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Monday, May 30, 2022

Film Noir #8

 


Noir: Bewitched and The Bigamist



BEWITCHED (1945) --- Forty millions were said to have listened to this on radio, so said MGM’s trailer, idea to presell a modest programmer written and produced by Arch Oboler, an airwave wunderkind off O. Welles pattern who might in the end have been a greater mainstream success than Orson, if not a more accomplished talent. Bewitched was near as Metro came to “experimental,” as in doing something out of their ordinary and entrusting much to singular artist that was Oboler (only five foot one, really?). He had directed a single film prior, Strange Holiday, which among others (Claude Rains, Gloria Holden) featured my elementary school band teacher Priscilla Lyons, who had I but known once worked with Dracula’s Daughter, would never have got a moment’s peace in her mid-sixties classroom. You could say, then, that Bewitched was Oboler’s Magnificent Ambersons after Kane that was Strange Holiday, if one wanted to belabor similarities between Oboler and Welles. Bewitched has a cult, if a small one. I recall one collector being quite proud of his print, at a time when MGM titles were nearly impossible to come by on illicit-owned 16mm film.



Bewitched
dealt with dual personality on serious, near-clinical terms, detail of which head doctor Edmund Gwenn explains to a 1945 public assumed to have never heard of such malady. So how common are split personas? I might name several of acquaintance without knowing any to be textbook instances. Phyllis Thaxter has an evil side that kills, perhaps a film-first apart from horror usage. Her sickness is a matter of much discussion, after fashion of radio where talk is chief, Oboler laying down his diagnosis, via Gwenn, as though he seconded in medicine in addition to dramatist skill. Door prize to murderess Thaxter is getting away with the crime once Governor Minor Watson is convinced it was the other Thaxter who was guilty, him promising a cursory investigation, maybe brief treatment, to clear the mess up. Psychiatry fascinated folks in the forties, lots willing to suspend disbelief however specious Oboler explanations were. There was key ad art of Phyllis Thaxter with scissors in attack mode for lure, and yes, she uses them on Henry H. Daniels, Jr., formerly a most obscure of Meet Me in St. Louis household, kept to ever smaller parts after. Don Miller had nice things to say about Bewitched in his B Movies book, a key study that came years before others cared about small budget stuff. Warner Archive offers a DVD.



THE BIGAMIST (1953) --- Is bigamy still a crime? I wonder because so many things that were verboten are not any longer. It seems in a way quaint to watch a movie about a man with two wives unless it's a comedy. Have there been, among oceans of rom-coms, one where a man or woman turns up with two or more spouses? Not that I would necessarily care to watch them, as I found The Bigamist something of an ordeal. Maybe it was the waiting for hapless Edmund O’Brien to be caught, which of course, he inevitably would be. He isn’t a bad sort, just one trapped by circumstance of not wanting to disappoint alternating wives Joan Fontaine and Ida Lupino. It is Eddie’s kind nature and selflessness that puts him on the pan, and we are sorry at seeing him fry. How often do such sympathetic figures turn up in noir?



Would it even be possible to marry twice or more today? Surely spyware loosed upon us would prohibit it. Even in 1953 such things could not have been easily managed. O’Brien does not do his crime for anything other than consideration toward mutually likeable partners. This is a triangle with no one to root against, or favor to exclusion of the other. The ending implies that O’Brien will keep one of his wives, maybe both if the trio has their way. I’d like to have seen The Bigamist end with husband/wives headed happily home to a menage a trois. These folks give every promise of making a go at it. Director Ida Lupino had almost as free and easy deal with husband Collier Young (writer-producing) plus star Joan Fontaine (Young's ex), forming their own threesome to make The Bigamist. Imagine Code quagmire had The Bigamist offered the ending we prefer. Here was noir offbeat for not a shot being fired or fist connecting. There is even kindly S. Claus (Edmund Gwenn) and several in-jokes referring to his most famous part. Gwenn refreshingly sees piteous circumstance of title figure O’Brien but judges him harshly anyway, status quo to be maintained whatever a viewer’s sentiment. The Bigamist is part of an Ida Lupino Blu-Ray set (of four) from Kino. My chips are down for this as one of her most interesting auteur efforts.

7 Comments:

Blogger DBenson said...

