Whirlpool


Whirlpool (1950) is another borderline film noir. It is  a stylishly shot crime movie with a cast whose credentials speak of a strong pedigree in the school of dark cinema, directed by Otto Preminger, who was certainly no stranger to noir. I suppose it might be seen as more of a whodunit (or should that actually be a “how did he do it”, given the seemingly unbreakable alibi involved) and it might not feature all the classic ingredients, but the strong emphasis on the psychological aspects of the story as well as its examination of matters relating to trust and manipulation nudge it in the direction of film noir.

It takes a thief. Well, the story opens with a thief taken, even if it looks as though psychoanalyst’s wife Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney) is too classy and polished to fit that particular bill. Nevertheless, that’s what she is, having been spotted, trailed and then approached by a store detective after walking out of a shop with an expensive piece of jewellery stashed away in her purse. Since she is not short of money, it becomes evident that she is a kleptomaniac, acting under the influence of some private compulsion. This fact is pointed out by a convenient witness to the embarrassing episode, one David Korvo (Jose Ferrer). While he may not be clad in shining armor he does have a smooth line in persuasive patter, more than enough to allow him to ride to the rescue of this felon in distress. One might have thought that a woman married to an eminent psychiatrist (Richard Conte) would be ideally placed to obtain the finest treatment, but no film noir would be complete without the presence of secrets someone wants to keep buried. Such is the case with Ann Sutton, whose success in suppressing traumas suffered in the past has left her with little appetite for shattering the illusion of the perfect wife she has carefully constructed around herself.  So what is Korvo’s motivation in all this? Despite his protestations that he’s no blackmailer, and his very public determination to display his innocence, his money is made via fortune telling and hypnosis. What becomes increasingly apparent is that this man is a master manipulator, and that Ann Sutton is about to become just one more cog in a devious and murderous scheme.

Otto Preminger had memorably worked with Gene Tierney on Laura and they would collaborate again on Where the Sidewalk Ends and, somewhat later, on Advise & Consent. Preminger was good at tales of damaged people and as he moved into the 1950s he was drawn to scripts that featured ever more complex individuals and circumstances. Ben Hecht’s adaptation of a Guy Endore novel is characteristically slick and the plot, while twisty, always moves smoothly. In noir terms, Preminger would do much more interesting things with the idea of the troubled and criminally inclined female in the superlative Angel Face a few years down the line. In a sense, Whirlpool feels like something of a throwback; as much a puzzle plot murder mystery as regular film noir, it combines a critique of quackery and charlatanism, which had waxed and waned in popularity from the early years of the twentieth century on, with that kind of slightly reverential take on Freudian psychoanalysis that was in fashion in the post-war period. The focus is on the well-heeled and leisured classes, people with good jobs, nice clothes and the time and money to indulge in some lightweight self-analysis. If the idea of admitting that all may not be as idyllic as the shiny new decade promised to a psychiatrist (even if that person happens to be one’s spouse) was something to be reserved for a different type of person,  consulting some flimflam artist like Korvo was acceptable. Perhaps it was a way of acknowledging the existence of post-war angst without having to take it too seriously.

Knowing how hard Gene Tierney had to struggle with mental health issues in real life gives the movie a bit of an edge. It adds poignancy to those moments where she is expressing dismay at her instability, a feeling that this is not merely a woman playing a part but someone who is in fact living it out. Richard Conte comes across rather stiff at times, which is probably the way his part was written – too much empathy too readily expressed at too early a stage would not have made sense given the reluctance of Tierney’s character to confide in him. Nevertheless, he does seem a little too controlled and reined in, particularly in the scenes where he’s confronting Ferrer’s smugness. On the other hand, it could be said that this contributes to an air of tension. The meeting between a recuperating Ferrer, taunting and needling even as he sweats in pain, and a deeply wounded Conte does have a palpable undercurrent of menace. Ferrer is well cast, unctuous and dissembling, adept at the kind of emotional larceny that easily outstrips Tierney’s petty pilfering.

