QuikReview: Whirlpool (1950)

So I also watched:

Whirlpool (1950) – starring Gene Tierney, Charles Bickford, Richard Conte (the poor man’s Gary Merill), and Jose Ferrer. It was directed by Otto Preminger, who also directed a bunch of other famous noirs you may have heard of and I have watched.

This is a melodrama, not a noir, and this is made evident by the climactic gunfight and desperate chase through alleyways of shifting shadows and muy chiaroscuro completely not happening.

Basically, Gene Tierney is the loving–but deeply troubled–wife of a doctor who has gained prominence and fame as a psychoanalyst. He’s kind of a jackass, though, because although she comes from money, he’s insisted that she take up with him from scratch as a poor doctor’s wife (….what a doofus) and this has combined with her previous money/daddy/control issues. Her form of lashing out is kleptomania, but the side effects are anxiety and severe insomnia. And unfortunately an attempted theft brings her into the orbit of hypnotist and conman “Dr” Korvo.

Tierney is persuaded that Korvo can cure her insomnia via hypnotism. Naturally, he has additional plans: to whit, framing her for murder–and her efforts to make their meetings platonic and public end up backfiring….especially to her husband. Korvo, meanwhile, has what looks like an air-tight alibi: while the murder occurred at eight o’clock, he was having his gall bladder removed at six. Everyone also proceeds to not ask obvious questions such as, “what about accomplices?” “could a physically unimpressive woman have strangled another woman without any signs of struggle whatsoever?” or, “If there’s a police doctor who is also a psychologist, why doesn’t Ann just talk to him? Or even her lawyer?”

Nevertheless, the movie’s great strength is Gene Tierney. Someone who struggled with mental illness and personal tragedies, she’s incredible watchable and sympathetic as someone struggling with mental illness and the resultant incredible difficulty that having to doubt everything your brain tells you causes. Also she’s incredibly beautiful and intensely charismatic. Watching her, you’re in it for the character and her troubles, instead of the (honestly pretty thin) plot.

The rest of the cast fades in comparison, but is still pretty darned good when considered alone. Jose Ferrer is controlled and eternally-smug, even while bleeding out. Conte is far less sympathetic than he could be, but that’s rather the point of his character. Bickford, playing the homicide detective and faced with the over-the-top emotional shenanigans, is wry rather than ascerbic and fair when he could be harsh.

Still, honestly, the lack of fistfights, gunfights, car chases, or at the very least some intense interplay of light and shadow while walking down the street to an old-school orchestra while bad guys are lurking at the other end–or something–really does add up.

Rated: Just one gunfight. Just one.

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