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The Unholy Wife (1957)

 -  Crime | Drama  -  October 1957 (USA)
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Ratings: 5.6/10 from 202 users  
Reviews: 12 user | 3 critic

Wealthy vintner Paul Hochen meets blonde bombshell Phyllis in a bar...and marries her. In due course, Phyllis is bored by Paul, and finds an exciting new lover in rodeo rider San. To adjust... See full summary »



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Complete credited cast:
Phyllis Hochen
Paul Hochen
San Sanders
Emma Hochen
Arthur Franz ...
Father Stephen Hochen
Luis Van Rooten ...
Ezra Benton
Joe De Santis ...
Gino Verdugo
Steve Pendleton ...
Deputy Bob Watkins
Douglas Spencer ...
Gary Hunley ...
James Burke ...
Sheriff Tom Watling
Tol Avery ...
Dist. Atty. Carl Kramer


Wealthy vintner Paul Hochen meets blonde bombshell Phyllis in a bar...and marries her. In due course, Phyllis is bored by Paul, and finds an exciting new lover in rodeo rider San. To adjust matters, she forms a murderous scheme, which seems to be going wrong...or is it? Will irony intervene in time to thwart a seemingly perfect crime? Written by Rod Crawford <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


HALF-ANGEL......HALF-DEVIL, she made him HALF-A-MAN! ...she flaunted his hopes, taunted his dreams, turned his peaceful valley into a volcano of seething passions that even murder could not stem!


Crime | Drama


See all certifications »




Release Date:

October 1957 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Lady and the Prowler  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)



Aspect Ratio:

2.00 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Each of the leads (Tom Tryon and Diana Dors) died of stomach cancer. See more »


Music by Harold Arlen
Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
See more »

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User Reviews

Bombshell Diana Dors – surprise! – can act, but throws wine-country thriller out of kilter
18 April 2003 | by (Western New York) – See all my reviews

Despite the BBC/PBS series Danger UXB, bombshells do not lie thick on the English soil. So, in the post-war years – the era of Jayne Mansfield and Mamie van Doren, of Brigitte Bardot and Anita Ekberg – Britain hastened to close the bombshell gap. Its most potent weapon was Diana Dors (née Diana Fluck). Sort of a bangers-and-mash Marilyn Monroe, with the same fulsome figure and cascade of molten-platinum hair, she was an inflatable doll who would soon blow up to Rubenesque proportions. She would become something of a joke, even to herself, as her self-mocking appearance in the Joan Crawford fright vehicle Berserk attests.

But when we first see her, in a prison cell, in John Farrow's The Unholy Wife, her face is innocent of makeup and her mousy brown hair is raked back. Had she chosen to present herself less brassily, she might have been seen not so much as a sexpot but as an actress, and a surprisingly adept one at that. She plays the grass-widow wife of a long-gone pilot and lurks in bars cadging drinks from potential sugar-daddies (her workmate is Marie Windsor, in a stingy tease of a role). She meets and marries lonesome Rod Steiger, who runs a family vineyard in the California wine country (shades of The Most Happy Fella).

But she's restless and sullen, left in the huge gingerbread mansion with her aging mother-in-law (Beulah Bondi) and her pre-existing young son while Steiger stays obsessed with his casks and bottles. On the side, she romances a hired hand (Tom Tryon). Her dissatisfactions turn murderous, and she hatches a scheme to shoot her husband on the pretext that she mistook him for a prowler. Alas, she kills his best friend instead, but comes up with a ploy by which Steiger will be convicted of the murder....

The Unholy Wife is slow and moody rather than tense and agile; Lucien Ballard's color photography shows the dark, muted interiors that would later distinguish the Godfather movies. And typically, we lose track of Steiger's character under all the mannerisms he piles on top of it. But Dors, who starts out high-strung and abrasive, mellows down into a conflicted and even touching trophy wife maneuvered into homicide less out of greed or lust than by stifling boredom; she offers more dimensions than the black-hearted Jezebel demanded by the plot and throws it out of kilter. And at the end, the postman does indeed ring twice, which comes off less as a twist than a cheat. The Unholy Wife finds itself stranded midway between being a brooding marital drama and a suspense story, now meriting attention chiefly because of the underappreciated Dors.

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