Lushly photographed in Oscar-winning Techincolor, this film version of Ben Ames William's novel is an engrossingly watchable portrait of a possessive, jealous woman, a role that earned Gene Tierney an Oscar nomination.
There is an obvious tension between Ellen Berent (Tierney) and her mother (Mary Phillips), especially when it is hinted that Ellen and her late father had a special, close relationship. When the exotically beautiful socialite Ellen meets the handsome, gentle, and rather naive novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), she is taken with him because of his resemblance to her deceased dad. They gather with Ellen's family at the ranch of a mutual friend, and Ellen has Richard under her spell, discarding her fiancée Russell Quinton (Vincent Price)like last week's garbage. She proposes to Richard, and states breathlessly, "I'll never let you go,", and the poor guy (and the audience) has no idea what he is in for. It also seems that everyone but Richard (and the viewer) is aware of Ellen's demands of attention and possessiveness, as the narrator and family friend Glen Robie states early in the film, "Ellen always wins", and "Nothing ever happens to Ellen".
As soon as they are married, they travel to Georgia to meet Richard's handicapped brother, Danny (Darryl Hickman), and although Ellen helps look after him (and even teaches him to walk with crutches) she is incensed by the intrusion of him into their lives, their home, and basically, of any other person coming between her and her husband. When her mother and sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) come for a visit, she is all but enraged and her icy reception sucks all the fun out of that party!!! After her family departs, Ellen secretly takes Danny out in the lake for swimming, and deliberately lets the poor boy drown so she can have Richard all to herself. The crestfallen novelist and his manipulative bride then go to stay with Ellen's family, and on the advice of Ruth, she decides to give Richard a baby. However, Ellen is soon disillusioned with the idea, bemoans the fact that she will soon lose her figure (and her husband's attention), she coldly puts on a beautiful blue evening gown, applies red lipstick and deliberately throws herself down a flight of stairs, and succeeds in miscarrying the son that Richard so wanted. She then focuses her obsession on to her gentle sister, seeing the friendship Ruth shares with Richard, and in a self-righteous tirade, berates her long-suffering sibling (actually cousin adopted by the family), unwittingly revealing her dastardly deeds for Richard to overhear. He leaves her, preparing to file for divorce, so Ellen hatches her most evil scheme of all - she writes a letter to Quinton saying that Ruth is planning to kill her, and then poisons herself at a family picnic in order to frame her sister. The truth, however comes out at trial and Harland is forced to serve a prison sentence of two years due to his knowledge of Ellen's crimes, but once he has served his time, he and Ruth, whom had declared her love for him at the trial, unite against a epic sunset . . . . . . . .
Tierney and Crain look fabulous, and could easily pass for sisters. Ellen's "nightmare" is an effective foreshadowing of Danny's death, and her jealousy over Enid Southern, a girl from Harland's past, adds more richness to the movie. Chill Wills is great as handyman Thorne, and Vincent Price is a perfect unwitting accomplice in Ellen's last scheme. There are biblical references that resound in the film, for example, Ellen is portrayed as a serpent emerging from dark waters in one scene, while Ruth is presented as an angelic, nurturing, gardening, animal-loving cherub. Another interesting analogy is that on the way to the ranch, Ellen is anticipating hunting and eating wild turkey, while Ruth can't wait to see the new colts. The theme music is dramatic and adds fuel to the already burning fire of the drama.
It is classified as film noir, and even with the color photography, it makes sense. An interesting presentation of a truly malicious character.
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