Thursday, February 09, 2006


[Spoilers included] A period melodrama which shows some potential in the beginning, but eventually bogs down with two colorless leads taking attention away from two more interesting characters. Doctor George Brent meets a quirky old woman (Olive Blakeney) on a train. She is heading home for a family reunion after several years in a sanitarium (due to a heart condition) and he hears just enough about her family to pique his interest. When she winds up dead a few days later, he gets involved with her brother (Paul Lukas) and his lovely wife (Hedy Lamarr). Lamarr is a docile and distracted person who, among other things, seems to be in the habit of sending herself bouquets of daisies and claiming that she didn't. Lukas fears that she may be mentally ill, so Brent agrees to help. However, when Brent realizes he has accidentally wound up with one of Blakeney's bags from the train, he finds out more information about her family's strange background and quickly realizes that Lukas is the one with the mental problem; he's deliberately trying to drive Lamarr insane, and is completely messing up their young son in the process. It's easy to see that this is a warmed-over take on GASLIGHT, even to being set in the past, with Lukas in the Boyer role, Lamarr as Bergman, and Brent as Joseph Cotten. As such, it mostly comes off as a second-rate gothic thriller, missing most of the thrills and atmosphere that helped make GASLIGHT fairly enjoyable. Lamarr is OK and Brent is his usual wooden self; someone younger and more energetic would have added some needed spark--because I just watched MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET again, I'm imagining someone like John Payne in the role, or even Robert Taylor. I wish more time had been given to the old woman--she's an interesting character, played well, and I wanted to know more about her. Likewise, Lukas's role could have used some enlarging; it never feels like all of his secrets have been revealed. Albert Dekker as a friend of Brent's who, by accident, spills too much info to Lukas and brings about the "perilous" climax, is OK. Jacques Tourneur directed and there are some nice stylistic touches here and there--good period sets, some nice photography--but unfortunately it will always wind up being compared to GASLIGHT, which, while not one of my very favorite movies, is still a better movie on all counts. [TCM]

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