|A Woman’s Vengeance (1947)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Dir. Zoltan Korda
Cast: Charles Boyer, Jessica Tandy, Ann Blyth, Cedric Hardwicke
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Screening Time: Monday, August 28th at 8:30 p.m.
A philanderer goes on trial when his wife, who supposedly died of poor health, is found to have been poisoned. Great performances in this absorbing drama written by Aldous Huxley.
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Ah, English country life all revenge killings and red-currant fool. That’s the fate that conveniently befalls Rachel Kempson, the irritating invalid spouse to squire Charles Boyer. It’s convenient for him, because the lid’s just been torn off his affair with his teen-aged mistress (Ann Blythe), with whom he was whiling away the evening as the bell tolled for his lawfully wedded wife.
At first, the demise of that royal pain causes a general sigh of relief. It leaves Boyer free to marry Blythe, which he does; it also left him free, in the view of neighbor and intimate family friend Jessica Tandy, to marry her, which he did not. When a trouble-making nurse (Mildred Natwick), outraged by Boyer’s extramarital carryings-on, goes to the police, an autopsy proves her suspicions correct: The sudden death, at first though to have a heart attack brought on by those beastly berries, turns out to be poisoning by arsenic found in weed killer. Inquest, trial and death sentence all go badly for Boyer, who awaits the scaffold claiming his innocence.
It sounds like an Agatha Christie country-house mystery genteel homicide between rubbers of Bridge but it’s a bit more than that. Aldous Huxley wrote the script, from his story The Gioconda Smile, and he’s less interested in the logistics of murder than its psychology. Today, he’s remembered chiefly as author of Brave New World and as an apostle of LSD. But he was one of the more thoughtful and inquisitive popular novelists of his time, holding the sort of position Gore Vidal does today, and, like Vidal, found Southern California and The Industry congenial for living and working. He was lucky to get a director (Zoltan Korda) and a cast this good.
Boyer breaks free from the debonair malevolence that, following the success of Gaslight, so often shackled him, and Blythe starts out recycling her Veda Pierce but finally realizes that this is a new role. Tandy, fresh from creating Blanche DuBois on Broadway, tackles her part a lovesick spinster of 35 cautiously at first, then deepens and underscores what turns out to be the movie’s central role. There’s a strikingly composed scene in which her face is severely framed in a high aperture overlooking Boyer’s death cell when she unleashes her pent-up frustration, and Tandy does it full justice. Acting honors, however, go to Cedric Hardwicke, family physician turned psychoanalyst and father-confessor, who steals every scene simply by off-handedly underplaying.
A Woman’s Vengance is a Hollywood product so skillfully put together that its multi-national cast needs no cumbersome explication. It’s literate, verging on the sedate, keeping attention though subtle shifts rather than clamorous developments. In its sense of the malice festering under a cultivated facade of manners, A Woman’s Vengeance calls to mind another country-house movie of the same year, Sign of the Ram.
Henry Maurier (Boyer) is an arrogant wealthy Englishman married to Emily who is both sickly and shrewish. Doris (Blyth) is his much younger mistress. The Maurier’s also have a woman friend named Janet Spence (Tandy) who has always loved Maurier. When Emily is poisoned, suspicion falls on Henry and there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence against him. The script, by Aldous Huxley, is extremely literate and the movie is a pleasure to watch. Courtroom fans will also enjoy the capably executed inquest and trial scenes.
This film noir gem spins the tale of romance, unrequited love and revenge that conspire to frustrate a spinster in her pursuit of a man. The romance involves the man's dalliances with an attractive girl and the unrequited love is the bitter fruit of the spinster's quest to capture the man for herself. The revenge plays out its part in due course as the triangle emerges with malevolent undercurrents taking shape. The cast is excellent, especially Jessica Tandy and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, with Charles Boyer caught in the middle by the eager, determined females. Ann Blyth marries her suave suitor and sets in motion the cold fury of the spurned woman who can only watch as her dreams of happiness are dashed. The black and white camera work has a brooding quality and gives the film a classic film noir look.
A wonderful film with a marvelous cast and brilliantly written screenplay. This film superbly captures the anguish of unrequited love and how it transforms its victims into wrong-doers.