One of Blake Edwards's better late efforts was 'Micki and Maude" (1984), in which reasonably innocent TV newsman Dudley Moore ends up married to lawyer Ann Reinking and cellist Amy Irving, struggling to keep them unaware of each other even as they go through pregnancy simultaneously. The end is anti-climax and a little ambiguous, coming after farcical scrambling in a maternity ward.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Every day is a good day for a shout-out for Don Miller's B MOVIES. Essential is such a weak word when describing what this book meant to us 40 plus years ago. In a pre-internet, pre-DVD, pre-youtube era, Miller's succinct little write-ups were certainly all we thought we would ever see of so many little films. Still the a first stop reference on the subject of B budget second features.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

MY FAVORITE WIFE with with Cary Grant/Irene Dunne/Gayle Patrick is bigamy played for laughs, as was it’s aborted remake, SOMETHING’S GOT TO GIVE, and it’s completed one, MOVE OVER, DARLING.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

I heartily second Dave K's words of affection for Don Miller's B MOVIES. A joy to read when it came out and still fun to browse through all these years later. Love Miller's writing style, also on glorious display in his indispensable book on the B westerns, HOLLYWOOD CORRAL. I believe Miller died very young. What a loss.

Have watched "Bewitched" a couple of times, the last time this year - hoping to enjoy it but never getting there. It seems like an attempt to recreate the magic Val Lewton was delivering with his occult styled thrillers at RKO. But to no avail. The atmosphere just isn't there. And it all leads to the limpest of wrap-ups.

I must say, though, that leading man Henry H. Daniels Jr. was more than okay. I like him in "Meet Me in St. Louis" too. Though he's certainly overshadowed by all those talented females.
He does get lovely June Lockhart as a prize, though, at the fade-out.

Recently watched (on YouTube) a 1947 film in which he's top-billed. It's a Poverty Row item called "The Burning Cross" about the dangers posed by the KKK. And way better than you might expect. The budget must have been miniscule but the film still packs a punch. And both Daniels and leading lady Virginia Patton (a niece of General Patton, I believe) register strongly. They certainly deserved longer and more successful film careers. I believe this was Daniels' last movie. And Patton was gone by the end of the 40's. Too bad.

1:43 PM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

(SPOILER ALERT)
In the original Arch Oboler radio drama (which was entitled The Voice Within Me, or something of that nature), the girl is found guilty and executed. However, there is some mercy that's provided, in that the "good girl" is no longer tormented by the evil personality. It ends with her good, real spirit saying with relief, "I'm free, I'm free".

2:19 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers the latest noir selections:


On Memorial Day, TCM included in its programming, almost inevitably, “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” In an early scene, Phyllis Thaxter surprises hubby Van Johnson at an air base. The two find some privacy after a chorus of appreciative whistles, where he kisses her and asks, “Honey, why are you so pretty?” She replies with a charming smile, “I had to be, to get such a good looking fellow.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but such words have never dropped from my lips or touched my ears, but Phyllis Thaxter is so bright and pretty and sweet that they seem not only entirely natural, but to be anticipated and yearned for. Indeed, they will be reprised in this picture to good effect. Had Amber Heard comported herself in a similar fashion, the jury would not only have awarded her Johnny Depp’s fortune, but his tail and ears as well.

I suppose, then, that it was almost inevitable that someone would have the idea of casting her against type in a picture like “Bewitched,” where that sweetness would only be a lure for the unwary, like the scent of a Venus Flytrap, with the unfortunate Henry H. Daniels, Jr. the adventuresome fly.

It was rather like the transition of Joan Fontaine in her career, going from playing the shy, demure second Mrs. de Winter in “Rebecca,” the ethereal Tessa in “The Constant Nymph,” and the eponymous Jane Eyre to the murderess in “Ivy” and the manipulative Christabel in “Born to Be Bad.”

I believe that, on one occasion, someone interrupted my quiet tears at the end of “The Constant Nymph” by wondering aloud how a double bill of that picture and “Born to Be Bad” would have gone over.

Incidentally, given that Miss Fontaine was in real life closer to the first Mrs. de Winter in personality, her loving acceptance of the Edmond O’Brien character in “The Bigamist” was surely a demonstration of her acting ability. Her regard for husbands who disappointed her, such as Brian Aherne and William Dozier, was a good deal less sanguine.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Dr. OTR said...

I think the plot of "While You Were Sleeping," a Sandra Bullock vehicle from about 30 years ago, involves a wedding coming to a halt because the groom is already married. (Spoilers, I guess?)

5:31 PM  

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