Monday, March 29, 2010


A Gothic feeling pervades this stagy but generally compelling psychological thriller. Anne Baxter is the title character, a young woman who has been in a hospital for an unspecified heart ailment. She has fallen in love with her doctor (Scott McKay) and he's brought her to his family's lovely New England seacoast house for an extended period of recuperation. From the get-go, she seems quiet but a little neurotic (she has a manic fear of birds) and she sends McKay back to his practice while she lives with the family and slowly comes out of her shell. However, it turns out that Baxter is a conniving little monster--she struck me as a cross between an older version of the little girl in THE BAD SEED and a younger, much less polished version of Baxter's own Eve Harrington in ALL ABOUT EVE. Soon she's making a play for the doc's older brother (Ralph Bellamy), an artist who makes his money with commercial art but who yearns to do serious work. However, since Bellamy is married (to Ruth Warrick), Baxter has to do some finagling, eventually getting the whole house, including the young daughter, the hired help, and the maiden aunt, to believe that Bellamy is having an affair with his live-in model. Bellamy gives up his commercial work to paint a donated mural at the local church with Baxter posing as St. Cecila, which means in addition to Warrick feeling more and more jealous, there is much less money coming in. The daughter, feeling neglected, starts adopting Baxter's traits (such as staying in bed all day and constantly playing a recording of Liszt's mournful "Liebestraum"). Bellamy develops a drinking problem, Warrick and the kid decide to move out, and the whole thing gets a "Fatal Attraction" vibe before an effective stormy night climax and satisfying denouement.

My plot description may have some loose ends and even errors, as the print I saw on the Alpha DVD ran 96 minutes, but most references sources say the movie was originally 121 minutes. The print was a bit choppy, and based on some plot summaries I've read, I suspect that most of the opening reel, which sets up Baxter's illness and her relationship with her doctor, is gone from this print; perhaps it's a print which was trimmed to fit in a TV slot. It's based on a play and it shows, as practically every scene takes place in the house, but the staginess doesn’t hurt the film, and may even add to its occasionally exaggerated melodramatic feel. Baxter (pictured above with Warrick) is very good and carries the show effectively; Bellamy tries hard, but never comes across as commandingly as he should; Warrick is fine, as is Aline MacMahon as the aunt who figures out what's going on and takes an active part in the climactic action. Also with Margaret Hamilton and Percy Kilbride as the maid and butler who are the first to buy into Baxter's shenanigans, and Jerome Cowan in a thankless role as a family friend. Some critics call this "noir," I guess based on its dark look, but it's really a straightforward Gothic. I'd like someday to see a complete print, but even this shortened one is worth seeing. [DVD]

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