Wednesday, August 01, 2012


Heiress Joan Bennett is protected from the wiles of fortune hunting men by her older brother (Paul Cavanagh); after he dies, the family lawyer proposes to her—he’s a nice guy and has his own money but he's rather bland. Before she makes a decision, she goes on a vacation to Mexico where she meets dashing architect Michael Redgrave who seems to have plenty of money (he owns a modern architecture magazine); he calls her a 20th century Sleeping Beauty who needs someone to wake her up, and of course, she thinks he's that someone. They get married and after an inauspicious honeymoon during which Redgrave goes rushing mysteriously back to New York, she joins him at his mansion, which has an entire floor devoted to reproductions of "felicitous rooms," which all turn out to be murder scenes. There's one room that's locked; wonder what's in there? Meanwhile, the other inhabitants of the house take some getting used to:  Redgrave's unmarried sister (Anne Revere—think a somewhat more pleasant Mrs. Danvers from REBECCA), his secretary who was disfigured years ago in a fire (Barbara O'Neil—think Bertha from JANE EYRE), and his oddly mannered teenage son (Mark Dennis—think gayish). Yes, it appears that Redgrave has secrets, some financial (his magazine is hemorrhaging money), some psychological (both his mother and previous wife died in mysterious circumstances). Redgrave blames a life dominated by women for his problems; will Bennett be able to help him, or will she be his next victim?

Fritz Lang directed this psychological gothic melodrama with fine attention to visual detail—nice use of shadows, reflections, and odd camera angles—and indeed it gets by for about 20 minutes on its stylistic flair, but once you've figured out that it's Lang trying to outdo Hitchcock (the plot is REBECCA by way of SUSPICION with a big dose of SPELLBOUND), it gets very predictable. If Redgrave is supposed to be like Olivier in REBECCA, he's not; Olivier was intense, dashing and neurotic, but Redgrave is mostly just distractedly neurotic. Bennett is good, but is let down by Redgrave in their scenes together (both pictured above). Among the supporting players, Revere has the most potential, but her character winds up a bit of a red herring, and O'Neil doesn't get enough screen time or character development to be very interesting. Natalie Schafer (Mrs. Howell on Gilligan's Island) has a few good scenes as a comic relief gal pal. There's a bit of a cheat near the climax when one character's interior monologue leads us to believe that a murder has occurred that actually hasn't.  [TCM] 

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