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When this was over, I was surprised to see that it was a PRC
production. I should have known because it has the same look as
Bluebeard, which Edgar Ulmer also directed. Ulmer is known for getting
a lot out of low budgets. Add this one to the list.
Paul Dessau's rousing score adds immeasurably to the proceedings. But the credit has also to go to Ulmer for getting sharp and engaging performances out of his cast, to the screenplay writer, to the film editors and to the actors.
John Loder has most of the screen time as villain de Villefort who has been milking the public with a fake anti-plague remedy. He's in cahoots with Danglars (Charles Dingle), a recognizable actor, and Maillard (Fritz Kortner, also recognizable). The story is, of course, different from the traditional, and that is a merit. The prison escape is told in flashback. Here Dantes (Martin Kosleck) is again the wealthy Count of Monte Cristo, but he's also a masked avenger like Zorro. However, for most of the movie, Kosleck is absent. His wife takes his place and for a good deal of the time she is stringing de Villefort along as he is a ladies man. Eva Gabor, sounding just like Zsa Zsa, has a small part. Eduardo Cianelli has a moderate part.
The Countess is Lenore Aubert, whom I could not recall having seen before. She comes across quite strongly and radiantly. She's believable in her role. The script has some good banter.
But most of this story is adventure: dark nights, horses riding, attacks on the king's men and on coaches, nighttime trials, dark prisons, a tavern in Montmartre, the roofs of Paris, close calls, swordplay, and escapes.
My favorites are Loder and Kosleck with Dingle and Kortner also weighing in. Loder was very busy in 1945 and 1946. He appeared in 8 films. Actors strike while the iron is hot. The ones I've seen with him are all good, and he adds a great deal to them: The Brighton Strangler, Jealousy, and A Game of Death. In 1947 he did Dishonored Lady, another good appearance. Kosleck is always excellent. He too was very busy in 1945 and 1946 and his films at that time are all worth catching, like this one. He was in such enjoyable features as The Frozen Ghost, Pursuit to Algiers, The Spider, and House of Horrors.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Wife of Monte Cristo" is not a straight re-telling of the classic Dumas story; nor is it precisely a sequel. In one sense, it can be seen as cheerfully cashing-in on the escapist trend for swashbucklers and the recent success of "The Son of Monte Cristo". The plot is very much 'suggested by the characters of' rather than 'adapted from' Dumas, and it wasn't until some way into the film, when the eponymous heroine recounts her husband's history, that I even realized she was intended to be the Pasha's daughter Haydee of the novel - a character all but excised from most adaptations!
Initially, this seems to be Dumas recast as a standard 'masked hero' plot, with Dantes operating under the improbable B-movie sobriquet of 'The Avenger' to foil Danglars' profiteering by raiding his deliveries before they reach Paris. It then turns the corner into a different set of clichés when the Count is forced to retire from public view until a certain tell-tale wound received by 'The Avenger' has healed - and the Countess steps in to shield his identity by posing as 'the Avenger' herself while he is known to be absent. Despite the heroine's sparkling fencing display during the opening of the film, what ensues is a duel of wits rather than of blades, with all the rapier-play reserved for the men; but Haydee is as skilled in the salon as in the salle d'armes, and her sex naturally places her all but above suspicion. Unfortunately, there is a spy among their followers' ranks whose presence she fails to suspect...
The initial set-up is somewhat formulaic and a little confusing. However, as it becomes more original the film improves, both in its action sequences and in the quality of its dialogue. Despite the title, it's essentially a two-handed piece, with Edmond and Haydee receiving approximately equal importance overall in the plot; and it's all but unique, not only in this genre but in any other, in depicting a hero and heroine who are not only in love with one another from the start but whose marriage never falters throughout the film!
Lenore Aubert, in the title role, is both stunning in skirts and convincingly athletic in male attire, while her part is both well-written and well-played: she is no anachronistic superwoman but a competent novice stepping into the breach and learning the hero business 'on the job'. Meanwhile, Martin Kosleck, with his wonderful, utterly distinctive face, makes a febrile, whipcord Monte Cristo who stands out with the clarity of a sword blade amidst the decadent corruption with which he is surrounded - and manages to turn in an effective performance despite the handicap of a plot that keeps him off-screen during the whole central portion of the film. The villains are less memorable, with John Loder chiefly worthy of note as the corrupt Prefect of Police who first woos and then suspects the Countess, and Eva Gabor enjoyable in the minor part of his spoilt and beautiful former mistress - and wife of his business associate.
Fortunately, the plot gallops along pretty fast, for it has to be admitted that there are weak patches. The whole role played by the Napoleonic locket seems unnecessary and implausible, and its loss and recovery is all too obviously a plot device. The nominally pivotal plague/medicine plot-line is barely developed beyond an initial excuse for Dantes to be outside the law. The very effective scene where the Count seeks refuge with a loyal follower, only to learn from his hostile daughter that the man has followed Haydee's 'Avenger' to his death, is undermined by the girl's sudden change of heart in the nick of time for no very apparent reason - nor is her role in the scuffle in the loft at all clear. The obligatory final duel is too long, with the Count's much-vaunted skill apparently struggling on the defensive against his opponent. And it is a definite mistake to draw the audience's attention in the closing sequence of the film to the fact that our heroes' escape will inevitably be at the cost of the faithful supporters left behind, if the script-writers cannot then produce any satisfactory solution...
The other noticeable thing about the film is that the budget evidently didn't run to scenery - almost every action sequence is shot in the dark, including a "ride-off-into-the-sunset" ending where the hero instead disappears on horseback into a moonless night! By and large the nature of the action is such as to make this device seem natural enough, but by the end of the film there were knowing chuckles in the audience as yet another pitch black sequence showed up.
"The Wife of Monte Cristo" has no more pretensions towards greatness than your average holiday 'franchise movie' of today, and those involved would no doubt be amazed to see it back on the screen some sixty years later. But it's not without intelligence and charm, even if the plot sometimes visibly limps and the dialogue is not up to "Son of Monte Cristo" standard, let alone "Scaramouche". As a twist on the swashbuckler genre, it holds a certain interest. And Edmond and Haydee are well matched: 'the couple that epée together, stay together...' :-)
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