Saturday Night Cinema: Whirlpool


Tonight’s Saturday Night cinema feature is Otto Preminger’s gripping 1950 film noir, Whirlpool. This taut suspense thriller was written by one of Hollywood’s most brilliant writers (an in my estimation, the best), Ben Hecht, the “Shakespeare of Hollywood,” and stars the astonishingly beautiful Gene Tierney. She is a magnetic as ever.

Interesting bit of trivia: 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.  The Brits have always had an aversion to the truth. Then and now.

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Crime drama This peculiar 1949 thriller by Otto Preminger about a kleptomaniac (Gene Tierney) under the control of a Mabuse-like hypnotist (Jose Ferrer) hasn’t much of a reputation in America, and the acting (which includes Richard Conte as Tierney’s psychoanalyst husband) and cornball script (by Andrew Solt and Ben Hecht hiding under a pseudonym) help explain why. But the French enthusiasm for this moody and creepy melodrama, sparked mainly by Jacques Rivette and Jean-Luc Godard, isn’t without defenses: Preminger’s ambiguous relation to his characters and his sense of moral relativity have seldom been put to such haunting use. Based on a Guy Endore novel; with Charles Bickford, Constance Collier, and Fortunio Bonanova.

And Bosley Crowther of the NY Times said:

“….. 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.”


Whirlpool’s Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney) is the unfortunate kleptomaniac seduced by David Korvo (Jose Ferrer), a duplicitous homme fatale whose hypnotic abilities and preening affectations recall both Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931) and the eponymous villain of Fritz Lang’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), whereas Fallen Angel plays with the well-worn trope of the virgin / whore dichotomy, inverting to a certain degree the audience’s expectations of female agency. Indeed, June’s (Alice Faye) third-act remark that her and Eric’s (Dana Andrews) predicament is “straight out of a book” drips with sardonic self awareness: a self awareness which is also found in Whirlpool’s stand-out scene, in which a somnambulant Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney) incriminates herself in an eerie and superbly shot sequence that uses the conventions of horror cinema as much as that of noir.

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