Dr. Crippen (1963) Poster


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The Good 'Dr.'
Eugene Kim30 June 1999
A compact, modestly budgeted movie that looks perfectly at home on home video (which is how I saw it). "Dr. Crippen" boasts flavorful performances by Donald Pleasence as the not-so-good doctor, Coral Browne as the long-suffering as well as insufferable Belle, and a pre-"Collector" Samantha Eggar as Ethel Le Neve, every unhappily married middle-aged man's fantasy. Casting the British-born Pleasence and Australian native Browne as the American Crippens hardly seems to matter. Eggar may have been too beautiful to play Le Neve (who, judging from photographs, was still a darkly attractive young woman). The movie is, perhaps, too economical; although we do get to see Crippen and Le Neve disguised as father and son for their ill-fated ocean voyage, I wished other colorful details of the case had also been re-created, such as Crippen's recklessly escorting Le Neve to a charity ball shortly after his wife's disappearance. As for the movie's suggestion that Crippen wasn't truly guilty of premeditated murder, my reply is: perhaps - but that doesn't really explain why Crippen cut up his wife's body and buried the pieces in the coal cellar.

The real Ethel Le Neve was still alive when this film was first released (she died in 1967). One wonders if she saw it. One wonders what she thought if she had.
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"Damned Yankees" :)
GarryQ13 March 2004
Brits complain about Americans stealing our inventions, yet we've been quite happy to claim two Americans, a quack doctor and a failed burlesque singer for our own. Casting 'Donald Pleasence'(qv) as the Doctor and Anglicised Aussie 'Coral Browne' (qv) as his insufferable wife not only seemed right but produced wonderfully atmospheric performances. I've only seen a TV version so it may be TV editing rather than the low budget that missed out, for example, Ethel wearing Mrs Crippens furs & jewellery to events. It would have helped see why the Doctor fell under suspicion. Made at a time when abolishing capital punishment and miscarriages of justices were under discussion in the UK it is not surprising the film suggests that the murder wasn't premeditated. In the light of his subsequent actions, you can decide yourself.

The real `other woman' Ethel Le Neve, changed her name and died in Dulwich, SE London, in 1967 aged 89. If she saw this movie what did she think?
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Their love is like bad medicine ...
Coventry11 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Some of cinema's most fascinating & involving court dramas are inspired by notorious historical cases, and Robert Lynn's masterful Indie-production "Dr. Crippen" is definitely no exception. The factual case of Hawley Harvey Crippen was one of the most talked-about events back in 1910, because he was the first person the police ever arrested with the aid of wireless communication techniques (cleverly processed into the film as well) and - moreover - he was executed despite the fact that it was never fully clarified whether he intentionally murdered his wife or that he accidentally gave her an overdose of medicine. Especially since the true circumstances of Belle Crippen's death remain unknown to this date, the film also remains quite vague about it and only suggests a hypothetical situation of what could have happened. Writer Leigh Vance opted for an ingenious and rather unusual narrative structure in which extended scenes at the courthouse are interfered with extended flashbacks about how the accused got there. The first chapter largely focuses on portraying what type of woman Belle Crippen was. She was an arrogant and selfish woman, openly committing adultery and humiliating her docile husband in public ("you're unattractive, but you're my husband so I guess I have to sleep with you"). The second chapter subsequently depicts Dr. Crippen's sincere affection for the young Ethel Le Neve, who works as an employee in his medical cabinet. Despite Belle having many lovers, she threatens to ruin Crippen's career and reputation if he would choose to leave her for Ethel. The second segment ends on the night of Belle's death. The film's first hour is compelling enough and the case's background is of course essential need-to-know information, but the pacing is rather slow and several sequences appear to be a bit tedious. The last half hour, however, is close to brilliant and literally had me on the edge of my chair. Terrified of the possible consequences, Dr. Crippen convinces his sweet but extremely naive mistress to flee to the United States, disguised as father and son. The alert captain recognizes them and uses the newly invented wireless communication system to inform Scotland Yard about Crippen's whereabouts. The finale is absolutely powerful and unforgettable, handling about the verdict in court and the prison days prior to Dr. Crippen's execution. For as far as I read about the Crippen case in reference books and various websites, this film is very accurate and complete. Even the characterizations are truthful, which actually makes you sympathize with the Dr.'s side of the story, as he and Ethel experience true love whereas Belle is an insufferable battle-axe. On the other hand, if it was just an "accident", how could he bring himself to dismembering his wife's corpse and hide it from the police? As you can tell, this film is extraordinary involving and thought-provoking. Donald Pleasance gives away a tour-de-force performance as the titular character, once again reassuring us he was one of the most talented, but sadly underrated, actors who ever lived. The cinematography is very tight and wondrous, which shouldn't come as a big surprise considering the man responsible was Nicolas Roeg. Very much recommended!
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A simple, sober and sympathetic movie
Martin Bradley10 February 2016
Poor "Dr. Crippen". As the character himself says, he's gone down in history as some kind of monster, not that far removed from Jack the Ripper. Robert Lynn's simple, sober film sets out to redress the balance. painting Crippen as more sinned against than sinner. Yes, he killed his wife and dismembered her corpse but did she drive him to it and was the killing itself an accident as he ultimately claims? There is no doubt as to which side Lynn's film is on.

