Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) at the Noir City Film Festival

It was another great night at the Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood! This evening led off with the very entertaining THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS, which featured Humphrey Bogart in an unusual role.

THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS is a "gothic noir" in the style of films such as SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948) or SLEEP, MY LOVE (1948). These films all feature women in peril -- at the hands of the man they love -- in dark, spooky houses.

The film was directed by Peter Godfrey, who was something of a Gothic specialist at Warner Bros., also directing CRY WOLF (1947) and THE WOMAN IN WHITE (1948). CRY WOLF and THE WOMAN IN WHITE starred the two leading ladies of tonight's film, Barbara Stanwyck and Alexis Smith, respectively.

Humphrey Bogart plays Geoffrey Carroll, a painter in love with Sally (Barbara Stanwyck). Unfortunately, he's married, and when Sally learns the news she breaks it off...but marries Geoffrey two years later, after his invalid wife passes away.

All seems right as Geoffrey and Sally live with Geoffrey's precocious daughter Beatrice (Ann Carter of THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE) on Sally's family estate outside London. But bit by bit Sally's world becomes unsettled. Cecily Latham (Alexis Smith) is clearly in love with Geoffrey, who is painting Cecily's portrait. Geoffrey is moody, and there's a strange man with a scar on his face (Barry Bernard) hanging around the house.

Sally begins feeling ill, which the perennially tippling local doctor (Nigel Bruce) diagnoses as "nerves." Beatrice mentions to Sally that her mother wasn't an invalid, as Geoffrey had told Sally, but just became sick near the end of her life -- with symptoms very similar to Sally's. And then there's the matter of the portrait of Sally in Geoffrey's studio...

This was a highly enjoyable film, although Bogart's performance wasn't always the most subtle, and there was really no particular motivation for his behavior, other than secretly being stark raving mad. I also think the filmmakers could have come up with a better ending than the too-jocular finale, which was a little too light-hearted given what had just transpired. That said, I found it to be a much better film than I'd been led to believe over the years.

In his introduction this evening, Alan K. Rode mentioned that the studio sat on the picture for two years before releasing it. (This is something Warner Bros. seems to have done fairly often in the mid '40s, DEVOTION being another example.) The studio apparently was concerned about how Bogart's public would react, and it didn't do well when it was finally released. In his 1973 book on Bogart in the Pyramid Illustrated History of the Movies, Alan G. Barbour indicates the film was generally considered the worst of Bogart's career. Viewed from the perspective of 2011, it may not be one of his best performances, but it's quite interesting seeing him in such an atypical role, and on the whole the film is very well made and fun to watch.

One of the reasons the film is so good is Barbara Stanwyck, who was at the height of her loveliness when working at Warner Bros. in the mid to late '40s. Her character here is much different from the self-assured tough cookie she played in CRY WOLF; here she's simply a sweet woman in love who must cope with the gradually dawning realization that something is very, very wrong with her husband. One side comment, though, is that while Bogart's character was described as an American living in London, I was never clear why Stanwyck had an ancestral home in England but not a British accent!

I'm a fan of Alexis Smith, and I found her more interesting in this film than her fairly remote character in last weekend's WHIPLASH (1948). In THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS she engages in wonderfully icy repartee and doesn't waste any time whatsoever coming on to Geoffrey, despite the fact he's married. Smith seemed to be having fun in the role, and she was excellent as the potential third Mrs. Carroll.

Ann Carter is good as Bogart's daughter; her British accent comes and goes a bit, but she does quite well as the preternaturally calm and intelligent Beatrice. The cast also includes Isobel Elsom as Cecily's mother, Patrick O'Moore as Sally's former beau, and Anita Bolster as Sally's sharp-tongued but loyal housekeeper.

Franz Waxman's score contributed greatly to the spooky atmosphere, particularly during the very well-staged, nerve-wracking final sequence. The black and white cinematography was by J. Peverell Marley. The script by Thomas Job was based on a play by Martin Vale.

It occurred to me as I watched that THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS would make an excellent double bill teamed with Hitchcock's SUSPICION (1941). Both films feature possibly murderous husbands and ominously glowing glasses of milk, not to mention Nigel Bruce. :)

THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS was released last month in a remastered print by Warner Archive. Warner Bros. provided a very fine print this evening, and I look forward to adding the remastered DVD to my film collection at some point in the future.

THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS is also available on video.

The trailer is here.

Coming soon: a review of the second half of the double bill, THE DARK MIRROR (1946), starring Olivia de Havilland in a dual role as twins -- one good, one evil.

Update: My review of THE DARK MIRROR is now posted.


Blogger grandoldmovies said...

Alexis Smith (such a beautiful woman!) was very good in another noir-like picture she made w/Bogart, CONFLICT from 1945. Her character in that movie is different, much sweeter, but it's a similar plot: Bogie is married to one woman, and wants to get rid of her to marry Alexis (seems like an understandable motive!). Unfortunately, this movie doesn't seem to be on DVD.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

As a fan of both Bogart and Stanwyck, I saw this one a little while back, but found it a bit over the top in places, especially Bogie as the tortured artist, which seemed like a slight miscasting. Enjoyed seeing it all the same. Artist John Decker, who did the paintings featured in 'Scarlet Street', also did Bogie's paintings in this. I've read that release of this movie was delayed because it was thought to be rather similar to 'Gaslight'.

11:52 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm looking forward to seeing CONFLICT in the future!

Judy, how interesting about the painter! Had no idea. Thanks for sharing that.

"Over the top" is a good description of Bogie at certain moments. He used a melodramatic style ("unsubtle" was my term, LOL) which was very unlike his usual performances! But nonethelss a very enjoyable film to watch.

Best wishes,

11:57 PM  

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