The Seventh Veil (1945)

The Seventh Veil (1945) is a variety of woman’s film. 

This may sound dismissive but the so-called 'woman's picture' is a sometimes unacknowledged genre from in particular the 1940s, a similarly themed series of films which focus on the mental health of domestic, middle class women. 

Often the women in these films are prisoners, either physcial or mental, or as here ― both. 

Because of this, these heroines are also generally quite paranoid.

You can tell The Seventh Veil is one such ‘paranoid woman film’ because of how it opens ― a woman in a sick bed. 

It’s Ann Todd (playing Francesca) and she is in the traditional pose of the ‘sick’ woman, in a bed, asleep one second, and the next frighteningly alert to the disturbances of her mind. 

It doesn’t matter necessarily that this bed is in a sanatorium ― these beds are just as often in houses, generally creepy, weird houses, but domestic situation nonetheless.

When she leaps out of this bed, she has suicide in mind, and races to the nearest bridge to make a further leap. 

Suicidal lady in "The Seventh Veil" (1945)

After her rescue, she is delivered to a psychiatrist played by James Mason, and he explains the curious title of the film:

"The human mind is like Salome at the beginning of her dance, hidden from the outside world by seven veils. Veils of reserve, shyness, fear. Now with friends, the average person will drop the first veil, then another, maybe three or four altogether. With a lover, she will take off five, or even six. But never the seventh. The human mind likes to cover its nakedness too, and keep its private thoughts to itself."

The open misogyny is genuinely from another time ― so pure in fact it passes straight into the plot almost without giving offence. 

“I don’t like women about the place,” says Nicholas, the bullying cousin who keeps her hostahe for over a decade, crushing her spirit, and ultimatelt her fingers.

No woman shall ever darken my door ...

“When I came to live in this house," he says, "I promised that no woman should ever enter it. So far, none ever has, you’re the first.”

What is curious of course, is that we are thereafter led to believe for the course of the film that it is the woman in this relationship that is sick. Yet all she is trying to do is survive, feel love and express herself. All of this is strictly forbidden however, and she remains a prisoner ― captive in a posh world of privelege ― but a prisoner nonetheless, and too miserable to feel anything, so much so that she is driven to madness.

Crushing disappointment, first of the spirit, then of the mind, then of the fingers.

Things become deplorably deeper, almost immediately after she arrived in the house presided over by the brooding, sick and almost villainous James Mason. This includes a mother that is never, never mentioned.  And worse ―”all the servants were men.” Shocking.

Then she tries to hug her ‘uncle’, another terrible idea, which finds her physically rebuffed. The problem is his, this is abundantly clear. Yet it is she who is in hospital.

Precious Hands

  As an extra bonus, there is some meta-criticism of the cinema thrown in, with films likened not only to psychoanalysis, which they are constantly in this period ― and films as a separate theme regarding one’s own world view ― with films being ‘the reverse of real life’ as the heroine points out. 

Hugh McDermott and Ann Todd
“Peter I want you to marry me.”
James Mason’s character Nicholas continues to be an unutterable bully. And the treatment offered from her psychoanalytic and hypnotic leading physician Doctor Larsen played by Herbert Lom, is also focused on badgering and hectoring her into reliving stressful experiences, in order to cure her ― you understand. It’s all a part of the big cure.

Herbert Lom

The climax metes out more of the same. The assembled patriarchy gather to either witness her final breakdown, or have her ‘choose’ what her future is going to be ― which man is going to win her, effectively. 

At the behest of her doctor, Francesca finds her bullying keeper, and her two lovers, neither of whom she is sure of. They are of course all in dinner suits and tails, and she makes the most ridiculous choice of all and we are supposed to accept this as an ending.

Millions did, however, even if we don't. In 2004, the British Film Institute compiled a list of the 100 biggest UK cinematic hits of all time based on audience figures, as opposed to gross takings. The Seventh Veil placed 10th in this list with an estimated attendance of 17.9 million people.

Aside from the outdated sexual politics, there is still plenty to enjoy, including some marvellous dark lighting effects. There is scene where James Mason, from offstage, watches Ann Todd alone at her piano, glowing in bright stage light against a blank background, and it is superb. 

Ann Todd - bullied into the happy life in The Seventh Veil (1945)

Sound and picture work together and the music is kept to minimum, keeping the focus on the histrionics. While Ann Todd plays strong, then weak, then strong, as she is bullied by James Mason,  Mason's acting works beautifully, as he expresses emotion struggling through layers of unexplained masculine impassivity. 

The Seventh Veil on Wikipedia

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