Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Mystery writer Bette Davis lives in a large house on the outskirts of an English village. Her husband has lived apart from her for some time, though he's returned recently and stranger Gary Merrill has come looking for him. Surprise #1: hubby and Merrill were partners in crime, and Merrill has come looking to get his half of the stash from a recent bank robbery. Surprise #2: Davis has just killed hubby because he was an abusive blackmailer. When the nosy village animal doctor (Emlyn Williams) drops in, Merrill poses as the husband, since few of the locals had actually met him. Meanwhile, Davis is carrying on an affair with the handsome and considerably younger Anthony Steel (pictured), the boyfriend of her secretary. Oh, and Davis has a horse named Fury. All these plot strands eventually collide, leading to full-blooded melodramatics, a couple of outlandish plot contrivances, and a poisoning (hence the title). This isn't a great movie, but it's fun, mostly due to Davis' over-the-top performance, puffing on cigarettes, tossing her hair around, and braying at anyone in earshot. She gets to toss off a few fun lines now and then. When Steel and Murray arrive not long after Merrill, she announces, sounding like Margo Channing, "The night air teems with unexpected guests." Later she says to Steel, "For a man, you have disgracefully long eyelashes." No one else can keep up with her, though Merrill, her real-life husband at the time, is fine, and the sly Williams almost steals a couple of scenes. It's based on a play and, despite a few scenes shot in the great outdoors, is stagy throughout, though with the house being so dark and gloomy, it feels like a film noir that might turn into a horror movie at any moment. [TCM]

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