Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry

One of the most successful plays ever written by a Welsh author was Thomas Job's Uncle Harry. Regarded as the best drama of the season in America in 1942 it ran on Broadway for 12 months. Karl Malden played the lead in many of its 430 performances.

The play itself concerns Harry and his two sisters. When Harry falls in love one of his sisters becomes horribly possessive and tries to break up the romance. The tale ends in death with a poisoning. It's a dark, claustrophobic drama with more than a hint of incest.

The playwright Thomas Job hailed from Carmarthen - St David's Avenue, to be precise. He was a grandson of the famous Methodist Dr Thomas Job of Conwil (no, me neither). After gaining qualifications at Cardiff and Aberystwyth Universities he went to America to take up an academic career. He lectured in English at Yale and Columbia and was chair of drama at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh.

In conjunction with his academic career Job began writing plays. Uncle Harry would prove to be his greatest success. In 1945 it was filmed as The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry with Robert Siodmak directing and George Sanders in the lead role. The film script was more linear in structure than Job's sophisticated play and relied less on flashbacks. There was one other fundamental difference: the ending.

Because the conclusion of Uncle Harry was deemed too shocking (and morally ambiguous) several alternative endings were shot for the film version. Amongst them was the lame: and it was all just a bad dream option. Surely they wouldn't pick that scenario for the final cut would they? Um, unfortunately yes they did. Miffed producer Joan Harrison resigned on the spot.

Today The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry is regarded as a very fine film noir with a terrible ending. Still, Job's original text is ripe for resurrection. I'd love to see this virtually forgotten drama restaged. Even more I'd like a capable film director to update The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry and give it the ending Thomas Job intended.

As for Job himself, after penning five (mostly) successful plays, he became a scriptwriter at Twentieth Century Fox. He wrote the adaptation of The Two Mrs Carrolls starring Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck. Unfortunately, in 1947, not long after embarking on this exciting new career he suffered a heart attack and died in Santa Monica. He was survived by a wife and two children.