It's an intelligent little picture if, in the end, not a particularly exciting one and it's very well played by Donald Pleasence, (Crippen), Samantha Eggar, (Ethel Le Neve, his uncomprehending mistress) and Coral Browne, (his shrew of a wife). The fine black and white cinematography is by Nicholas Roeg.
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was he guilty
shatteredillusions17 March 2005
Despite the overwhelming evidence supporting the murder of Mrs. Crippen there has to be a question of intent. Whilst the film gives what seemingly is an accurate portrayal of the crime it seems to be biased towards the like of Filson Young who perceived Mrs Crippen as a wanton woman. The portrayal of the state of the house is accurate according to the reports in the papers though the over acting by the captain of the montrose and the failure of pleasance to grow a beard whilst evading the long arm of the law indicates poetic licence. Anyone who hasn't studied the background to the case will find it an OK watch but there are too many inaccuracies to the academics!
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That Mysterious Night At Hilldrop Crescent, 01/31/1910
theowinthrop2 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I have done some reviews before on some programs or movies that were based on the murder of Cora Crippen (i.e. "Belle Elmore") one century ago. The two movies that come to mind are WE ARE NOT ALONE (Paul Muni, Flora Robson, Henry Daniell) based on James Hilton's blistering novel of authority gone to seed, and THE SUSPECT (Charles Laughton, Stanley Ridges, and again Henry Daniell) which dated the story back eight years, and added a killing as well as altering that final dash across the ocean. Ian Holm appeared in We, THE ACCUSED, a few decades ago, in which the story was totally in the British Isles as well. The basics of the tale remain the same - sad, decent "doormat" husband of termagant wife turns on her and he and his decent girlfriend are destroyed by the society's ideas of justice, right and wrong. How true this is to the actual case is another matter.

This 1962 film is rarely seen on television (I watched a ten part division of it on You Tube, but it appears to be complete). It was a fairly sparse production, the biggest expenses seeming to be the actors: Donald Pleasance as Dr. (or "Dr.") Hawley Harvey Crippen, Cora Browne as Cora Crippen, Samantha Egger as Ethel Le Neve, Sir Donald Wolfit as prosecutor Sir Richard Muir, and James Robinson Justice (who merited a separate cast listing in the opening credits) as "Captain McKenzie" of the Montrose (actually Captain Henry Kendall, who happened to be alive in 1962 - he died in 1965). The acting is excellent, especially that of Pleasance, Browne, and Egger. Aside from a model of the Montrose seen at night there were few special effects. But then few were needed.

