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Whirlpool  [DVD]
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A film by Otto Preminger
Whirlpool is an intriguing blend of film noir and women's picture. Gene Tierney stars as Laura, Preminger's first big success, here plays the well-dressed wife of a successful psychoanalyst, played with chilling remoteness by Richard Conte. When arrested for shoplifting, she is saved from inevitable scandal by the intervention of a suave but slightly sinister hypnotist (José Ferrer). However, the salvation proves deceptive and she soon finds herself enmeshed in a web of blackmail and murder.
The script is by Ben Hecht, one of Hollywood's most brilliant screenwriters, who, according to Hitchcock, was 'in constant touch with prominent psychoanalysts'. Preminger turns the story into an examination of people - and a marriage - under stress, and the conventional ending does little to dispel his somewhat bleak vision. The film may have a noirish theme, but the plot unfolds in a sumptuously photographed world of glossy interiors, luxurious décor and expensive clothes.DVD extras include Director's Biography and Screenwriter's Biography.
USA | 1950 | black & white | Optional hard-of-hearing subtitles | 93 minutes | Ratio 1.33:1 | Region 2 DVD
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Set in Los Angeles, Whirlpool is an unassuming and unpretentious thriller that sort of fits the mold of noir. The movie certainly isn't the best example of the genre, but it does have many fine elements that, combined with Ms. Tierney's performance, make it eminently watchable.
Gene Tierney stars as Ann Sutton. Ann is the wealthy and respectable wife of successful psychiatrist Dr. William Sutton (a marvelous Richard Conte). The film opens as Ann is caught shoplifting a jeweled broach from a ritzy department store. The police and the store manager are determined to prosecute, but she gets off the hook thanks to David Korvo (Jose Ferrer), a mysterious hypnotist whom Ann employs to help her sleep.
Ann initially thinks that Korvo is out to blackmail her, and she offers him a large some of money to keep him quiet. Korvo, however, has another, far more furtive agenda. As he gradually builds Ann's trust, it soon is revealed that he has been having an affair with Sutton's former patient Theresa Randolph (Barbara O'Neil).
Shortly thereafter, Theresa turns up dead, and Ann is implicated as the murderer since she was found at the scene of the crime. Ann is arrested and charged with murder, but bitterly denies involvement telling her kindly husband that she just can't remember anything. So, who is the murderer? Surely it can't have been Korvo, as he was in the hospital during the time of Theresa's death.
It is left up to Lt. Colton (Charles Bickford) to use his detective skills and Dr. Sutton as the committed psychiatrist to break the hold that Korvo has on Ann and finally learn the truth behind the Theresa's murder.
Ferrer is terrific as the enigmatic Korvo. From the beginning it's plainly obvious that he's a sleazy, amoral confidence trickster, who is probably out to milk the Ann of her money and nothing happens to compromise his position. Richard Conte is also very good as Ann's concerned husband; he knows that his wife is not guilty but he's frustrated at the lack of inaction on behalf the local police to prove her innocence.
The issues of hypnotherapy, especially with the idea that hypnosis can make people do stuff they don't want to, is also interesting. Although, by today's standards it perhaps doesn't carry the kind of psychological weight and dramatic punch that it did back when the film was made.
Perhaps influenced by the wave of films during the period that utilized the growing field of hypnotherapy the picture might have seemed a bit fresher when it was first released. However, the Whirlpool is still fun to watch, especially for the lovely Gene Tierney who apparently used Whirlpool as a comeback after a two-year absence. Mike Leonard September 05.
The plot sees Ann Sutton (Tierney), the wife of a successful psychoanalyst (Conte), arrested for shoplifting since she has some kleptomania issues. Just when it seems Ann is about to be thrust into a world of scandal, she is saved by smooth-talking hypnotist called David Korvo (Ferrer). Korvo, however, is not what he seems to be, and Ann soon finds herself involved in blackmail and murder and her marriage on the brink of collapse. Confused and emotionally torn, Ann is unsure whether or not she has committed a crime. It looks bleak unless her husband or the police can get to the bottom of the murky mystery.
Combining a psychological thriller core with overt melodramatics, Whirlpool has still to convince many of the film noir hoards as to its worth. Some critics find the concept of the story silly and hard to take, whilst others have gone a step further to suggest that Preminger and Hecht have merely remade Hitchcock's Gregory Peck starrer Spellbound (Hecht on screenplay duties there too) from four years earlier. Either way, and putting a noirish sheen on a Hitchcock movie is no bad thing by the way, Preminger's movie is a compelling little piece of cinema. The central theme of hypnosis as a weapon gives the film a dark edge and Preminger nicely portrays a world containing sympathetically flawed characters. While in the form of Ferrer's oily slick Korvo, film noir gets a most intriguing Mabuse/Freudian like villain of high entertainment value.
Tierney doesn't have to do much here, asked to portray confusion and a almost constant state of hypnotism, she delivers well enough whilst always remaining innocently sexy. Conte's woodenness as the husband oddly benefits the story, while also worthy of a mention is the ever watchable Charles Bickford as Lt. Colton, a thinking man's copper, Bickford keeps it serious as the daftness of the plot threatens to submerge and unhinge the drama.
Frowned upon by big hitting American critics, the film found support from notable Frenchies Rivette and Godard. It seems that like myself, they also liked the quirky and creepy nature of the beast. 7/10
Gene Tierney is THE star as the suppressed kleptomaniac Ann Sutton (caught stealing a broach) the wife of eminent psychiatrist (Richard Conte) in a very wooden performance.
Jose Ferrer however gives a sound portrayal of David Korvo a smooth charlatan who hypnotises Ann to assist him in a crime.
Although falling somewhat short of the classic "Laura" this is a very fine film noir that suffers from inadequate character development of the supporting roles.
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