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Her Last Affaire (1935)

British Film Institute

Main image of Her Last Affaire (1935)
35mm, 77 min, black & white
DirectorMichael Powell
Production CompanyNew Ideal Productions
ProducersSimon Rowson
 Geoffrey Rowson
AdaptationIan Dalrymple
From a play byWalter Ellis
PhotographyLeslie Rowson

Cast: Hugh Williams (Alan Heriot); Francis L. Sullivan (Sir Julian Weyre); Viola Keats (Lady Avril Weyre); Sophie Stewart (Jody Weyre); John Laurie (Robb); Googie Withers (Effie)

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Desperate to prove his father innocent of treason, a secretary arranges a clandestine assignation with his employer's wife in order to get the proof he needs. But the plan goes awry when he becomes implicated in her sudden death

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In Her Last Affaire, Hugh Williams plays the secretary to a powerful man whose daughter he plans to marry, against the father's wishes, and who then gets mixed up in a mysterious death. Although recalling Ian Hunter's predicament in Powell's The Night of the Party (1934), the film was actually based on the play 'S.O.S.', produced by Gerald Du Maurier, which had not only provided Gracie Fields with one of her first dramatic roles in 1928, but had already been filmed under that title later the same year.

Williams' character is more interesting than Hunter's, however, because it is treated rather more ambiguously; for the first twenty minutes or so we believe he really is having an affair with his employer's wife (Viola Keats, in the role originally played by Gracie Fields). These scenes are played with surprising directness by Williams and Keats, and it is almost disappointing when we discover that he actually has an ulterior, altogether nobler, motive.

When Keats and Williams meet for their weekend in the country, the film is at its best, with strong support from John Laurie, as the innkeeper, and Googie Withers. She provides the comic relief, constantly at odds with the stern, moralising innkeeper who threatens to dismiss her, but who is really jealous of her popularity with the customers. She ends up being Williams' main ally, covering up for him when he is recalled to the inn after Lady Avril's death. The sequence is at once comical and suspenseful in the best Hitchcock manner, as Williams tries to hide from Laurie so as not to be implicated.

Leslie Rowson's cinematography contains a number of intriguing visual flourishes, such as when Williams awaits the phone call to hear of Avril's death, the tension nicely evoked by shooting with strong horizontal shadows all over the room, contrasting with the light and airy settings that have dominated before. Rowson also gets the most from the low wooden beams and strangely curving staircases of the inn and its bedroom which, all wooden paneling and furniture and dominated by a large four-poster bed, is strikingly similar to the sets and atmosphere of the pub in A Canterbury Tale (d. Powell and Pressburger, 1944).

Long thought lost, the film has been available again since the late 1980s, affording new audiences the chance to assess the most prestigious film Powell had directed up to that time.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Doctor's orders (3:26)
2. Trouble at the inn (5:10)
3. Bad news travels (1:58)
4. Fireside chat (2:01)
Complete film (1:04:59)
Dalrymple, Ian (1903-1989)
Laurie, John (1897-1980)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Withers, Googie (1917-2011)
Early Michael Powell