“Whirlpool” (1949) starring Richard Conte, Gene Tierney, Jose Ferrer, & Charles Bickford

Tomorrow she will know what she did tonight! -A tagline (on the movie poster)

Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney), the wife of a well-known psychoanalyst, Dr. William Sutton (Richard Conte), falls prey to a smooth-talking hypnotist, David Korvo (Jose Ferrer), when he discovers she’s a shoplifter. Ann is V ashamed and refuses to reveal her problem (“kleptomania”) to her husband, BUT thinks Korvo may be able to help her out. What are this man’s true intentions? Soon, one of Korvo’s former patients, Teresa Randolph (Barbara O’Neill)- now being treated by Dr. Sutton- is found murdered. When police find Ann at the scene of the crime, suspicion points her way! The man in charge of the case is Lt. James Colton (Charles Bickford), a grizzled cop and recent widower.

David Korvo: You were wise not to tell your husband, Mrs. Sutton. A successful marriage is usually based on what a husband and wife don’t know about each other.

This movie was directed by Otto Preminger, known for his talent and also V difficult personality. However, there is no doubt that he could get fine performances from actors (though his style was NOT pleasant). I think Preminger used close-ups well to build tension in this movie. The screenplay was written by Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt; it was adapted from the novel Methinks the Lady by Guy Endore. The cinematography was by Arthur C. Miller. The music was composed by David Raksin (a protege of Alfred Newman). Noir-istas MAY have noticed, as in the movie Laura (also directed by Preminger/starring Tierney), some of the same works of art appear as here (a standing Buddha and a collection of masks).

Some viewers commented that though the script was weak, the acting was good. Tierney (as always) looks beautiful, acts graceful, and has a sophisticated air. Conte does well, though this isn’t the type of (intense/exciting) role he usually plays; you’ll hear his New York slip out sometimes. I liked the scene where William confronted Korvo in the hospital; we see anger mixed w/ sadness (suppressed tears) in Conte’s eyes. Director Elia Kazan and actor John Garfield “discovered” Conte while he was working at a resort in the Catskills (frequented by members of The Group Theater). They saw his potential and encouraged him to study acting.

Jose Ferrer (no relation to actor Mel Ferrer) was a Puerto Rican actor/director; he won the Best Actor Oscar for playing the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac (1950). He was the 1st Puerto Rican actor to win an Academy Award, and also the 1st Hispanic actor to do so. Ferrer was married for many yrs to singer/actress Rosemary Clooney (aunt of George). Like many of his era, Ferrer came from the theater; he appeared in many Broadway plays (most notably as Iago in Othello: 1943-1944). Here he plays another compelling villain; Korvo navigates high society w/ charm/manners (but is dangerous to know). Who doesn’t like (or like watching) a “bad boy?”

[1] …Preminger’s movie is a compelling little piece of cinema. The central theme of hypnosis as a weapon gives the film a dark edge and Preminger nicely portrays a world containing sympathetically flawed characters.

[2] There’s a lot of pop psychology hokum floating around in the story, which needn’t be gone into, except to say that hypnosis is a curious altered state of consciousness that isn’t well understood at all. Some people are good subjects and some not. The good ones are really good. […] Sometimes, with some people, it really WORKS. I’m not so sure about self hypnosis though. We’ll know more, I guess, in another generation or so.

The surprises are real enough and the story is engaging. Ferrer stands out as the heavy, Tierney with her little girl voice doesn’t have to do much, and Richard Conte as the psychoanalyst is stolid, which is what the role calls for. Worth seeing.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

3 thoughts on ““Whirlpool” (1949) starring Richard Conte, Gene Tierney, Jose Ferrer, & Charles Bickford

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