Crippen is the odd duck among British murderers or defendants in murder trials. Others were convicted and later doubt cast on the conviction - most notably Timothy Evans in the Christie Case (see 10 RILLINGTON PLACE), William Herbert Wallace for the murder of his wife in 1931 (see THE MAN FROM THE 'PRU), and Derek Bentley for being old enough to hang for the killing of a policeman by his friend and partner, the underage Christopher Craig (see "LET HIM HAVE IT CHRIS!"). Yet unlike the last three, who most people assume were innocent or less guilty (Bentley) than they were treated, Crippen is the reverse. Most people still believe he killed Cora, but feel he was under intense pressure from his victim. It's impossible to come to any agreement now on that point.

Cora was oversexed, but there is evidence that Crippen initially was attracted to her when they married (by the way, he was married before, had a son, but his wife died - the son survived him). Cora had a hysterectomy (the surgery scar discussed in this film squeamishly avoids the reason for the scar). Tom Cullen in his book CRIPPEN: THE MILD MURDERER, has suggested that this was the true tragedy of the story - both wanted children. Had they had some it might have united them.

Cora still could have sex and admirers, and did flaunt both. It disgusted her husband, but he kept quiet. She and her lovers (their "boarders") treated him with contempt, and an early scene of him cleaning their shoes shows how life was really cruddy for him. But eventually he hired Miss Le Neve, and found the great love of his life. Cora found out and the crisis arrived - and at the end she was dead.

The film is taking it's cue from a theory (first voiced by the great British barrister Sir Edward Marshall Hall) that the hyoscin bromide given Belle was to calm her down and cut her sexual drive. Actually it is hard to tell - in sufficient doses hyoscin is deadly. So it proved here. Moreover Cora's head was never found in the remains, and some claimed they heard a gunshot that night. Possibly Hawley had to silence her screams due to giving her too much of the medication.

Hawley's popularity was cemented by his insistence that Ethel not be mentioned at his trial (in fact, they had separate trials - not one like this film). Ethel was defended by F.E.Smith, the future Lord Chancellor Lord Birkenhead, and won acquittal. Hawley's decision to assure his own conviction to save Ethel is what makes him gain our respect in the end.

Was he (as Filson Young tried to suggest) half spiritually good and half revolting? Possibly. I happen to wish his sentence had become a prison sentence, but it seems unlikely it could have been. That forgotten, pretentious spy novelist William Le Queux claimed he met Crippen who knew all about poisons, and Le Queux suggested he was one of the most dangerous men in the world. But most people liked him, including Inspector Walter Dew (who retired from the police after the conviction - he hated having to testify against the man who became his friend). But I leave you with this thought - he was a successful businessman in the sale of harmful, patent medicines and in questionable medical "institutes" for ear care. There was a darker side to Hawley we all tend to turn away from.
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Stuffy, Talky, and Confined
LeonLouisRicci16 October 2013
A Rather Dry and Low-Key Re-Telling of the Infamous Real-Life 1910 Case involving a Prominent Doctor, a Domineering and Battle-Axe of a Wife, an Attractive Mistress, and a Grisly Murder and Dismemberment. The "Good" Doctor was Tried and Hanged, but like so many of these Cases, the Jury, at least Publicly, is Still Out.

This Movie is a Well Cast, Talky, Claustrophobic Story that Attains a British, Stuffy, Tone and never Varies. It is Compelling, if not a Top-Notch, Thriller or Mystery Who-Done-It or Courtroom Drama. The Film just sort of Whispers its way from one Scene to Another with just Enough Intrigue to keep one Interested.

Nicholas Roeg's Cinematography is Crisp but Confined and it is the Performances that Grip this True Story and make it Involving with Samantha Eger and Donald Pleasence Standing Out, but Everyone Contributes to this Somewhat Creepy, Fireside, True-Crime, Turn of the Century Tale.
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The Worm Turns
James Hitchcock18 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Hawley Harvey Crippen has gone down in history as one of the most notorious murderers in British history, although he was neither a serial killer like Jack the Ripper or the Moors Murderers nor a powerful crime lord like the Kray brothers. He was hanged for the murder of his wife whom he poisoned so that he could be with his attractive, much younger, mistress Ethel Le Neve. There were probably many similar domestic murders in Victorian and Edwardian Britain; what made Crippen so famous was probably his dramatic attempt to escape to his native America with Ethel and the part modern technology (or what was then modern technology) played in their arrest aboard a ship in Canadian waters. (Crippen had been recognised from newspaper photographs by the ship's captain, who telegraphed his suspicions by wireless to Scotland Yard).

