The Queen of Spades (1949 film)

Last updated

The Queen of Spades
The Queen of Spades FilmPoster.jpeg
Theatrical re-release poster
Directed by Thorold Dickinson
Written by
Produced by Anatole de Grunwald
Cinematography Otto Heller
Edited byHazel Wilkinson
Music by
De Grunwald Productions for Associated British Picture Corporation
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 16 March 1949 (1949-03-16)(London)
  • 30 June 1949 (1949-06-30)(US)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£232,500 [1]
Box office£107,250 (UK) [2]

The Queen of Spades is a 1949 British fantasy-horror film based on the 1834 short story of the same name by Alexander Pushkin. It stars Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans and Yvonne Mitchell. Evans and Mitchell were better known at the time as stage actors; this film was their cinematic debut. [3]



Captain Herman Suvorin is a Russian officer of the engineers in St Petersburg in 1806. He constantly watches the other officers gamble at faro, but never plays himself because he is averse to the risk of losing his money.

Herman overhears gossip among several military officers about the aging Countess Ranevskaya, who knows the secret of winning at cards and won a large sum of money after selling her soul, several decades earlier in her youth. Later Herman purchases a book titled The Strange Secrets of the Count de Saint Germain purporting to tell the true stories of people who sold their souls for wealth, power or influence. One chapter of the book describes how in 1746 a "Countess R***" obtained the secret from the count and subsequently won a fortune from gambling. The countess had to promise not to disclose the secret. Herman assumes "Countess R***" is Countess Ranevskaya.

The countess (now very elderly) has a young ward, Lizavyeta Ivanovna. Andrei, a military officer of noble birth and a friend of Herman, encounters Lizavyeta in a bird market and decides to become her suitor. At the same time, Herman tries to seduce Lizavyeta with love letters in order to persuade her to let him into the countess's house. Andrei discovers Herman's advances, breaks off their friendship and warns Lizavyeta that Herman is dangerous. Lizavyeta rejects Andrei's warning.

Herman gains access to the house and accosts the countess, demanding the secret. He offers to assume her sin in exchange. He repeats his demands, but she does not speak. He draws a pistol and threatens her, and the old lady dies of fright. Herman then flees to the apartment of Lizavyeta in the same building. There he confesses to frightening the countess to death. He defends himself by saying that the pistol was not loaded. He escapes from the house with the aid of Lizavyeta, who is disgusted to learn that his professions of love were a mask for greed.

Herman attends the funeral of the countess, and is terrified to see the deceased open her eyes in the coffin and look at him. Later that night, Herman reads a chapter of his book titled "The Dead Will Give Up Their Secrets". Subsequently, the ghost of the countess visits his apartment. The ghost names the secret of the three cards (three, seven, ace), but orders him to marry Lizavyeta as a condition. The next day Herman tries to reconcile with Lizavyeta, but she again rejects him.

Herman takes his entire savings to a gaming salon. When he arrives, Andrei challenges him to a duel. Herman accepts on condition that Andrei play a hand of faro with him; Andrei accepts. Herman bets all his savings on the three of spades and wins. Herman and Andrei agree on a second round, which Herman wins on the seven of spades. A third round is played. Herman spots the ace of spades in his hand in front of the queen of spades. Herman places his selected card face down on the table and bets on the ace—but when cards are shown, he finds he has bet on the queen of spades and loses everything. Showing compassion, Andrei escorts a very distraught Herman from the gambling table, who mumbles repeatedly "three, seven, ace … three, seven, queen".

Lizavyeta and Andrei celebrate their future happiness together by fulfilling Lizavyeta's dream of purchasing every bird in the bird market and setting them all free.