The main supporting part is filled by Charles Bickford, someone whose name pops up here from time to time and whose presence in a movie I generally welcome. The weathered features and gruff manner suited a range of roles and his dogged but fair-minded police lieutenant in Whirlpool represents one of those times when he made the most of a relatively small part. The script has him cast as a recent widower, which is a nice touch that serves to round out and humanize what might otherwise have felt like a purely generic character. That moment when he wakes at night, stung by his conscience, and then glances briefly at the small framed photo of his late wife on the bedside table before making up his mind to go along with Conte’s hunch is true and simple, and it helps to ground the movie beautifully.

Whirlpool is an interesting movie, fanciful in its telling (is the kind of hypnosis depicted even possible?) yet authentic in its presentation. I guess almost everyone involved has done better work elsewhere, but none of them could be said to have been below par either. The Bfi Blu-ray from some years ago looks excellent to me and the film can be accessed easily on DVD or even online depending on one’s preference.

 

65 thoughts on “Whirlpool

  1. Colin

    Been many years since this one has graced my television.. I recall bits of it but will need to do a re-watch. Not even sure if I still have a copy. so online seems like the choice for me. Thanks for the review my good man.

    Gord.

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  2. Folks
    Coming up on TCM Cable here is David Lean’s 1950 film, MADELEINE, which stars Ann Todd, Ivan Desny, Norman Woodland and Leslie Banks. I have never seen the film but have read good reports on the production. Also coming up on TCM is the 1931 version of THE MALTESE FALCON. with Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels. This is another film I have never taken in. Any opinions on either of these films?

    Gord

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    • Madeleine is a movie I like and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys noirish gaslight pictures.
      The early version of The Maltese Falcon has its fans but it didn’t work for me, which is very likely down to the fact I’ve never been able to warm to Ricardo Cortez.

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    • The 1931 version of THE MALTESE FALCON is interesting for being a pre-code movie and it’s not too bad. Obviously nowhere near as good as the 1941 version.

      Avoid the 1936 version with Bette Davis at all costs (it’s called SATAN MET A LADY).

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m actually a fan of the 1931 version. Admittedly, not as good as the classic version but it’s a great movie in its own right. In a few instances it is actually better than the ’41 version and the entertainment value is very high. Cortez’s Spade is wonderful pre-Code sleaziness personified. He’s a bottom feeder alright.

      Another asset is Bebe Daniels. She is sexier by miles than Mary Astor who to me was always the weak link in the ’41 version.

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      • The director of the 1931 version has popped up a few times on my radar over Christmas as I found myself revisiting his Booth Tarkington adaptation On Moonlight Bay and the rather ripe Phantom of the Rue Morgue. I’ve also been toying with the idea of picking up a copy of the cheesy, and frankly trashy-looking, The Alligator People.

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      • Yes, Cortez plays Spade the way he should be played, as a sleazebag. Sam Spade is a worthless excuse for a human being. The essence of Hammett’s story is that these are all worthless people.

        The ’41 version cleans Spade up a bit, which was a mistake. Bogart was the wrong actor for the role.

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        • Yes, people really forget that Spade, as written, was a sleazebag, not a man who lived by his own Code. He really didn’t have any.

          You must be the only one who thinks Bogart was the wrong actor for the role. Who would you have cast?

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            • “But I just don’t like Bogart.”

              Now there’s a bold statement!
              Personally, I can’t imagine preferring Raft of Bogart. Aside from the latter’s iconic status, he was a superb screen actor who could convey much with even the slightest gestures. I must feature another of his movies some time soon.
              Raft didn’t have that kind of talent and always appears far too self-aware, which makes him not all that interesting on screen for me. That said, I did enjoy his work in Rogue Cop, where I feel he displayed a lot of guts in taking on such a thoroughly rotten character.

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              • Colin I agree about Bogart. Can’t see myself preferring Raft over Bogart.

                I admit, Raft so often just doesn’t click with me. However, occasionally I see a movie that I really like him in. Just saw Manpower (1941), an all around good movie. Raft really sells his character here. He slings some really great zingers at poor Marlene. (Yes, I said poor Marlene).

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  3. Whirlpool is a movie I simply adore. Psycho-babble, an evil hypnotist, Otto Preminger directing and Gene Tierney. It ticks all my boxes.

    I love the way the guy keeps his patient records on vinyl.

    I agree about Angel Face. A great movie. Preminger was one of the giants.

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      • Charles Bickford is one of those actors, like Robert Ryan and, maybe, Barry Sullivan, that cannot help but make their mark in any movie they appear in. Bickford is often quite tough, with that great voice, but often tempered by sensitivity. He is an actor that would lure me into a film on that basis. That combination was there in spades even on his last project as rancher John Grainger in “THE VIRGINIAN” TV .

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        • I meant to make a concerted effort to dig further into The Virginian but various factors saw that sidelined. I only ever picked up the first season on DVD but I must explore more – I used to enjoy it so much on TV way back when.

          I fully concur with the rest of your comment though, Jerry.

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  4. R.I.P. Hardy Kruger
    The German actor Hardy Kruger has passed at age 93. Most will recall him from “Hatari” 1962, “The Flight of the Phoenix” 1965, ,”The One that Got Away 1957, “A Bridge Too Far” 1977, “The Wild Geese” 1978, and “Taxi For Tobruk” 1961. An excellent actor.

    Gord

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      • I have enjoyed seeing Stanley Baker for years and that feeling has been amplified very much in recent years. The wonderful Talking Pictures TV channel has featured a whole host of Baker’s films now, “BLIND DATE” included, and my appreciation has continued to grow with each one.
        He was a rounded film maker as both actor and producer and it is hard to appreciate the fact that cancer got him at only 48.

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  5. This weekend’s films include Colin’s pick here, WHIRLPOOL Then I’ll dip a toe in the sand with Monte Hellman’s RIDE THE WHIRLWIND from 1965. Never seen this Cameron Mitchell and Jack Nicholson film.

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  6. Having (shamefully) not stopped by RTHC for a few days, I was delighted to see that there had been some love for the great George Raft whom I would have loved to have seen star in the original MALTESE FALCON. A picture, which despite its obvious limitations, is a far more accurate depiction of those violent times than the sanitised, glossy Bogart version, excellent though it is. It’s fascinating to compare Bogart and Raft. The former, like so many denizens of today’s Hollywood, having come from a secure middle-class background (His father was an eminent surgeon) whilst Raft grew up in New York’s notorious Hell’s Kitchen at the turn of the twentieth century. Having had a brief and fairly successful career as a professional boxer, an astonishing talent for dance (Fred Astaire was a fan) eventually propelled Raft out of poverty, whereas many of his peers turned to the rackets to make a similar journey. In short, Bogart was an actor pretending to be a tough guy. Raft was a tough guy pretending to be an actor. George may not have been exactly a thespian but he was the real deal, possessing an authenticity that Bogart could only hope to aspire to.
    Having compared a couple of FALCONS it’s also interesting to compare a pair of GLASS KEYS. Like the Bogart FALCON, the Alan Ladd 1942 version of Hammett’s THE GLASS KEY is a monochrome masterpiece that constitutes one of the centrepieces of the classic Noir cycle. The scene where William Bendix batters the small but perfectly formed ‘Rubber Ball’ Alan Ladd has a power to shock even today.
    And yet the far lesser-known (and smaller budgeted) 1936 George Raft KEY has a whiff of antique brutality and an authenticity (that word again) that makes for a far more compelling picture. At least for this viewer.

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    • George may not have been exactly a thespian but he was the real deal

      It’s difficult to judge Raft as an actor because he turned down the roles that could, and should, have propelled him to the very top of the acting tree. This is a guy who turned down High Sierra, Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. That’s a level of career self-destructiveness that only Tuesday Weld could match (Miss Weld turned down Rosemary’s Baby and Bonnie and Clyde).