Mrs Crippen's real name was Kunigunde Mackamotski, but she later changed this to Corrine or Cora Henrietta Turner and also used the stage name Belle Elmore. (She was a music hall artiste). In the film she is always referred to as "Belle", although in private life she seems to have preferred "Cora". Her husband has gone down in history as "Dr Crippen", although this is not strictly correct, as his qualifications from the Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College did not allow him to practise medicine in Britain, where he worked, among other things, as a distributor of patent medicines. In the film, however, it is implied that he is a GP.

The film follows the facts of the case fairly closely, although there are occasional divergences; Crippen and Ethel are shown as being tried together but in reality they were tried separately, Ethel's trial taking place after Crippen's had been concluded. (She was charged with being an "accessory after the facts" to murder, so it made sense to hold two separate trials. Had Crippen been acquitted, there would have been no charge for Ethel to answer). Crippen and his wife were both American by birth, but they are played here with British accents; unlike many British film-makers from this period the producers were clearly not interested in bringing in Hollywood stars to increase the film's appeal at the American box-office. Or perhaps they could not find Hollywood stars who were interested in playing a notorious murderer and his shrewish wife.

There are two excellent performances from Donald Pleasence as Crippen and Coral Browne as Belle, who combine to provide a striking portrait of a disastrously unsuccessful marriage. Browne plays Belle as a crude, vulgar and sexually promiscuous middle-aged woman, no longer attractive although she may have been so in the past. We get some idea of her character when she sings one of her music hall songs in which she declares that, although she is not a "one-man woman", anyone who loves her must be a "one-woman man", and it is quite obvious that this applies as much to the real Belle as it does to her stage persona. She delights in insulting and humiliating her husband, often in front of friends and acquaintances, and cuckolds him with their lodgers and with her music-hall colleagues. Despite her own infidelities she is offended by her husband's affair with Ethel and by the fact that he no longer wishes to sleep with her- not because she is sexually attracted to him but because she cannot bear the idea of any man not being sexually attracted to the great Belle Elmore. (For some reason, Belle always calls her husband "Peter", but Ethel calls him by his real name, Hawley).

Pleasence's Crippen is outwardly a quiet little worm of a man who will meekly accept all the humiliations which his overbearing wife loads upon him, but, as they say, even a worm will turn, and Crippen gradually begins to stand up to Belle's bluster. The one acting contribution I felt was weak came from Samantha Eggar as Ethel, as she did little to suggest just why such a beautiful young woman should have fallen so deeply in love with such an unprepossessing and physically unattractive older man. Although Ethel Le Neve was found not guilty of being an accessory to Belle's murder, I suspect that in real life she was not as sweet and innocent as Eggar makes her seem here.

At the end of the film Crippen claims that he did not intend to kill Belle but accidentally gave her an overdose of a sedative he was using (without her knowledge or consent) to calm her aggressive nature. Similar claims have been made on his behalf by commentators on the case, but he never raised this claim at the trial. Perhaps preferred to gamble on the possibility of being acquitted altogether than to raise what would effectively have been a defence of "not guilty to murder, guilty to manslaughter". Although manslaughter did not carry the death penalty, it carried the possibility of a long prison sentence which would have separated Crippen from his beloved Ethel.

Unlike most crime movies, films like this one which recreate real-life crimes from the past are not really "thrillers"; most of the audience will be well aware of Crippen's story so his eventual conviction and execution will come as no surprise. Such films can, however, shed light on the underlying pressures and psychological factors which lead to crime. 7/10
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True crime story enlivened by a good look and fine performances
Leofwine_draca10 February 2016
DR. CRIPPEN is an effective retelling of a true crime story, bolstered by a typically excellent turn from Donald Pleasence in the titular role. Pleasence makes every facet of his flawed lead his own, and in the end you can truly believe that he is Crippen. He also helps to make Crippen a sympathetic character despite the turn of events that occurs.