The screenplay was adapted from a short story of the same name by Alexander Pushkin, with a script written by Arthur Boys and Rodney Ackland. [4] Ackland was also originally the film's director, before disagreements with producer Anatole de Grunwald and star Walbrook, caused him to be replaced at a few days notice by Thorold Dickinson, who also rewrote sections of the script. [3]

The film was shot at Welwyn Studios in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, using sets created by William Kellner, from original designs by Oliver Messel. [4] [5] It was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best British Film and was entered into the 1949 Cannes Film Festival. [6]


The Queen of Spades was once considered lost, but was rediscovered and later re-released in British cinemas on 26 December 2009. [4] [7] It was released on Region 2 DVD in January 2010. [4]


As of 1 April 1950 the film earned distributor's gross receipts of £47,282 in the UK of which £17,678 went to the producer. [1]

Writing in 1949, The New York Times Bosley Crowther noted "a most beautifully accomplished cast, exquisite baroque production and staging of a tense and startling sort. If it's romantic shivers you're wanting, this is undoubtedly your film." [8]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 95% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 21 reviews, with an average rating of 8.09/10. [9]

Wes Anderson ranked it as the sixth best British film. [10] Martin Scorsese has described Thorold Dickinson as an underrated director, saying of The Queen of Spades that "this stunning film is one of the few true classics of supernatural cinema." [4] Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews rated the film an A−, calling it "A masterfully filmed surreal atmospheric supernatural tale". [11]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carol Reed</span> English film director (1906–1976)

Sir Carol Reed was an English film director and producer, best known for Odd Man Out (1947), The Fallen Idol (1948), The Third Man (1949), and Oliver! (1968), for which he was awarded the Academy Award for Best Director.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edith Evans</span> English actress (1888–1976)

Dame Edith Mary Evans, was an English actress. She was best known for her work on the stage, but also appeared in films at the beginning and towards the end of her career. Between 1964 and 1968, she was nominated for three Academy Awards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anton Walbrook</span> Austrian actor

Adolf Anton Wilhelm Wohlbrück was an Austrian actor who settled in the United Kingdom under the name Anton Walbrook. A popular performer in Austria and pre-war Germany, he left in 1936 out of concerns for his own safety and established a career in British cinema. Walbrook is perhaps best known for his roles in the original British film of Gaslight, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and The Red Shoes.

<i>The Queen of Spades</i> (opera) 1890 opera by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The Queen of Spades or Pique Dame, Op. 68 is an opera in three acts by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to a Russian libretto by the composer's brother Modest Tchaikovsky, based on the 1834 novella of the same name by Alexander Pushkin, but with a dramatically altered plot. The premiere took place in 1890 at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

<i>Gaslight</i> (1944 film) Film by George Cukor

Gaslight is a 1944 American psychological thriller film directed by George Cukor, and starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten and Angela Lansbury in her film debut. Adapted by John Van Druten, Walter Reisch, and John L. Balderston from Patrick Hamilton's play Gas Light (1938), it follows a young woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she is descending into insanity.

<i>Gaslight</i> (1940 film) 1940 British film by Thorold Dickinson

Gaslight is a 1940 British psychological thriller film directed by Thorold Dickinson which stars Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard, and features Frank Pettingell. The film adheres more closely to the original play upon which it is based – Patrick Hamilton's Gas Light (1938) – than does the 1944 MGM remake. The play had been performed on Broadway as Angel Street, so when the MGM remake was released in the United States, it was given the same title as the American production.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Associated British Picture Corporation</span> Film production company

Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC), originally British International Pictures (BIP), was a British film production, distribution and exhibition company active from 1927 until 1970 when it was absorbed into EMI. ABPC also owned approximately 500 cinemas in Britain by 1943, and in the 1950s and 60s owned a station on the ITV television network. The studio was partly owned by Warner Bros. from about 1940 until 1969; the American company also owned a stake in ABPC's distribution arm, Warner-Pathé, from 1958. It formed one half of a vertically integrated film industry duopoly in Britain with the Rank Organisation.

The Queen of Spades is a 1982 film adaptation of the 1834 Alexander Pushkin short story of the same name.

