I first saw the original (black and white) film on TV when I was a kid and have never forgotten it, especially one scene in particular which I shall come to later.
The later film follows the plot of the first film closely. The dialogue is often word-for-word. The main difference action-wise is that several doses of nudity have been added to the 1983 version, including an embarrassingly tacky cat-fight with whips. In IMDb's trivia section for this movie it is stated, twice, that the whip scene was already in the 1945 version but it certainly was NOT in the one that I saw.
The original film is wonderfully cast: the mild-mannered but sympathetically dignified Sir Ralph (Griffith Jones) the gentleman-rogue highwayman (James Mason) the irritatingly pious butler Hogarth (Felix Aylmer) the dashing Kit Locksby (Michael Rennie) and sweet Caroline (Patricia Roc).
Interestingly, Patricia Roc (the supporting actress) is actually more beautiful than Barbara Lockwood, but Lockwood, in the role of the scheming and danger-loving wicked Lady, carries the film with ease and one feels that nobody could have played the role so perfectly! All this, however, is far from the case with the remake. Sir Ralph is played by a far, far too old and unattractive Denholm Elliot.
Kit Locksby is played by a totally undashing and wooden Oliver Tobias.
Glynis Barber is OK as Caroline and Geilgud is pretty much the same as Aylmer in the butler role.
It is clear that the producers have been very careful to make the supporting actresses much less attractive than 'star' Dunaway! This can be seen not only in the Carolines but in Ralph's sister Henrietta who, in the first film, is attractive and arch (Enid Stamp-Taylor) but plain and peevish in the second (Prunella Scales).
Alan Bates manages the highwayman role OK, until the speech-before-the-hanging scene. Here you can't help but compare him to Mason and I'm afraid he falls very far short.
But all this would be sort of acceptable if the lead could carry the most important role, the wicked Lady herself. But Faye Dunaway is just not in the same league as Lockwood. And because so many scenes are exactly the same as the original, you can't help but compare them.
Add to this the fact that Winner has added several instances of gratuitous nudity along with a tacky sex-by-an-open-fire scene between Tobias and Barber. To avoid confusion let me emphasise that the following concerns the original Wicked Lady film and NOT the remake! This film succeeds because it precisely balances all our conflicting sympathies. Yes, we DO feel sorry for Caroline that Barbara comes and steals the love of her life, Sir Ralph; but we also understand that Barbara soon gets bored with his staidness. She may be wicked but she's FUN and we enjoy to see her impose her own terms upon the household: opening the locked room with the secret passage and moving in there to have both her independence and an escape route to freedom and excitement.
When she begins her wild affair with the highwayman she cuckolds Ralph and yet we don't feel very sorry for him because we know that he was not only foolish to have married her in the first place but in doing so he spurned and humiliated the gentle Caroline.
Eventually Barbara's lawlessness leads to harm: her killing of the coachman, Ned (for which she seems to feel genuine remorse) and then the poisoning of the butler. When Hogarth discovers Barbara's wicked ways she realises all will be lost if he talks. Quickly understanding the only way to get round him, Barbara appeals to his spiritual pride, begging him to help her 'reform'.
And so begins a regime of 'goodness' and 'good works'. This is rather comical and we sympathise with her trials, and, strangely, continue to sympathise with her, even when she uses poison to get rid of her tormentor. But when the dying butler threatens to talk, Barbara must deal with the situation quickly, and deal with it she does.
In the movie's, for me, most unforgettable scene, Barbara presses the pillow on Hogarth's face to finish him off. I don't know quite why the director felt obliged to make an insertion at this point but we are given a sudden extreme close-up of her eyes looking shifty, perhaps intended to remind us of her wickedness or possible simply to remind us that Ralph and the others are just beyond the curtain. Whatever, but after this insert we are given a shot so beautifully framed and lighted that Lady Barbara looks almost angelic. And as she finishes the deed she gives a little sigh of accomplishment that is almost orgasmic! The film manipulates our sympathies so deftly that we don't really grasp how immoral it all really is.
Caroline is united in the end with her Ralph and we think this is only right and good. After all, Ralph is the one who, in a key scene, stands up to all the other landowners and judges and even berates them for their treatment of the poor, showing that, though mild at home, he CAN be tough when it comes to fighting for justice.
Note how, in this scene in the later movie, Ralph's speech is severely curtailed, making him seem far more weak and ineffectual.
The remake in fact handles everything very coarsely. Winner and Dunaway make Barbara so grotesque that we can neither identify with her nor feel sympathy for her.
So, if you're planning to watch The Wicked Lady (1983) please don't bother but hunt down a copy of the original from 1945. You won't be disappointed!
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