Saturday, January 14, 2023

Tonight's Movie: A Woman's Vengeance (1948) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Time for another Dark Side of Cinema review!

A WOMAN'S VENGEANCE is part of the Dark Side of Cinema XI Collection, released a little over a month ago by Kino Lorber. The other films in the set are I WAS A SHOPLIFTER (1950), which I enjoyed at the Noir City Fest several years ago and look forward to revisiting, and BEHIND THE HIGH WALL (1956).

A WOMAN'S VENGEANCE was a first-time watch for me, and I thought it was excellent.

The movie has a well-constructed, literate script by Aldous Huxley, based on his own story "The Gioconda Smile." It tells the tale of Henry Maurier (Charles Boyer), who's unhappily married to Emily (Rachel Kempson), a whiny invalid.

Charles is not a particularly good man, keeping a very young mistress named Doris (Ann Blyth) on the side...but is he a murderer? That is the question when Emily suddenly dies. Her nurse (Mildred Natwick) is suspicious, especially when Henry promptly marries Doris, who proves to be in the family way very quickly.

Henry and Emily's longtime neighbor Janet (Jessica Tandy), who has long carried a torch for Henry, is shocked as well. In fact, she's so shocked by Henry's marriage and subsequent murder trial that she can't sleep nights...and the neighborhood doctor (Cedric Hardwicke), who believes Henry is innocent, starts to have suspicions...

I found this a highly absorbing, well-acted 96 minutes. I've come to realize in recent months just how often Boyer played cads -- see my reviews of Kino Lorber's releases WHEN TOMORROW COMES (1939) and BACK STREET (1941) -- and this film takes full advantage of that.

Henry is clearly not an honorable person, but given his wife's disposition the viewer also feels sympathy for him. When he has a shrew of a wife waiting at home, what man could resist sweet young thing Doris staring up at him with gleaming, lovestruck eyes? Well, not Henry, that's for sure.

Blyth is particularly good as Henry's child bride; she was 29 years younger than Boyer and looks it, but as that's how the part is written, it works. Seeing the movie "cold," I was expecting Doris to be the second coming of Blyth's Veda from MILDRED PIERCE (1945), but she gradually reveals herself to be something else entirely.

Despite the disparity in their ages, both Henry and Doris have growing up to do, and they do it together in a most interesting way; I liked the way both characters evolved over time. It's also interesting to note that Blyth would star in a similar story in her later film THUNDER ON THE HILL (1951), which is also about a clock ticking closer to a date with the gallows.

Tandy is also good as the initially composed, upright neighbor; while Henry and Doris mature and become closer through tribulation, Tandy's previously steady Janet has a curiously hard time coping with events. The plot here may be a little obvious, requiring almost zero guesswork, but the real interest is in the performances and how things will ultimately unfold, so it works nonetheless.

Hardwicke is excellent as the widowed, world-weary doctor in the thick of things. My only complaint is that the film, and his role, ended just a bit too abruptly.

Also in the cast are John Williams, later known for Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) and TO CATCH A THIEF (1955), plus Cecil Humphreys, Valerie Cardew, Hugh French, Patrick Aherne (brother of Brian), and Harry Cording.

The movie was produced and directed by Zoltan Korda for Universal Pictures. The black and white photography was by Russell Metty. Production values are tops all the way, with costumes by Orry-Kelly and a score by Miklos Rozsa.

The one odd thing is that the film is said to take place in 1931, and the fashions and hairstyles are very much of the 1940s.

The Kino Lorber print was digitally restored in 4K from the 35mm nitrate negative. Print and sound quality are excellent.

Disc extras consist of the movie trailer; two additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber; and a commentary track by Jason A. Ney.

I very much enjoyed this well-acted film, and I recommend it.

Along with the other movies in this set, I'll also be reviewing films from the Dark Side of Cinema X Collection, and I have a couple films left from previous Dark Side collections to review as well. (So many great releases, so little time...) At least four more Dark Side of Cinema sets will be released in 2023! What an abundance of film noir riches ahead thanks to Kino Lorber.

As the saying goes, "Watch this space."

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray collection.


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