Friday, October 24, 2014

DR. CRIPPEN (1963)

This thrill-free thriller purports to tell the story behind the notorious 1910 court case in which a man was found guilty of killing his wife and disposing of her body in pieces. The film begins with Crippen (Donald Pleasence), an American doctor living in London, on trial and flashes back to fill in the story. Mild-mannered Crippen is married to a brassy live wire named Belle (Coral Browne). A former showgirl, Belle takes in boarders with whom she regularly has affairs; we first see her brazenly flirting with one handsome young boarder who plays piano while she sings. The problem seems to be that Crippen has a low libido and Belle has a high one—she claims she takes lovers only because Crippen isn't sleeping with her. But Crippen begins a romantic relationship with his secretary Ethel (Samantha Eggar) and when Belle finds out, she makes a scene, saying he's making a fool of her. (The psychosexual relationship between the two is potentially interesting, but partly due to the era, it's not gone into in much detail here.) She makes him promise to have sex with her; to get out of it, he slips her a tranquilizer in her tea but accidentally puts too much in and she dies. We don't see any of the grisly aftermath, but soon, when people start asking after Belle, Crippen says she's gone to America to visit a sick relative (shades of Raymond Burr's alibi in REAR WINDOW). Eventually her mutilated corpse is found, and Crippen takes off to America with Ethel in tow, dressed as a young man, but they are found out while on ship and both put on trial. This is a dry and stagy presentation of the story with little action and no gore (despite the promises of some of the movie's posters). Pleasence is OK as the quiet, enigmatic man with the "codfish eyes," as one character notes, but he seems to be largely on automatic here. Eggar is better as the sweet innocent girl who is implicated in his crimes, but best is Browne, who gives a lively performance as the wife. If you're a fan of Browne (pictured with Pleasence), this is worth seeing. [TCM]

No comments: