then deduces that Thevenet intended to commit suicide and Durand's death was an accident. Dupin and Madeline return to the house just as the doctor pronounces Thevenet dead. As Martin searches for the will, Lorna tells him to pack Madeline's things, then orders her out of the house. The next day, at Flaherty's, Lorna approaches Dupin and feigns sorrow over Thevenet's death, then offers him more money if he will help her locate the new will. He refuses the money, but agrees to help her find the will, then mysteriously suggests to Flaherty that he might never come back. At the house, Dupin tells Lorna that the new will is in the bedroom, then suddenly realizes that Villon must have put the will in the fireplace beneath the barometer. Dupin grabs the will and tries to run, but Martin fights him. When the local policeman, who was alerted by Flaherty, arrives, Dupin reads aloud Thevenet's will: all of the money goes to Paul, but the house and furnishings are bequeathed to Lorna and Martin, provided that they never move or sell anything from the house, so that they can live out their days in "comfort and happiness." As Dupin walks away, Lorna asks for her money and he says that someday he will not be hard to find. At the tavern, Madeline talks with Flaherty, who shows her Dupin's IOU, which reads "IOU $8.70--Edgar Allan Poe." Flaherty concludes that it will never be worth anything.
Helyn Eby Rock
A. Cameron Grant
George J. Folsey
Newell P. Kimlin
Edwin B. Willis
The Man With a Cloak
This brings us to The Man with a Cloak, based on a John Dickson Carr story and released by MGM in 1951. The identity of the eponymous hero isn't revealed until the final shot, but if you haven't guessed it a few reels before that, you weren't paying much attention in junior high. In the spirit of the film, I'll give a brief summary of the plot and spring the revelation on you at the end of the next paragraph. A spoiler alert would normally be appropriate, but with a mystery this easy I think we can do without one.
The year is 1848 and the place is New York City, where young Madeline Minot has just arrived from France to make the acquaintance of Charles Thevernet, her fiancé's grandfather. Thevenet is a crusty old codger who served under Napoleon in his youth, and Madeline needs some of his money to help out the fiancé and the future of the French Republic, which he's fighting for across the sea. Madeline locates Thevernet's house easily enough, but decides she must be in the wrong place, because some sort of riotous party appears to be raging inside. Doing what any decent nineteenth-century woman would do, she heads for the local saloon to rest and get her bearings. There she meets Flaherty, the kind of fatherly bartender you only find in movies, and the Man with a Cloak, who calls himself Dupin and spends his days drinking Flaherty's liquor on credit. Returning to Thevernet's home, Madeline finds him living in a state of constant emotional warfare it wasn't a party she heard, it was an out-of-control brawl with his household staff, who can't wait for him to die so they can get their hands on his fortune. Madeline instinctively sides with Thevernet, earning the wrath of his insidious foes; when the old man dies, unable to speak but signaling that he might have been murdered, she makes up her mind to find out the truth, joined by (you guessed it) the Man with a Cloak, who seems to have a knack for detective work. That's the storyline, so put together the clues sprinkled through it: the cloak, the booze, the detective work, the nineteenth century, and the name Dupin, borne by one of crime fiction's most famous sleuths in stories still avidly read by admirers of the one and only...Edgar Allan Poe. Oh, did I mention that Thevernet keeps a raven in his bedroom?
The best asset of The Man with a Cloak is its cast, and its biggest shortcoming is how that cast is used. As the fortune-hunting housekeeper, suspiciously named Lorna Bounty, the marvelous Barbara Stanwyck does her best to blend wily charm with thinly veiled menace in the manner of, say, her Double Indemnity (1944) performance a few years earlier. Although she doesn't quite succeed, she manages to give the only portrayal that's even a little bit complex. Joseph Cotten has the right looks to play Dupin/Poe, and he's always fun to watch, but unfortunately he forgot that actors are supposed to act, even in pictures with weakly written scripts. He bends his elbow incessantly, hoisting vast quantities of alcohol to his mouth, and never once displays the slightest sign of inebriation, intoxication, or even tipsiness. Poe was only 40 when he died, and while the cause of his death has been disputed, it's likely that drinking played a significant part, if not a leading one. Since the movie takes place just one year before the real Poe's death, shouldn't he be showing a least a few signs of wear and tear as he downs glass after glass of Flaherty's stock?
On a brighter note, Louis Calhern has obvious fun playing old Thevernet, scowling and growling and rolling his eyes a lot. I thought Jim Backus was having fun as Flaherty, too, but a biography of Stanwyck says he hated the picture, remembering it as "a pretentious piece of merde." As for Leslie Caron, who plays Madeline, it's hard to tell what she was thinking because she speaks her lines as if they'd just been handed to her. To be fair, this was only her second movie, but her first movie was An American in Paris (1951), and the promise she'd shown there is nowhere to be found.
The culprit behind the movie's flaws is the unimaginative style of director Fletcher Markle, who had learned his craft as a writer-director for Canadian television. Perhaps he couldn't get over the disappointment of losing his first-choice actors Lionel Barrymore as the codger and Marlene Dietrich as the housekeeper because Barrymore was sick and Dietrich wasn't interested. Whatever the reason, even the first-class cinematographer George J. Folsey turns in second-rate work; judging from comments he made later, his main concern seems to have been making sure Stanwyck's makeup was on right. At least the music has touches of genuine freshness, marking a big step in David Raksin's campaign to revitalize Hollywood scores with the edginess and dissonance of modernist composing. The best reasons to watch The Man with a Cloak today are to remember Poe's ingenuity, enjoy Raksin's originality, and wish the movie as a whole had more of both.
Director: Fletcher Markle
Producer: Stephen Ames
Screenplay: Frank Fenton, based on a story by John Dickson Carr
Cinematographer: George J. Folsey
Film Editing: Newell P. Kimlin
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Arthur Lonergan
Music: David Raksin
With: Joseph Cotten (Dupin), Barbara Stanwyck (Lorna Bounty), Louis Calhern (Thevernet), Leslie Caron (Madeline Minot), Joe De Santis (Martin), Jim Backus (Flaherty), Margaret Wycherly (Mrs. Flynn), Richard Hale (Durand), Nicholas Joy (Dr. Roland), Roy Roberts (Policeman), Mitchell Lewis (Waiter).
BW-81m. Closed captioning.
by David Sterritt
The Man With a Cloak
It is difficult for anyone to speak when you listen only to yourself.- Lorna Bounty
She's after my money. Everybody is after my money.- Dupin
You must've been after it yourself to have acquired so much.- Dupin
The film's working title was The Gentleman from Paris, and some sources referred to it as Man with a Cloak. The film's opening credits end with the following written prologue: "In the lives of all men there are moments of mystery-for a man often yearns, and sometimes chooses, to wander alone and nameless. This is the tale of such a wanderer, once little known and less respected, whose real name later became immortal." According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Lionel Barrymore was originally cast in the role of "Thevenet." A M-G-M "Final Cast" list, dated June 5, 1951, includes Mercedes McCambridge as "bit girl," but she was not in the film and the inclusion May have been made in error. The Man with a Cloak was Joseph Cotten's first film at M-G-M since 1943's Gaslight (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50).
During the film, "Dupin" recites the second verse of Edgar Allan Poe's 1845 poem "The Raven." Contrary to the implication in the film that no one would have known Poe's name in 1848, at that time he was already a highly regarded poet. Poe died in 1849 at the age of forty. For additional information on Poe and other films inspired by his life and works, please see the entry for The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50.