Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Barbara Has Her Portrait Painted

Our film for this week, The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947), opens in a bucolic setting.  We meet Sally Morton (Barbara Stanwyck) and her beau, Geoffrey Carroll (Humphrey Bogart) as they vacation in the Scottish countryside.  Though they only met a week ago, they appear deeply in love.  Geoffrey is a painter, and is happily sketching his new love.  It begins to storm. The couple race for shelter; Geoffrey covers his beloved with his coat, then ventures back into the rain to help their guide.  When he returns, he finds Sally cold and distant.  She has inadvertently discovered a letter in his pocket - addressed to Mrs. Geoffrey Carroll.  Sally runs out into the storm and leaves Scotland.

Geoffrey, however, is now obsessed by Sally.  He sees her as his muse, and determines that he must get her back.  So, on his way home, he stops at a chemist's shop and manages to purchase a supply of poison.  Within a year, he is married to Sally.  Within two, he has lost his interest in his wife, and has discovered a new muse in the person of Cecily Latham (Alexis Smith).  And it seems that Sally is destined to follow the first Mrs. Carroll to the grave.
As this TCM article points out, The Two Mrs. Carrolls was not well received upon its release (It had, in fact, moldered in the Warner Brothers vaults for two years before its release).  Time magazine felt Bogart was miscast as an artist, while the New York Times's Bosley Crowther called the film 'a monstrosity" (they also stated that its release was delayed by the Warner Brothers for two years).  We, however, could not disagree more.  We found The Two Mrs. Carrolls to be an enjoyable film, with a strong cast that really pulls you into the action.  The film is based on a play that ran for 585 performances on Broadway, (with Elisabeth Bergner as Sally and Victor Jory as Geoffrey; produced by Bergner's husband, Paul Czinner). 

Let's start with Humphrey Bogart, who is wonderful as the insane artist.  Bogart plays Geoffrey with a delicacy that makes you at times doubt he could possibly BE a murderer.  His devotion to his daughter, Beatrice (Ann Carver) is sincere.  And his early scenes with Stanwyck exhibit a true love.  But, like Mr. Hyde, his dark side is quickly revealed, and the violent underbelly of the character is apparent.  Time's comment that "Bogart appears uncomfortable. Violence and murder are old stuff to him, but madness and paint brushes are not quite his line," is a bit odd.  For one thing, Bogart was well acquainted with "paint brushes" - his mother, after all, was the noted artist Maud Humphrey and baby Humphrey was her frequent model.  (For more on Maud Humphrey, visit this website from the Winterthur Museum). And he was no stranger to playing insane characters either - his Joe Gurney in King of the Underworld and George Halley in The Roaring Twenties are not exactly poster children for mental health.
We know that Geoffrey's passion for Cecily would eventually head down the same road as his love for Sally, though Alexis Smith plays Cecily as such a viper, it's doubtful anyone would really care.  While Sally runs from the possibility of an affair with a married man, Cecily relishes it.  And while Geoffrey is quite insane, one wonders if Cecily's disregard for Beatrice would have been the eventual cause of her demise.  We'll never know.

We loved Stanwyck as Sally.  She's a strong woman, who, overwhelmed by her discovery of her husband's perfidy, still takes charge of the situation.  Is she afraid of him? You bet, but she doesn't give in to being a victim.  She fights to the very end.  One also never doubts that Sally is a woman of integrity.  We know that Cecily is a manipulative witch, but Sally is a loving mother and wife who is supportive of her husband when his career is on a downturn, but is not a doormat.  That her warm relationship with her former fiance is believable is due to Stanwyck's sincerity as an actress.

Also impressive is Ann Carter.  The actress had a short film career, and is remembered especially for The Curse of the Cat People and I Married a Witch (as Veronica Lake's daughter).  She makes Bea a remarkably knowing child, but manages to avoid that smart-alacky attitude over-intelligent movie children often have.  Her career was over by 1953.  Around that time, she contracted polio. She eventually recovered, went to college, married, and had three children.  When she died in 2014, at age 77, ovarian cancer, she had been married to her husband (Crosby Newton) for 57 years.
I'm not big on spoilers, but the picture above was too good to resist, as actress Stanwyck observes the artistic results of Geoffrey's tormented mind.  The revelation of Sally as The Angel of Death is a shocking moment - much more powerful on the screen.   No details here, but suffice it to say, it's a scene to look out for.  The blog The Last Drive-In has a number of photos from the film (many are spoilers, so beware); this photo was one of them. 

The director of the film is Peter Godfrey.  He had already directed Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut and Cry Wolf (which we will look at next time) and had directed Alexis Smith in The Woman in White.  One wonders if he was familiar with Hitchcock's Suspicion - the scenes of Bogart carrying the poisoned milk to his wives is very reminiscent of Cary Grant on the same mission.  Godfrey's career was respectable - he appears to have retired after directing some television episodes in the 1950s, and died in 1970. 

We'll leave you with a trailer from the film. Next week, another Peter Godfrey/Barbara Stanwyck mystery.


  1. amazed by how much you know about these actors.

    1. I look a lot of stuff up. I have a lot of film books, and there is always the Internet!


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