The format of the film is kept simple and straightforward, with much of the story told in flashback and courtroom drama making up the rest. It feels a little bit staid and ordinary, but Nic Roeg's cinematography at least makes it look good and the cast is decent: Samantha Eggar convinces as the youthful mistress, while Coral Browne is so overbearing that you can't help but sympathise with poor Crippen. A typically fiery Donald Wolfit (BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE) plays the prosecutor with his usual aplomb.
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The Mouse Turns.
Robert J. Maxwell18 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The British seem to have more interesting murderers than America, disregarding the current serial killer mania. The British have Jack the Ripper, Christie and Crippen, and what have we got? Lizzie Borden, and that's all.

Crippen was a doctor who, in 1910, poisoned his virago of a horny wife, disarticulated her body, hid it, and ran off with his pretty young secretary, Ethel La Neve.

According to this story, Crippen poisoned his wife by accident. La Neve had no idea she was dead and disposed of, believing Crippen's story that the wife had run off to America with one of her many boyfriends. When he comes under suspicion by Scotland Yard, Crippen tries to pull the same stunt. Well -- if you can mismanage an escape, this one is thoroughly bungled. Crippen shaves his mustache and disguises La Neve (played by the succulent and beautiful Samantha Eggar) as a boy. On the ship to America, the deceit is obvious, if for no other reason than that Crippen keeps grabbing his "son's" ass in public. The wireless is put to work and the duo are met by the Canadian police, returned to England, and Crippen gets the noose while La Neve goes free.

No one can fault the performances. Donald Pleasance plays Crippen as a henpecked husband who stifles every emotion. Coral Browne is his frowzy, unfastidious wife always importuning her husband to bed her, which he hasn't done in years. (It's pretty frank about these matters.) But Pleasance doesn't seem to have any trouble with Ethel La Neve. Why should he? Not being the right kind of maven I don't know how closely the film hews to the historical record. The framing story is Crippen's trial and there are many flashbacks, sometimes illustrating events the witness could never have seen. The writing is clumsy and the direction pedestrian. It's a bald presentation of the facts, done with what appears to be a limited budget. It's artless. There is no poetry.

There could have been an entirely different take on the matter. Ethel La Neve -- Homewrecker. She's Crippen's typist and wears low-cut dresses to work. She seduces Crippen who is, after all, every young lady's dream -- a doctor -- and persuades the smitten doc to get rid of the harridan at home and bury her dismembered corpse in the cellar.

Still, there is an adult intelligence at work behind the flavorless presentation of fact and fancy. Every character is given a touch of some humanity, from Crippen the murderer, through his loveless wife, to the corrections officer at the jail before Crippen gets it in the neck. It's too bad that it all comes out rather spiritless.
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Bloodless Passion
dougdoepke28 October 2013
A dour little movie, with flat out ugly photography and ill-matched pairings. In short, the 90- minutes is something of an ordeal to sit through, that is, if you have the usual movie expectations. I don't know what the director told lead actor Pleasance (Crippen), but he acts like he swallowed a lemon throughout, even when in the loving company of the luscious Eggar (Ethel). I know he's supposed to be repressed, but his permanent paralysis appears unreal. Then too, seeing this unpleasant little middle-aged man paired with the lovely young Eggar amounts to more than a stretch. Then there's Belle (Brown), his boisterously unfaithful wife. About five-minutes into the film and I was hoping someone would strangle her and rescue my ears. The movie's only mystery is why it took him so long.

The case itself, from books I've read, was pretty much open-and-shut against the doctor. Certainly he had reasons to commit the crime, which coincides with the movie. However, I suspect the element of doubt about his intentions that the movie introduces was an invention to add a provocative note to an otherwise unremarkable screenplay. Certainly, Crippen is presented as a somewhat sympathetic character by movie's end, which looks like a belated effort to humanize an otherwise one-note performance. Anyhow, the lead characters come across more like stereotypes than real people. And that along with the truly grim-faced production amounts to a forgettable movie experience.
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