Whirlpool (1949 film)
Whirlpool is a 1950 film noir thriller directed by Otto Preminger and written by Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt, adapted from Guy Endore's novel Methinks the Lady. The film stars Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, José Ferrer and Charles Bickford, and features Constance Collier in her final film role. Due to anti-British statements Hecht had recently made regarding their involvement in Israel, UK prints of the film replaced his credit with a pseudonym, Lester Barstow.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Otto Preminger|
|Produced by||Otto Preminger|
|Screenplay by||Ben Hecht|
|Based on||Methinks the Lady|
by Guy Endore
|Music by||David Raksin|
|Cinematography||Arthur C. Miller|
|Edited by||Louis R. Loeffler|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
Four years later, Conte starred in The Blue Gardenia, which has a strikingly similar plot, but replaces the psychoanalysis angle with a more straightforward procedural storyline.
Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney), the wife of Dr. William Sutton, a successful psychoanalyst (Richard Conte), is arrested for shoplifting. Ann is saved from scandal by smooth-talking hypnotist David Korvo (José Ferrer). Korvo persuades the store officials to put the mermaid pin she stole on her credit account, and not prosecute. He pressures her into coming to lunch with him, and she is relieved when, instead of accepting the blackmail payment she thinks he is after, he tears up her check and the store record of her shoplifting, and promises to help her.
Ann is anguished about her secret, but feels she must hide all negative feelings from her husband and appear to him as a happy, supportive wife. This is taking a toll on her, and she is unable to sleep well. She attends a sophisticated party with Korvo, where he has words with one Theresa Randolph (Barbara O'Neil), who has clearly had an affair and a bitter breakup with him (and is now Dr. Sutton's patient). Korvo hypnotizes Ann and instructs her to sleep well, which works, but, significantly, he cannot make her obey his order to put her hand in his.
Ann meets Korvo at the hotel where he lives for what she thinks are further therapy sessions, but refuses to go up to his suite and insists on talking in public in the hotel bar. Korvo distracts her and takes the martini glass with her fingerprints on it and her scarf.
In a trance, Ann takes two LP records from her husband's archives and takes them to Theresa Randolph's house, where she hides them in a closet before discovering Theresa's murdered body. The police are right behind her, and find her scarf and the glass with her fingerprints there. She cannot account for her presence, and, before coming completely out of her trance, answers Yes to the question of whether she hated Theresa because they were rivals for Korvo's love. She is arrested for Theresa's murder, though when she is herself again she denies hating her. The police are certain she had an affair with Korvo and jealousy was her motive for murder.
Her husband and his lawyer, Martin Avery (Eduard Franz), believe she is innocent and Korvo may have killed Theresa. It is found, however, that he has a cast-iron alibi: at the time of the murder and ever since, he has been in the hospital weak and prostrate after a gall bladder operation. The police lieutenant in charge of the case, Colton (Charles Bickford), is very sure this rules him out as a suspect: he knows how serious and incapacitating gall bladder removal is, having just lost his beloved wife in such an operation.
When Dr. Sutton leaves the police station, Avery and Lt. Colton persuade Ann to confess her real guilt; but what she confesses is her kleptomania, that she is "a thief". Her rich father stinted her badly on money as a child, and she stole to get back at him; when Dr. Sutton wanted her to ignore her own riches and live on his small salary at the beginning of their marriage, he triggered her childhood emotions again and she went back to shoplifting. She is happy and relieved after confessing this, and ready to be honest with her husband. When Dr. Sutton hears about this, he realizes her kleptomania made her an easy target for Korvo to get her to steal Theresa Randolph's patient records from him; and he comes up with the actual solution to the crime, which is that Korvo used self-hypnosis to make himself temporarily strong enough to rise from his hospital bed and go strangle Theresa. Lt. Colton refuses to allow him to take Ann to Theresa's house to see if her real memories can return and they can find the records.
Korvo hears nurses talking about the search for Theresa's patient records; he hypnotizes himself to be strong again, sneaks out of the hospital and drives to Theresa's house, where he retrieves the records and starts playing them, listening to Theresa's voice telling Dr. Sutton she means to reveal Korvo's crimes of extortion. Dr. Sutton, Ann and Lt. Colton, who decided to give them a chance after all, arrive at the house to look for the records. Korvo menaces Ann with a gun and tries to get her to get the men out of the room so he can escape; but she points out his hiding place. At the end of his artificial strength and bleeding to death, Korvo plays the record again in a moment of bravado, demonstrating his motive and guilt, and tries to leave the house, but falls and dies. Colton releases Ann into the care of her husband, and they happily embrace.
The staff at Variety liked the film and wrote, "Whirlpool is a highly entertaining, exciting melodrama that combines the authentic features of hypnosis. Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt have tightly woven a screenplay [from a novel by Guy Endore] about the effects of hypnosis on the subconscious, but they, and Otto Preminger in his direction, have eliminated the phoney characteristics that might easily have allowed the picture to slither into becoming just another eerie melodrama."
While The New York Times' film critic Bosley Crowther gave the film a mixed review, he still appreciated the acting, and wrote, "Yet, as we say, this flapdoodle, written by Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt from a novel by Guy Endore, has been handsomely produced and played by a cast which is distinguished by José Ferrer in its midst. Mr. Ferrer, the Broadway champion, is the smooth and piercing villain of the piece who mouths Mr. Hecht's silken phrases with acid savor and burns folks with his eyes. Furthermore, haughty Gene Tierney plays the lady who is slightly off the track and Charles Bickford and Richard Conte are the detective and the husband, respectively. All together, along with several others, they labor to cast a spell. But their efforts are bleakly artificial. You'd better see this one in a state of trance."
The UK's Channel 4 also gave the film a mixed review, but lauded the screenplay and direction. They wrote, "All this is fairly ridiculous and the plot is full of implausible twists, not to mention daft theories. Luckily, Tierney carries the role of the innocent beauty with ease and has a particularly good line in gliding around blank-faced as if under hypnosis – and in showing her character's subsequent distraught confusion. Conte is stiff and wooden – but no more so than his formal man-of-science role requires, while Ferrer is a compelling cartoon villain. Hecht's dialogue is as snappy as ever, and Preminger cranks up the tension with consummate skill, building towards a dramatic and satisfying conclusion."
- Showmen's Trade Review, Dec 31, 1949
- Motion Picture Daily, Jan 5, 1950
- Whirlpool on IMDb.
- "Whirlpool. Extract of a review from 1949". Variety. 1949. Archived from the original on 2012-11-12. Retrieved 2018-12-26.
- Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, January 14, 1950. Last accessed: February 6, 2008.
- Channel 4. Film review, 2008. Last accessed: February 6, 2008.