      Actually it’s interesting to compare these two. Tuesday Weld was also the real deal. When she played a psycho in Pretty Poison she had her own life experiences to draw on. She had her first nervous breakdown at the age of nine. By the age of twelve she’d lost her virginity, become an alcoholic and attempted suicide. She’d been supporting her family since she was eight. If you wanted authenticity these two could provide it.

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    • “Bogart was an actor pretending to be a tough guy. Raft was a tough guy pretending to be an actor.”

      Great description.
      Apart from the already mentioned self-sabotage that made him turn down so many good movies, on top of that he decided to make many films that turned out to be less than successful and/or memorable. He really had shocking judgement. He actually had a good career, but could have a brilliant one.

      BTW, I also liked him in Scarface where he easily gave Paul Muni a run for his money.

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      • He actually had a good career, but could have a brilliant one.

        Margot, I think that sums up Raft pretty well. He made some very very good movies in the 40s but unfortunately they weren’t box-office bonanzas and they still don’t get as much attention as they deserve. Nocturne for example is a terrific movie but it’s amazingly neglected.

        It’s something that happens to some actors. They get good roles in good movies but for various reasons those movies don’t earn the actors the respect they deserve. There are all sorts of reasons why good movies sometimes disappear without trace.

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  7. Folks,
    I have also seen the 3rd version of THE GLASS KEY. It was a live tv adaptation produced in 1949 for the for the long running anthology series, “WESTINGHOUSE: STUDIO ONE”. This series ran for 467 episodes between 1948 and 1958.

    Using the 1942 film version as a template, we have Donald Briggs playing the Ladd part, Jean Carson doing Veronica Lake, Lawrence Fletcher in the Brian Donlevy bit, Les Damon in the Joseph Calleia role and Bern Hoffman doing the William Bendix role.

    Being a live production, there of course are some flubbed lines as well as a production crewman getting in the the way of the odd shot.

    I liked it, blemishes, hic-ups and all.

    I have the only review up on IMDB If anyone is interested.

    Gord.

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  8. Good as always to hear from Nick Beal ( or is that Ray Milland?!). Probably what I like most about George Raft is the type of films he starred in; they are just my ‘thing’. Not the greatest thesp, I agree, but what he did he did well.

    Talking of great acting though, today I watched “DODSWORTH” (1936), a wonderfully adult drama directed by William Wyler and a fine cast led by the great Walter Huston. It might be the most satisfying watch of the past year. Huston was just terrific; great acting that was so real it didn’t feel like acting (if you know what I mean).

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    • I’m going to have to confess in a very quiet voice (if there is actually such a thing as typing in a quiet voice) that I’ve never seen Dodsworth, although I am of course aware of it. When I hear something described as the most satisfying watch of the previous year, then think it might be time to put this right.

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  9. As ever there’s some wonderful debate going on in The High Country.
    THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE is actually Regalscope “plus” another of those Lippert titles where the budget went up a notch or two from the usual Regalscope fare. As Kim Newman correctly noted on his commentary for the UNKNOWN TERROR Blu Ray, the few Horror/Sci Fi outings Regalscope ventured into were actually aimed at adults as opposed to thrill seeking kids (AIP,Herman Cohen,Bert Gordon and so on). THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE certainly fits into the adult themed mould as does SHE DEVIL and BACK FROM THE DEAD.
    Having been generally trashed for years UNKNOWN TERROR and SHE DEVIL beautifully restored on Imprints “Silver Screams Collection” (now sadly,it would seem already OOP) have been given a new lease of life; these are good pictures far superior to most drive in fodder. Both films are beautifully shot,are well directed and have pretty decent acting as well.
    Kim Newman seems to think that SHE DEVIL has an interesting “Gay Subtext” especially concerning the Albert Dekker/Jack Kelly relationship whereas our friend Kristina (Speakeasy) sees the film as having a Feminist agenda – personally, I’m on Kristina’s side on this one. At least SHE DEVIL is good enough to generate this type of debate.
    SHE DEVIL was doubled billed with KRONOS a Kurt Neumann twosome and KRONOS had a budget of $175,000 certainly above the Regalscope norm. THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE managed to get a major circuit booking in the UK paired with RETURN OF THE FLY. THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE is certainly better than The Fly sequel and again like the Regalscopes beautifully shot and aimed at adults.

