The Upturned Glass

The Upturned Glass is a 1947 British film noir psychological thriller directed by Lawrence Huntington and starring James Mason, Rosamund John and Pamela Kellino. The screenplay concerns a leading brain surgeon who murders a woman he believes to be responsible for the death of the woman he loved.[2]

The Upturned Glass
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLawrence Huntington
Produced byBetty E. Box
Sydney Box
James Mason
Written byPamela Kellino
Jno. P. Monaghan
StarringJames Mason
Rosamund John
Pamela Kellino
Music byBernard Stevens
CinematographyReginald H. Wyer
Edited byAlan Osbiston
Triton Films
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors
Release date
17 June 1947
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£211,300 (by Dec 1949)[1]

It was made at Gainsborough Pictures' Islington Studios, with sets designed by the art director Andrew Mazzei. It was made as an independent production overseen by Sydney Box, then head of Gainsborough.


A medical school class attends a lecture on the psychology of crime. The unnamed lecturer (James Mason) announces that while his past lectures have covered criminals with abnormal psychology, today's lecture will focus on "the sane criminal" who may have a "strong sense of justice". He then describes the case of a murderer who is a "perfectly sane, valuable member of society", a surgeon to whom he gives the fictitious name of "Michael Joyce" (also played by Mason). The film depicts Michael's story in flashbacks narrated by the lecturer, indicating to the film viewing audience that unbeknownst to the medical school class, the lecturer is telling his own story and that he and Michael are one and the same.

Michael is a skilled London surgeon and brain specialist with an established Harley Street practice. He is unhappily married and separated from his wife, has no close friends, and spends most of his time working. He meets Emma Wright (Rosamund John) when she brings her young daughter Ann (Ann Stephens), who is going blind, for a consultation. Michael performs a delicate operation to save Ann's sight. During Ann's treatment and recovery, Michael and Emma, whose husband is away on business travel, fall in love and have an affair, although neither is free to marry. Emma finally ends the affair and tells Michael they must never see each other again.

Soon afterwards, Michael learns that Emma has died from a broken neck after falling from her bedroom window at her country home. Michael attends the inquest, at which both Ann and Kate Howard, Emma's sister-in-law (Pamela Kellino), testify. Emma's death is ruled an accident, but Michael is suspicious and conducts his own investigation. In order to gather information, he romances Kate, who proves to be a greedy, shallow woman with debt problems and a grudge against her brother and Emma because her brother had inherited most of her parents' estate. Kate tells Michael that she knew Emma had a lover, but did not know who it was.

After speaking privately with the caretaker of Emma's house and with Ann, Michael concludes that Kate had tried to blackmail Emma by threatening to tell her husband and daughter about her affair. Emma, who had already ended the affair, refused to give Kate money, so Kate told Ann about the affair. Ann's upset reaction then drove her mother to commit suicide by jumping from her bedroom window. Michael, repulsed by Kate, tries to break up with her without telling her what he knows, but she insists she wants to be with him. So, on the pretext of them taking a romantic trip together, he lures Kate to Emma's former house on a night when he knows the caretaker will be away, and kills her by pushing her out the same window.

After recounting this story, the lecturer dismisses the class, reiterating in response to a student's question that the murderer was "perfectly sane - sane as I am". He then drives off campus and picks up a woman with luggage (also played by Pamela Kellino), thus confirming to the viewers that the story of "Michael Joyce" was really about him, but showing that he has not yet killed the woman he called "Kate Howard" in his lecture. He now begins to carry out the murder plan as described, luring her to the house and then revealing that he was her sister-in-law's lover. However, when he tries to push her out the window, she fights him, forcing him to choke her and thus leave evidence of a struggle. She drops the key out the window and finally falls out, causing him to have to force the lock open to exit the room. Realizing that he has left too much evidence, he moves her dead body to his car and drives away, narrowly escaping being caught by the caretaker who has unexpectedly returned.

The murderer then drives through dense fog with the body hidden in the back seat of his car, eventually encountering a local general practitioner, Dr. Farrell, whose car has broken down. Despite his fear that Farrell will discover the body in the car, the murderer reluctantly gives Farrell a ride after learning that Farrell is rushing to see a critically ill patient, a young girl who has suffered a head injury. He reveals to Farrell that he is also a doctor and that he has emotional feelings about his patients, never liking to lose a patient but also wishing that, instead of having to impartially provide medical care, he could sit in judgment and decide which patients live and which die. By contrast, Farrell is a cynic who freely admits he loses many patients and doesn't care whether they live or die, only going through the motions of expressing sympathy to the families of the deceased. Farrell is planning to tell the injured girl's mother that there is no hope of her recovery, and asks the murderer to come in with him to provide support for that opinion. However, upon seeing the patient, the murderer decides to operate and performs a complicated brain surgery in the girl's bedroom. Midway through the operation, the murderer sends Farrell to get a needed medical item from his car, forgetting that Farrell will likely see the body in the car. Farrell searches through the car to find the item and the film suggests that he sees the body, but chooses not to interrupt the operation, allowing the patient's life to be saved. Afterwards, Farrell congratulates the murderer on a good operation, but also diagnoses him as "paranoid" and "mad" based on his statements about judging who should live and who should die. The murderer leaves, with his victim's body still in his car, and drives to Beachy Head, where, disturbed by the realization that he is not sane, he commits suicide by jumping off the cliff.



James Mason and his then-wife, Pamela Kellino (Mason), had originally planned to develop a film on the Brontë family entitled The Upturned Glass, written by Pamela and starring James as Branwell Brontë. They dropped the idea after learning of the Hollywood production Devotion, and instead developed a psychological thriller under the same title, in which both Masons would play leading roles.

The film was based on a story by American serviceman Jno. P. Monaghan, whom the Masons had befriended when touring the U.S. for the American Red Cross. Kellino and Monaghan worked on the story together, and Monaghan appeared in a small role as a U.S. military truck driver.[3][4]

James Mason co-produced the film with Sydney Box, with whom he had previously worked on the Academy-Award-winning The Seventh Veil. For his work on The Upturned Glass, Mason, who at the time had "enormous drawing power", received the equivalent of $240,000 in U.S. dollars, plus a percentage of the profits.[4]


Box Office

According to trade papers, the film was a "notable box office attraction" at British cinemas in 1947.[5][6]

It earned a reported profit of £45,800.[1]


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