Passed. Man, "Passed" covered so much. This movie has murder of an invalid, a horrific abortion, suicide, and stalkery behavior. But, again, we're looking at the 1945 versions of these things. Like, the movie gets remarkably dark. But also, you know, I could have technically watched this with the kids in the room. I remember that one of my kids walked in and I didn't even bother to pause it because you don't really see anything. It's just disturbing content all around. Passed.
DIRECTOR: John M. Stahl
It's so bananas how much less time I have to myself when it is summertime. You would think that a teacher in the summer has just a wealth of time to be writing film blogs. I also just realized that I should probably start on the letters of recommendation this week as well. But it always happens that we fill up the calendar, especially now that Covid restrictions are loosening up a bit and we're vaccinated. (Note: Please get vaccinated and get your kids vaccinated when they are able.) But I watched this a few days ago. I planned to write about this on Saturday and everything just came together to stop me. It was a miracle that I was able to exercise given how busy I am. Regardless, I'm jazzed to write about this movie.
It's so special when you know nothing about a film. I threw this on my Amazon wish list almost exclusively because of Amazon's recommendation and the fact that it was a newer Criterion. (I admit, when it comes to Criterion, there's an element of me that is super basic.) From the color scheme and the art design on the cover, I thought that this was going to be a romance story in the vein of Rebecca or something. And for the first half-hour, I felt that I was dead on with that guess. I mean, Ellen clearly has a secret. She comes from this mysterious family who all give each other knowing looks and have dramatic funeral services. (While my faith prevents me from being cremated, I ask that you watch this movie and give my final repose the same degree of scope, scale, and intensity as Gene Tierney gives to the scattering of her father's ashes.) And then, Russell Quinton enters the story.
I noticed Vincent Price's name show up in the opening credits. Now, I thought he was going to be his old spooky self. I mean, I can't even imagine him playing a normal role in a film. I suppose I was both right and wrong about that character. Russell Quinton's character almost deserves a prequel of some sort. As enigmatic as Ellen is in the film, Quinton has this rich understanding and obsession with Ellen. It's so bizarre because the movie is fundamentally about toxic love. Ellen loves to the point of obsession. No one is really able to reciprocate Ellen's obsessive love, which is what makes the movie worth watching. But the film also kind of implies that maybe Russell Quinton can? Vincent Price brings this element of hidden knowledge to his portrayal of the character. It's like he is the only one who can possibly understand Ellen for who she really is. It's very interesting, and his character is what pivots the film out of gothic mystery into full on Spider Woman film noir.
Because it is Russell's appearance that prompts Ellen to come up with the weird charade that Harland has proposed. She really put all of her eggs in that one basket, assuming that Harland was going to be okay with the assumed marriage. After all, it is revealed that Ellen wrote Russell a letter saying that she was going to be wed tout suite. How that wasn't a big red flag for how Ellen works, I don't know what is. Film noir is one of those genres that tends to punish protagonists for something. It's really hard to be angry at Harland in this movie. There are many times where I try to sympathize with Ellen. But every time that Harland does something morally dubious, we find out that Ellen's context is way WAY worse.
If film noir punishes its male protagonist for something foolish, it's odd to think that the movie actually rewards Harland for when he actively embraces vice. I mean, I'm reading this with my own moral eye and I know that the movie wanted to give us a happy ending. But Harland is actually a morally focused character for a lot of the film. Harland's big inciting problem is going along with Ellen's lie. When Ellen lies about Harland's proposal, that's the only real vice that this character partook in. He's a writer who seems actually pretty clean cut. But once he goes along with the lie, that's what incites Danny's death. It incites the death of his unborn child. He sees someone who is emotionally manipulative and indulges her whims until he is completely broken. But the film wants us to have a happy ending to a certain degree. After all, Harland's misdeed is fairly mild and it seems like the punishment never really fit the crime. But to give him a happy ending...
...he needs to have an affair with the antagonist's sister. See. we can all shut our brains off to make this work. The movie actually begs us to do so. Ruth has been through so much. Harland has been through so much. They have this great chemistry. They're clearly meant to be the healthier couple. But...it also makes Ellen right. Ellen's obsessive love is rooted in the nature that people aren't meant to share love with any other person, regardless of what kind of love or who the person is. When Danny moves in with the two of them (by the way, what is Ellen's secret with Danny in the hospital? That's never really spelled out clearly), she views natural fraternal love coupled with sympathy an obstacle towards Ellen's romantic love with Richard. It's why she allows him to drown. (Her confessions later are great because they're just the right level of nuts.)
I can't deny that she is the one who actually causes her own fears to come true, but she's nonetheless right about everything. Putting Harland in a scenario where he is alone with Ruth caused Harland to see that Ellen was completely bananas. And for all of her paranoia, it's kind of weird that she's accurate about her fears. That's me oversimplifying everything once again, but it makes the movie really interesting. Because --and I'll stand by that --he shouldn't have dedicated the book to Ruth. He is straight up warned that he has to dedicate every novel that he writes to his wife. Ellen, despite the fact that she's actually nuts, has a valid reason to be jealous, especially in light of that dedication page. It makes her the slightest bit sympathetic, despite the fact that she killed Danny.
It's a really solid film. Yeah, it's a bit sappy and there are sections that could use some nuance, but it really works. I mean, it's going to be better than the next movie I do, so I have that going for me.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.