Friday, May 29, 2009

Whirlpool (1949)

Gene Tierney plays Anne, a psychologist's wife whom we meet while she is shoplifting a $300 brooch. Seeing this, David Korvo (Jose Ferrer), an astrologer/hypnotist/advisor/swindler, talks the store out of pressing charges garners Anne's trust. But from the first moment he recognized her in that situation, a plan formed in his head. You see, Korvo had bilked $60,ooo out of another woman, who was now the patient of Anne's husband, Bill (Richard Conte), who was advising her to face Korvo and demand her money back, or she would take the matter up with the police. But with Anne in his back pocket, Korvo would have more access than he though possible to put a wrench in that plan. Sure enough, Anne is too embarrassed to go to her husband about the kleptomania, which causes insomnia, which she also can't go to her husband for. Luckily, Korvo is there to help her with a little hypnotic therapy and a few post-hypnotic suggestions.

This is a black-and-white American crime film, but the noir stops there. Anne is the main character in the beginning of the film, but once she gets put in jail, it is really her husband that carries the narrative. And while Anne commits a crime or two, they are either under hypnotic duress or explained away as the symptom of a larger problem, hardly a noir protagonist. And Bill is the classic hero, using his particular wiles to glean the truth from the psychological fog. The guilt he lays claim to in the last act is marital, not criminal in nature. Were this the story of David Korvo, perhaps it would be more noir, but instead he is the smooth-talking, oportunistic villain.

And, still, there is little noir to be found in the style of the film. As I mentioned in my review of LAURA, Otto Preminger is a very subtle noir stylist. Although where I was impressed with the mise-en-scene and camera movements in LAURA, there was little to hold onto in this film, until the last 20 minutes, when shadow began to creep in and there was one particular mirror shot that was pretty cool. Even using Borde and Chaumeton's signposts, it's hard to identify the oneiric, strange, cruel and erotic in this film, unless complete power of suggestion over women is your thing. Anne is certainly ambivalent, or maybe confused is a better word. Her desire to keep her husband loving her runs contrary to allowing herself to trust in his forgiveness. That may have been an accurate portrayal for 1949, but hardly the darkest side of the human soul.

Judgment: Not Noir.

No comments: