Whirlpool (1950)

WHIRLPOOL let director Otto Preminger martial an oblique revisit to Laura-land, bringing the star of his earlier hit, Gene Tierney, into another noir murder maze with psychological underpinning, using David Raksin on scoring duty again, even employing a large painting of a dead woman that evokes the famous Tierney canvas from their first assignment together. *

You were wise not to tell your husband, Mrs. Sutton. A successful marriage is usually based on what a husband and wife don’t know about each other.”

‘Ann Sutton’ (Tierney), is beautiful, fashionable and well-off, married to a prominent psychoanalyst (Richard Conte). She’s also a kleptomaniac. Nabbed for shoplifting a pen from a ritzy department store, she’s rescued from social disgrace by ‘David Korvo’ (Jose Ferrer),  astrologer, hypnotist and slick conman, who specializes in relieving rich and compromised women from their money. Korvo’s not trying to cure Ann; he’s setting her up to be implicated in something worse than petty theft.

Written by Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt, the script gives the best lines to snide poseur Korvo, played with a self-aware pitch of smugness by Ferrer, who topped the year with another exemplar of enunciation, but one with heart, Cyrano de Bergerac. Conte, out of his tough guy milieu, complete with dorky bow tie, is miscast, hesitant; Ferrer later observed “Conte was a big mistake. We all felt it when we were shooting the film. He suggested a New York street type rather than a well-educated psychiatrist.” Can’t fault the guy for trying, at least, and Ferrer’s performance struck some as overripe (we think he’s just enjoying it).

The underrated Tierney, likely channeling some of the inner injuries that at 28 were already flaying her personal life, gives one of her best performances, nearly as good as her steel-nerved murderess from Leave Her to Heaven. Her shadow play of Ann’s physiological and social favoring with panic and doubt is shaded by cameraman Arthur C. Miller’s careful lighting and the director applying a velvet glove rather than his better-known iron fist.

Moderately successful at 99th place among 1950’s impressive array, the $3,300,000 gross covering a $1,290,000 cost. In support: Charles Bickford, Eduard Franz, Barbara O’Neill, Constance Collier, Fortunio Bonanova, Lawrence Dobkin, Larry Keating and Robert Foulk. 97 minutes.

* Preminger, notoriously brutal on set with actors and crew (bullies being cowards, he didn’t pull this ‘creative’ sadism with bigger stars who could fight back), was perceptive and gentle with the fragile Tierney in their four collaborations. Laura was the most acclaimed (sorry, not a fan), while Whirlpool was immediately followed by Where The Sidewalk Ends (with Laura co-star Dana Andrews), and finally, following a seven-year absence plagued by depression, hospital stays, 27 shock treatments and a near suicide, the actresses 1962 return in Advise And Consent.

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