Edmund Gwenn

The Bigamist (1953)

The Bigamist PosterAfter eight years of marriage, Eve (Joan Fontaine) and Harry (Edmond O’Brien) Graham decide to start the process of adopting a child.  They go to see adoption agent Mr. Jordan (Edmund Gwenn), who insists on conducting thorough background checks on his applicants.  Eve isn’t bothered at all by this, but Harry has reason to be concerned.  Since Harry often works out of town in Los Angeles, Mr. Jordan makes a trip out there to do some investigating.  Although Harry claims to stay in hotels when he’s in town, strangely, he isn’t checked into any of them and some hotel owners say he hasn’t been around in a while.  It isn’t long before Mr. Jordan tracks Harry down to a house where he is found living with a baby and another woman.

The only thing Harry can do is tell Mr. Jordan how he wound up in this situation.  It all started several months earlier when Harry was stuck in Los Angeles on business.  He had been feeling particularly lonely one night, so he distracts himself by going on a bus tour of movie stars’ homes.  He ends up sitting next to Phyllis Martin (Ida Lupino) and tries to strike up a conversation with her.  At first, she isn’t interested, but she warms to him and asks him to dinner after the tour.

Harry and Phyllis have a pleasant evening together, but Harry never intends for it to become anything more serious.  Later, Harry calls Eve to tell her about Phyllis, but Eve doesn’t take him seriously.  When Harry returns home, he finds Eve very distant and not interested in his suggestion of taking a vacation together.  Back in Los Angeles, Harry turns to Phyllis for companionship again but  this time, it turns into a real relationship and Phyllis soon becomes pregnant.  Harry plans to leave Eve, but doesn’t have the heart to so soon after the death of her father.  Not knowing what else to do, he proposes to and marries Phyllis.

With his secret out in the open, Harry decides to leave Phyllis and go home to Eve.  But after being reunited with Eve, Harry finds police officers waiting to arrest him for bigamy.

The Bigamist wasn’t one of my favorite movies, but it was certainly intriguing.  You just don’t see many movies that deal with the subject of bigamy and it’s certainly not a subject many people would expect in a movie from the 1950s.  Not only is it an unusual subject, it was also directed by Ida Lupino, so we get to see this unusual subject told from a woman’s perspective, another rarity for the 1950s.

The Bigamist features some very strong performances from its three lead actors and has some fine direction from Lupino.  And the fact that it was directed by a woman undoubtedly added some very interesting elements to it.  Even though Eve and Phyllis are married to the same man, there is no animosity between them when they meet in a courtroom.  No confrontations, no catfights, no snarky remarks to each other.  Even though most of the movie is told from Harry’s perspective, who is trying to be seen as sympathetic, it’s ultimately Eve and Phyllis who remain the most sympathetic throughout the movie.

Even though The Bigamist may not be one of the all-time great movies, it has a lot going for it that makes it worth taking a look at.

The Trouble with Harry (1955)

Usually, when a dead body turns up in the woods, people aren’t lining up to admit being responsible for that person’s demise.   But when Harry Worp is found dead in the woods, three people believe they are each responsible for killing him.  First there’s Harry’s wife, Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine).  She thinks she killed him by hitting him over the head with a bottle.  Then there’s Captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), who believes he accidentally shot Harry while hunting rabbits.  And last, but certainly not least, there’s Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick), who hit Harry on the head with the heel of her hiking boot when he tried to assault her.  But either way, none of them are exactly sad to see Harry go.

When local artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) comes along to sketch the scenery, he stumbles upon Harry’s body and also finds Albert nearby.  Albert explains what happened and Sam agrees to help him bury Harry.  Before Sam knows it, he’s helped bury and exhume Harry multiple times and is wrapped up in trying to figure out exactly how Harry died.

The Trouble with Harry manages to be both an unusual Alfred Hitchcock film and still distinctly his style.  If you go into The Trouble with Harry assuming that, because it’s Hitchcock, it will be a thriller like Vertigo or North by Northwest, you will be sorely disappointed.  Instead, it’s actually a dark comedy.  I wouldn’t call it one of Hitchcock’s best films, but I am fond of it since I have a somewhat dark sense of humor so I thought it was hilarious.  The humor is very much Hitchcock’s style; much more so than Mr. and Mrs. Smith was.  The cinematography is stunning; there are so many shots worthy of being on a postcard.  And I love the stark contrast between the picturesque scenery and the morbid comedy. The Trouble with Harry is also noteworthy for being the film debuts of Shirley MacLaine and Jerry Mathers.  It was also the first Hitchcock film to be scored by composer Bernard Hermann.

This was one of Hitchcock’s personal favorites of the movies he made and I can see why. However, I can also easily see why it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Dark comedy is one of those things that you either like or you don’t and I’ll admit the movie gets off to a little bit of a slow start.  The Trouble with Harry wasn’t a big box office success when it was first released, but I have a feeling it might have found more of an audience if it had been made in the 70’s or 80’s instead.

This year’s For the Love of Film blogathon is raising money to make the three recently rediscovered reels of 1923’s The White Shadow available to stream on the National Film Preservation Foundation’s website for three months. Hitchcock served as an assistant director for The White Shadow, one of his first major jobs. If you would like to donate, simply click the button!  For more from the For the Love of Film Blogathon, you can find other contributions at Ferdy on Films, The Self-Styled Siren, and This Island Rod.