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  10. I’d check out the trailer before making a cash commitment. A rather silly monster is compensated by creepy settings and generally tense situations-at least the cast are not kidding the material.

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  11. I’ve also been enjoying this Bogart vs Raft debate.
    It’s rumoured that Bogie talked Raft out of doing HIGH SIERRA…”you don’t want to play a guy who dies
    in the end George”
    Bogart wanted and needed HIGH SIERRA after years of B Movies and second male leads. After HIGH SIERRA (a fabulous Ida Lupino was top billed) Bogart would always get top billing. The greying of Bogart’s temples really worked-that wonderful early scene when he is released from prison;feeling the grass beneath his feet again,superb.
    HIGH SIERRA is my all time fave Bogart picture,yes he could play tough but also be the total sap for the vapid virgin Joan Leslie. Bogart’s Roy Earle was a tough cookie but apart from his feelings for the Leslie character the affection for the abandoned mutt is also a great hook on which the movie rests. Despite the role Leslie plays (very well indeed) in HIGH SIERRA
    I’ve always enjoyed Joan Leslie’s performances from her early Warners days to her later somewhat tougher Republic work. I note on the forthcoming Blu Ray for REPEAT PERFORMANCE there is an extensive look at Leslie’s career. I’m really looking forward to seeing that restored release with a raft of interesting extras. I guess I need to see more of Raft’s earlier work but having said that I just cannot see him topping Bogies performance in HIGH SIERRA,

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  12. At last, coming up on cable here is the 2017 western, “Hostiles”, with Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi and Ben Foster. Been wanting to see this since Colin did a review back in 2018.

    Gordon

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  13. Gordon,I think you will enjoy HOSTILES, the ending is very similar to THE CULPEPPER CATTLE COMPANY.

    The more of Raoul Walsh’s work I rediscover the more I am aware of the romantic elements in his work. Although,first and foremost he is regarded as a top action director the more one examines his work the more one sees a Poet’s Heart and Soul.
    Walsh could be pretty audacious as well, it’s often been noted that only Walsh could have gotten away with the shot of Cody Jarrett sitting on Ma Jarrett’s knee;then again Walsh did see WHITE HEAT as a black comedy.
    There’s something highly improbable about the “stargazing” scene in HIGH SIERRA where hardened career criminal Bogart and doe eyed virginal Joan Leslie gaze towards the Heavens. Aided by two perfectly judged performances Walsh pulls it off, the scene one of the most romantic in all of his films,just works. Perhaps the “stargazing” thing came about from Roy Earle’s many years behind bars;old country songs are crammed with references like “every night through the bars,I gaze at the stars…..”

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    • I concur as far as your assessment of Walsh is concerned. Sure he was a fine director of action and deserves to be lauded for his presentation of it. However, there is sometimes a tendency be blinded by that aspect of his work or at least a failure to see beyond it. To do so seems extremely reductive though, and that romanticism and sensitivity that underpins his better works is not only as important but arguably even more significant if we’re to offer a fair assessment of his achievements.

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  14. Weekend films
    THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK 2021 A tale of the early life of Tony Soprano. First time watch. Michael Gandolfini, son of the late, James Gandolfini, plays the teenage Tony Soprano.

    Second up will be Randolph Scott’s, THE BOUNTY HUNTER. Cast includes, Ernie Borgnine and Marie Windsor and is helmed by Andre De Toth.

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  15. It’s been years since a Hitchcock review has been posted. After we viewed The Paradise Case last night I feel it would be deserving one of your astute critiques.

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