<i>The Queen of Spades</i> (1916 film) 1916 film

The Queen of Spades is a 1916 film adaptation of the 1834 Aleksandr Pushkin short story of the same name. It is noted for its high production values, directorial technique and psychological depth of acting, especially by Ivan Mosjoukine. It is considered to be one of the best pre-revolutionary Russian films.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rodney Ackland</span>

Rodney Ackland was an English playwright, actor, theatre director and screenwriter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Otto Heller</span> Czech cinematographer

Otto Heller, B.S.C. was a Czech cinematographer long resident in the United Kingdom. He worked on more than 250 films, including Richard III (1955), The Ladykillers (1955) and Peeping Tom (1960).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Chapman (actor)</span> English actor

Edward Chapman was an English actor who starred in many films and television programmes, but is chiefly remembered as "Mr. William Grimsdale", the officious superior and comic foil to Norman Wisdom's character of Pitkin in many of his films from the late 1950s and 1960s.

<i>Great Expectations</i> (1974 film) 1974 US/UK drama film by Joseph Hardy

Great Expectations is a 1974 film made for television based on the Charles Dickens 1861 novel of the same name. It was directed by Joseph Hardy, with screenwriter Sherman Yellen and music by Maurice Jarre, starring Michael York as Pip, Simon Gipps-Kent as Young Pip and Sarah Miles as Estella. The production, for Transcontinental Films and ITC, was made for US television and released to cinemas in the UK. It broke with tradition by having the same actress play both the younger and older Estella. The film was shot by Freddie Young. It was filmed in Eastmancolor and it was entered into the 9th Moscow International Film Festival in 1975.

"The Queen of Spades" is a short story with supernatural elements by Alexander Pushkin about human avarice. Pushkin wrote the story in autumn 1833 in Boldino, and it was first published in the literary magazine Biblioteka dlya chteniya in March 1834.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thorold Dickinson</span>

Thorold Barron Dickinson was a British film director, screenwriter, film editor, film producer, and Britain's first university professor of film. Dickinson's work received much praise, with fellow director Martin Scorsese describing him as "a uniquely intelligent, passionate artist... They're not in endless supply."

Sidney Henry Cole was a British film and television producer. Earlier in his career he worked as a film editor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brown Derby (actor)</span> Scottish actor

Brown Derby was a Scottish film and television actor. He made his film debut as Edith Evans's footman in Thorold Dickinson's classic The Queen of Spades (1949). He played Sergeant Roberts, too, in Suspended Alibi. Derby had a regular role as Scott-Erskine in the BBC's The Omega Factor, and also starred in Dr. Finlay's Casebook, Z-Cars, The Saint, Sutherland's Law, Play for Today, Take The High Road and many other British television shows.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Queen of Spades (Prokofiev)</span> Film score composed by Sergei Prokofiev

The Queen of Spades, Op. 70, is the score composed by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936 for the planned but unrealized film by Mikhail Romm. The film was to be based on the 1834 short story "The Queen of Spades" by Alexander Pushkin, and was intended for release in 1937, the centenary of Pushkin's death. It is one of Prokofiev's least known pieces.

<i>The Queen of Spades</i> (2016 film) 2016 Russian film

Queen of Spades is a 2016 Russian thriller film directed by Pavel Lungin. The picture is about opera singers preparing for a performance in the Queen of Spades.

Noreen Ackland was a British film editor active primarily in the 1960s. She was married to film editor Richard Best. She got her start during World War II when she joined the editing room at the Army Kinematograph Unit. She worked as an assistant to Reginald Mills early on before getting her first full editor credit on the thriller Peeping Tom (1960).


  1. 1 2 Chapman, J. (2022). The Money Behind the Screen: A History of British Film Finance, 1945-1985. Edinburgh University Press p 355.
  2. Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p489
  3. 1 2 "The Queen of Spades (1949)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Tale of luckless director dealt bad hand". The Herald . 24 December 2009.
  5. "BFI Screenonline: Queen of Spades, The (1949) Credits".
  6. "Festival de Cannes: The Queen of Spades". Retrieved 11 January 2009.
  7. Bradshaw, Peter (17 December 2009). "The Queen of Spades | Film review". The Guardian .
  8. C, B. (1 July 1949). "At the Little Cine Met" via
  9. "The Queen of Spades (1949)". Rotten Tomatoes . Fandango . Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  10. "100 Best British Films: Directors". Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  11. Schwartz, Dennis. "queenofspades". Dennis Schwartz. Retrieved 22 August 2018.