The Woman in White

This film is based in a Wilkie Collins novel. Wilkie Collins was a contemporary (and friend) of Charles Dickens, and an important mystery writer. The film was made by Warner Brothers, but the production is so lavish and the cast so distinguished that you could easily assume it was an MGM production. It stars Eleanor Parker in a dual role, and Alexis Smith in a role that, in the novel, was that of an ugly woman - and that was a critical plot-point! Of course Alexis could never look worse than stunning, so the film departs from the book in many important respects. The plot has been simplified, and yet is is still quite complex enough to keep us guressing for nearly the whole 109 minutes. Sydney Greenstreet plays one of the most sinister and manipulative villains in films - not unlike Osmond in The Portrait of a Lady. Indeed, the film reminded me of The Portrait of a Lady in several respects.

Gig Young plays the hero, and he does so with style, and very appealingly. I always think of him as the guy who never gets the girl, but here, in a way, he gets both girls! The film involves many Victorian elements: family fortunes, illegitimacy, disgrace, ghostly apparitions, madness and so on. But it also presents an openness about sexuality that's quite arresting. It was directed by Peter Godfrey who made several good films in the 40s (Christmas in Connecticut, The Two Mrs Carrolls, Cry Wolf) and then "went off" for some reason. It was produced by Henry Blanke, who worked with Ernst Lubtisch, Fritz Lang and Hal Wallis. Maybe he's one of the reasons this film is so stylish and intriguing. Another is Agnes Moorehead, in a supporting role. She's a favourite of mine. She always brings a kind of gravity to her roles (even in Bewitched, as you'll no doubt agree!), and I think that always rubs off on the rest of the film.
I had seen this film before on video, but it come up surprisingly well on a second viewing, especially on the big screen. It stars George Raft as a police detective with, as they say, "unorthodox methods," who is eventually thrown off the force. In this, he prefigures Glenn Ford in The Big Heat and Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry. He also prefiguresThe Big Heat in the way he throws coffee at a villain, just as Lee Marvin does to Gloria Graham. But he lives with his mother! And she certainly is a piece of work! A lovely performance from Mabel Paige.

It is a definite film noir, with plenty of dark shadows, men in hats and femmes fatales. The director, Edwin Marin, made some routine films and some good ones, including as a good one Johnny Angel, another film noir with George Raft and cinematographer Harry J Wild. Nocturne certainly has an interesting visual style. In the first scenes, the camera floats down a model of the Hollywood Hills and into the window of a modern bachelor pad. We go through a model window, to a matte painting, to the real set, focusing on a man at piano and then moving to a figure in the shadows. This is beautifully achieved, much in the manner of some of Citizen Kane 's visual tricks (same studio - RKO). There's also a wonderful scene in a photographer's studio, which is a wonderful set-piece of suspense, both in tempo and visually, with wafting light and sound and wind adding to the creepy atmosphere.

It's also a fun film in that it is set in Hollywood and we visit nightclubs and even the RKO Studios, when George Raft breezes through the gates, walking that walk of his, waving away the security guards and strolling onto the set of Sinbad the Sailor. There is also a strange scene where a neighbour complains about noise and has the two tough guys cringing and apologising, going off-screen to deliver the coup de gras! The fight scenes are particularly good, and quite savage - another unusual aspect of the film. And Myrna Dell almost steals the film in her role as a brassy wisecracking blonde "housemaid" working for the victim. There's more to this film than many of the critics have noticed.