If you ever find yourself in the world of film noir then you should be wary of doctors/therapists who take an interest in you while you are not an official patient on their books. You should also be wary of José Ferrer. I knew that Whirlpool would be a film in which Gene Tierney found herself in trouble when she ended up in conversation with a therapist played by José Ferrer.
Tierney plays Ann Sutton, a woman who is married to one Dr. William Sutton (Richard Conte). Although all appears well on the surface, Ann has at least one big problem. She’s a kleptomaniac, which viewers are shown in the very first scenes of the movie. While in trouble with store detectives and management, Ann ends up spared further embarrassment by David Korvo (Ferrer). Korvo recognises the ailment, and offers to help Ann with his hypnotherapy. Before you know it there’s a dead body, Ann as a main suspect, and Korvo evading suspicion with what seems to be a cast-iron alibi.
Based on an original work by Guy Endore, Whirlpool is your typical bit of hokum that uses hypnosis as a central plot point for some twists and tension. The script, written by Ben Hecht (prolific and brilliant) and Andrew Solt (less prolific, but with a couple of greats in his catalogue of work), is easier to digest thanks to the perfectly-judged tone and the performances of the leads.
Director Otto Preminger may have a number of superior films to his credit (including at least one featuring one of the cast members featured here), but that doesn’t make this unworthy of your time. It’s wonderfully entertaining throughout, and some of the conversations are both beautifully written and impeccably delivered.
If I ever see Tierney give a performance that I don’t love them I advise people to check that I am still alive. She is one of my favourite stars of yesteryear, and this is another winning turn from her, moving between moments of confidence and moments of paralyzing neuroses and fear. Ferrer is an absolute charmer for most of the runtime, nice enough to make you think he is a villain while also nice enough to make you think he might just be nice. His line delivery, especially during his first extended conversation with Tierney, is like music to my ears, and I periodically chastise myself when I remember that I haven’t seen enough of his movie performances from this period. Conte plays his part as expected, Charles Bickford is perfectly fine as the sympathetic, slightly bemused, individual investigating the murder, and Barbara O’Neil does well enough as a woman who may be pivotal to revealing the murderous face being hidden behind a mask of civility.
It’s a bit silly, and maybe a bit too lightweight for those wanting their noir more gritty and dark, but Whirlpool is also just great entertainment. It’s a star vehicle, and anyone who appreciates the talents of the leads will find plenty to enjoy here. I know I did.
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