When a rich but cantankerous dowager on an isolated estate hires an engaging handyman, her niece/companion becomes suspicious of his motives.When a rich but cantankerous dowager on an isolated estate hires an engaging handyman, her niece/companion becomes suspicious of his motives.When a rich but cantankerous dowager on an isolated estate hires an engaging handyman, her niece/companion becomes suspicious of his motives.
Classic mystery thriller is a bit creaky, but still worthwhile
Emlyn Williams suspenseful stage play is given a strong treatment in this atmospheric film. Russell plays the penniless and somewhat dowdy niece of crotchety, cranky Witty, a wealthy, feisty old woman confined to a wheelchair (possibly by her own hypochondria!) When one of the maids of the house is made pregnant, Witty interviews the guilty party (Montgomery) in order to scold him and pressure him into marrying the wayward girl, but instead is charmed to the point of hiring him on as an assistant and care-giver to herself. Russell watches in disbelief and disgust as this snake weasels his way into the heart of the otherwise cantankerous Witty and eventually begins to believe that his cheerful demeanor is a cover for a much darker side. The fact that a beheaded woman's body was found nearby and that he keeps a hat box that is "much too heavy for a hat" only adds to her fears and suspicions, yet she is strangely drawn to him, falling under his spell herself, with only occasional breaks back into cold reality. Russell and Montgomery play a game of mental tennis with Witty as the ball until the situation reaches a fever pitch. Russell does well in a mostly understated portrayal. Her versatility is evident as only two years later she would soar overboard in the classic "The Women". Sometimes, her character's motivations are fuzzy, but she does an able job of standing up to and being drawn to Montgomery. Montgomery is excellent. His innate pleasantness and sunny face mask a truly troubled persona that only comes to the surface occasionally. His interplay with both women, but primarily Witty, is a highlight of the film. Incidentally, in certain scenes and in some long shots, he resembles Jude Law (even on the video cover.) Witty is magnificent in her role as the bitter, lonely old woman whose ice is melted by the new surrogate son in her life. Alternately snippy and delighted, she and Montgomery have great chemistry and are a memorable screen duo. The remainder of the cast is solid and helpful to the ambiance with the possible exception of Russell's rather gooey love interest Marshal (though there isn't much he could have done with that part.) Definitely showing its age and its stage roots, (and clocking in a bit too lengthily) the film is nonetheless entertaining and intriguing for the most part. Interestingly, Montgomery's career as a leading man was not affected by this dark role, yet a couple of years later Cary Grant was prevented from playing one that was far less deranged in "Suspicion" (thus rendering that film's storyline somewhat ridiculous.) Montgomery even scored an Oscar nomination. It's interesting to wonder whether Grant could have gotten one if his character weren't toyed with and how his career path may have changed if he had played the darker aspects (but he could hardly complain about his film success!)
- Jan 11, 2005
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