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Lord Camber's Ladies (1933)


Main image of Lord Camber's Ladies (1933)
35mm, black and white, 80 mins
Directed byBenn W. Levy
Production CompanyBritish International Pictures
Produced byAlfred Hitchcock
ScreenplayEdwin Greenwood, Gilbert Wakefield
Original playHorace Annesley Vachell
PhotographyJames Wilson

Cast: Gertrude Lawrence (Shirley Neville); Gerald Du Maurier (Dr Napier); Benita Hume (Janet King); Nigel Bruce (Lord Camber); Clare Greet (Peach)

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Well-known womaniser Lord Camber is romancing famous musical comedy star Shirley Neville. However, under the name John Betterton, Camber has fallen in love with florist Janet King. Despite this, Camber marries Shirley. Janet becomes a nurse and falls in love with Dr. Napier, but Lord and Lady Camber reappear in her life.

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Produced but not directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1933, Lord Camber's Ladies was dismissed by Hitchcock as simply a quota quickie for BIP - "this was a poison thing. I gave it to Benn Levy to direct". But despite his absence at the helm, the film does have a few flourishes which remind us of the master's touch - a tracking shot through a hospital ward, a startling swoon into the camera by Lady Camber, looming close-ups of a poison bottle, for example. It also has, at the beginning, a theatrical setting, something which Hitchcock explored in several films, including The Pleasure Garden (1925), Murder! (1930), and Stage Fright (1950). This was a method by which Hitchcock could explore identity and the deceptiveness of appearances - a theme of most of his major work.

Based on a 1915 play, The Case of Lady Camber, by H. A. Vachell, filmed with Violet Hopson and Stewart Rome (d. Walter West, 1920), Lord Camber's Ladies starred two of the most celebrated actors of the day, Gerald du Maurier and Gertrude Lawrence. The film's first surprise is that Lord Camber is played not by du Maurier but by Nigel Bruce, who was later to work with Hitchcock on Rebecca (US, 1940) and Suspicion (US, 1941) in Hollywood. When we first meet the character he is pretending to be someone else and in that guise has won the heart of the heroine.

In true theatre tradition, top-billed du Maurier does not appear until halfway through the story. His understated, naturalistic playing, complete with hesitations and pauses - a quality for which he was renowned on the stage - contrasts effectively with the showier, overtly theatrical style used by Gertrude Lawrence. Her opening scenes, as she prepares to go onstage to sing the kind of musical comedy number for which she herself was famous, while bickering with her lover Lord Camber, are a lovely example of the comic timing and gift for characterisation which she used to such effect in her work with Noël Coward, notably Private Lives.

Playwright and theatre director Benn Wolfe Levy was a contemporary and friend, of Hitchcock, for whom he had written dialogue (for Blackmail, 1929). A Labour MP from 1945-1950, he introduced an unsuccessful Private Member's Bill to abolish stage censorship. He also served on the Executive of the Arts Council in the 1950s. Lord Camber's Ladies appears to be his only film directing credit.

Janet Moat

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Video Clips
1. Shirley's song (3:36)
2. Unpleasant rumours (3:12)
3. Lord Camber's confession (4:31)
Hitchcock, Alfred (1899-1980)
1930s: The Invocation of Theatre in Film
English Hitchcock
Film and Theatre: 1930s
Performance in 1930s film