The Queen of Spades


‘…if you’re tiring of jump-scares and monster masks, The Queen of Spades is almost certainly the best ghost story you’ve never seen….’

Films can be good and bad; only a few offer magic. Theodore Roszak’s 1991 novel Flicker is about a film-maker whose connection to the black arts allows him to put subliminal messages in his films that make them hypnotic; it’s yet to be filmed. But some movies, from Last Year in Marienbad to Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and Celine and Julie Go Boating just have that unmistakable something, an inexplicable quality that makes the film feel like something more than what’s on-screen.

The Queen of Spaces is such a film. There’s been a few brilliant horror films adapted from work by great Russian writers; Thorold Dickinson’s Alexander Pushkin adaptation has a sense of dread that chills the bones. Anton Walbrook is the manipulative Captain Suvorin who seeks the secret of a elderly countess (Edith Evans); she’s reputed to be a witch, who has sold her soul to the devil to discover how to win every card game she plays.

But at what price? Suvorin’s first mistake is to seduce the Countess’s ward to get closer to her; once he inveigles his way to the dying countess’s bedside, things are only going to go against him in the cruellest way possible. There’s a touch of the old EC Comics morality here, but stories that come from before cinema was invented (1834) always have a slightly otherworldly quality.

The Queen of Spades is a film believed lost for years, but it’s regained much of its original visual power now on streaming, with disconcerting use of glass and mirrors to create a unique sense of 1806 St Petersburg. Treasured British film stalwart Michael Medwin is also amongst the cast; if you’re tiring of jump-scares and monster masks, The Queen of Spades may well be the best ghost story you’ve never seen.


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  1. Not heard of this one either. And surprising it has beem hard to find because it was a huge critical hit in Britain in 1949 so much so that the film’s producers took out a full one-page ad in Variety to convince American exhibitors this was worth booking. Edith Evans apparently in her movie debut.

  2. Why did you use a screen cap of being caught during your webinar getting ready to cut a line of coke as the header pic? Did you get any blowback from UG for that?

    • One doesn’t normally get one’s blow back until the end of term. For clarity, that white powder was a design on the table, and I was kicking off a game of Old Maid. The card in my hand was an image of you dressed as Queen Victoria. Fact!

      • Well don’t let some administrator keep your stash in the uni evidence room. I’m sure it will go “missing” pretty quickly.

        Neat way of introducing young people to the Hollywood player lifestyle. Your coat was a deep purple, right?

        • Sigh. That picture is of the great Anton Walbrook in character. Please direct any further questions to my lawyer, who I’ll put you in touch with the moment he graduates.

  3. Yes, tracking down hard-to-find films is a lesson I’ve learned for now….but likely not forever. Looks like a library in the area has a video cassette copy. The question is… this worth going down into the depths of my snake basement to drag out the VCR?

    • Don’t take any risks! I’ve seen your cupboard arrangements, they’re quite the talk of the town!

      • Just don’t sell your soul to gain access, because it ALWAYS ends badly. You have been warned…

    • It’s a little stuff from the outset, as older films often are, but it really grips like a vice. It’s a film that has suffered from unfashionability, and has been hard to pin down in a decent copy. I think it might even be on archive sites, but it’s really worth the trip for anyone who likes the finer things in cinema…

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