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Country squire Henry Maurier is patient with his wife Emily, a neurotic invalid, but her brother surprises Henry with his young mistress Doris. The same night, Emily dies of her chronic heart disease, and Henry promptly marries Doris, to the chagrin of neighbor Janet Spence, who loves him. When a post-mortem shows that Emily's death was precipitated by arsenic, Henry is placed on trial for his life. But is he guilty? Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Splendid cast does justice to Aldous Huxley's tale of country-house frustration and murder
Ah, English country life all revenge killings and red-currant fool. That's the fate that conveniently befalls Rachel Kempson, the irritating invalid spouse to squire Charles Boyer. It's convenient for him, because the lid's just been torn off his affair with his teen-aged mistress (Ann Blythe), with whom he was whiling away the evening as the bell tolled for his lawfully wedded wife.
At first, the demise of that royal pain causes a general sigh of relief. It leaves Boyer free to marry Blythe, which he does; it also left him free, in the view of neighbor and intimate family friend Jessica Tandy, to marry her, which he did not. When a trouble-making nurse (Mildred Natwick), outraged by Boyer's extramarital carryings-on, goes to the police, an autopsy proves her suspicions correct: The sudden death, at first though to have a heart attack brought on by those beastly berries, turns out to be poisoning by arsenic found in weed killer. Inquest, trial and death sentence all go badly for Boyer, who awaits the scaffold claiming his innocence.
It sounds like an Agatha Christie country-house mystery genteel homicide between rubbers of Bridge but it's a bit more than that. Aldous Huxley wrote the script, from his story The Gioconda Smile, and he's less interested in the logistics of murder than its psychology. Today, he's remembered chiefly as author of Brave New World and as an apostle of LSD. But he was one of the more thoughtful and inquisitive popular novelists of his time, holding the sort of position Gore Vidal does today, and, like Vidal, found Southern California and The Industry congenial for living and working. He was lucky to get a director (Zoltan Korda) and a cast this good.
Boyer breaks free from the debonair malevolence that, following the success of Gaslight, so often shackled him, and Blythe starts out recycling her Veda Pierce but finally realizes that this is a new role. Tandy, fresh from creating Blanche DuBois on Broadway, tackles her part a lovesick spinster of 35 cautiously at first, then deepens and underscores what turns out to be the movie's central role. There's a strikingly composed scene in which her face is severely framed in a high aperture overlooking Boyer's death cell when she unleashes her pent-up frustration, and Tandy does it full justice. Acting honors, however, go to Cedric Hardwicke, family physician turned psychoanalyst and father-confessor, who steals every scene simply by off-handedly underplaying.
A Woman's Vengance is a Hollywood product so skillfully put together that its multi-national cast needs no cumbersome explication. It's literate, verging on the sedate, keeping attention though subtle shifts rather than clamorous developments. In its sense of the malice festering under a cultivated facade of manners, A Woman's Vengeance calls to mind another country-house movie of the same year, Sign of the Ram.
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