|The Bigamist (1953)
Run time: Approved | 80 min | Drama
Director: Ida Lupino
Writers: Lawrence B. Marcus, Lou Schor
Stars: Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino,
Taglines: Wanted by two women!
WANTED BY TWO WOMEN!
A woman discovers her husband has another family in another city.
1) There are several in-jokes about Santa Claus and Kris Kringle in the film, all at the expense of co-star Edmund Gwenn who played Kringle in the film Miracle on 34th Street (1947).
2) The first instance of a female star directing herself.
3) This would be the last feature film directed by Ida Lupino for more than 12 years until The Trouble with Angels (1966).
4) During the tour of the Hollywood stars, the driver points out the home of Edmund Gwenn, the star of Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Gwenn is in fact also in the film, playing Mr Jordan.
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Selling deep-freezes has been very good for west coast salesman Edmond O’Brien. He maintains a posh apartment in San Francisco and a bungalow in Los Angeles, both equipped with all the appurtenances of post-war prosperity, including a wife in each. In the city by the bay, Joan Fontaine serves as his helpmate not only at home but at work, where she serves as his executive secretary. But those long trips south can get lonely, and one afternoon, killing time on a tour bus, he flirts with Ida Lupino. Next thing, she’s pregnant and married to him, too.
He might have gotten away with living his bigamous life but for the fact that he and the barren Fontaine decide to adopt a child. Enter Edmund Gwenn, an investigator for the adoption agency. No flies on Gwenn: He delves into O’Brien’s background as if he were vetting him for Secretary of Defense. Caught in his two acts, O’Brien divulges his sad saga, in flashback, to the fascinated Gwenn.
Directed by Lupino, The Bigamist looks like it’s going to turn into a weeper but doesn’t quite make it. For one thing, odd touches crop up. The San Francisco high-rise is decorated in chic Chinoiserie, while in Los Angeles, Lupino slings chop suey in a dump called the Canton Café. Then, on the tour of Beverly Hills mansions, the driver points out the homes of movie stars; among them is Edmund Gwenn’s. Meant as a light in-joke, it ends up as a distancing ploy when O’Brien and Lupino start chatting about Miracle on 34th Street.
But, closer to the bone, The Bigamist treats O’Brien with lavish sympathy. To be sure, there are the ritualistic mentions of `the moral laws we all live by’ and the like, but on the whole he’s portrayed as a victim of circumstance. For every victim, however, there’s usually a villain. In this case, the finger wags at Fontaine, who can’t bear a child and who takes her husband’s work more seriously than she takes his ego.
Much is made, justifiably, of Lupino’s bucking the male-dominated system by daring to direct movies. Yet The Bigamist demonstrates how hard it must have been to buck the social outlook of America in the early Eisenhower era.
Gossipy note: Writer/producer of The Bigamist was Collier Young, Lupino’s second husband. They divorced in 1951, two years before they collaborated on this movie. She went on to marry Howard Duff; he to wed none other than Joan Fontaine. It must have made for an interesting production.
This is one of the strangest films I have ever seen coming from Hollywood in the 1950s. It is a very engaging film about Edmond O’Brien and his double-life. He is married to Joan Fontaine and loves her, but there marriage is very distant–both emotionally and because O’Brien is on the road so much as a traveling salesman. Eventually, he is driven by loneliness to another woman in another town. Over and over, he vows to break it off but eventually this other woman becomes pregnant and he just can bring himself to either leave her or his wife! The movie is shown through flashbacks. And, despite the sensational plot, the movie is actually done very sedately and avoids sensationalism. Instead, it tries to portray O’Brien in a pretty sympathetic light–while not excusing his actions. And, by doing so, the movie really gets you thinking. An excellent job of acting by all, but the star of this picture is Ida Lupino who plays the second wife and so deftly directed this little film. It’s well worth a watch.
PS–one very cute little inside joke was when O’Brien and Lupino were on a bus going past homes of the stars. Among the many stars’ homes that were pointed out by the tour guide was that of Edmund Gwenn–who actually plays a major role in the film as an adoption agency investigator!
An interesting drama with some thoughtful moments, "The Bigamist" succeeds in offering a sympathetic look at everyone involved in an emotionally trying situation, and in maintaining drama and tension for the entire running time. Ida Lupino does a good job both in acting and in directing, playing one of the key characters while telling the story in a careful fashion that does not oversimplify the issues involved.
As the three main characters, Lupino, Edmond O’Brien, and Joan Fontaine all give believable and effective performances. All of them make their share of mistakes, and yet all three characters are worth caring for, and their mistakes are understandable ones. The double-life situation and its consequences for all concerned is set up so as to go against some of the usual preconceptions. O’Brien’s character is lonely, but by no means ill-intentioned, and the situation is sad, never sordid.
The tone is somber almost from the beginning, and except for a couple of amusing references to Edmund Gwenn’s earlier role in "Miracle on 34th Street", there are few or no moments of humor to break the tension. Thus you can feel the unending sense of foreboding that O’Brien’s character feels in regard to the complications he has caused.
Lupino and the script also manage to provide an honest look at the situation with few hindrances from the strict production code of the era. Only at a couple of odd moments can you tell that they had to shift gears slightly so as to placate the censors. Although the movie is low-key and straightforward, it’s a commendable effort, and it makes for good drama.
A couple who have been married for 8 years, and can not have children, wish to adopt one. When going through the form-filling procedure, Mr. Graham pauses very noticeably at one form which allows the adoption agency to delve into their private lives and "check him out", if you will.
The reason for this pause is told in retrospect to the agent after it is found that he not only has another wife, but a son by her.
Joan Fontaine was the standout star from this film. Just watch her face in the final courtroom scene – her expression really speaks a thousand words.
A short film, but utterly compelling. If you get the chance to see it – do!