Whirlpool Blu-ray Review

Good but not great 1940s noir drama 3.5 Stars

Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool presents a unique crime drama with a noir style that’s good but not quite at the level of the era’s best mysteries.

Whirlpool (1949)
Released: 28 Nov 1949
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 98 min
Director: Otto Preminger
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery, Romance, Thriller
Cast: Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, José Ferrer, Charles Bickford
Writer(s): Ben Hecht (screenplay), Andrew Solt (screenplay), Guy Endore (novel)
Plot: A woman secretly suffering from kleptomania is hypnotized in an effort to cure her condition. Soon afterwards, she is found at the scene of a murder with no memory of how she got there and seemingly no way to prove her innocence.
IMDB rating: 6.8
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Fox
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles:
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 37 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 09/17/2019
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 3.5/5

Otto Preminger’s noirish melodrama Whirlpool makes every attempt to capture the mystery and magic of his masterful 1944 Laura using quite a few of the same participants who contributed to its success, but while it doesn’t inevitably measure up to that masterly tale, what’s here in Whirlpool is entertaining enough to hold one’s attention. It’s only in the comparison to Laura that this later movie comes wanting.

Plagued by an overwhelming urge to shoplift and not wanting to be a disappointment to her psychiatrist husband Bill (Richard Conte), Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney) is helped out of a tight spot by astrologist and mystic David Korvo (Jose Ferrer). Unfortunately for Ann, Korvo is a conniving hypnotist who draws her into a web of deception and murder through his clever and devious mind-altering abilities and frames her for his crime. While Ann’s husband Bill at first finds it hard to believe that his wife committed the crime or was unfaithful to him with Korvo, the devious scheme Korvo has set into motion makes proving her innocence to Lieutenant James Colton (Charles Bickford) more than a little difficult.

Screenwriters Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt have crafted their screenplay from the novel Methinks the Lady by Guy Endore showing how a conniving use of hypnotism could actually help convict an innocent person of murder. Viewers at the time must have found the entire notion preposterous though today we understand that circumstances could have occurred in the way they’re displayed in the movie. Preminger isn’t quite able to create the same atmosphere of romantic mystery that he deployed in Laura; the tone is more blatantly manipulative and ugly, and there isn’t much he can do with the talky first half of the picture as the set-up is quite necessary for its intricacies to pay off later. The writers and director Preminger were very wise to show that Ann, desperate though she is at certain junctures in the film, isn’t the mild, easy victim that might have been more expected for this kind of movie (her initial hypnotic sequence is eerie and fascinating to watch). She has within her certain strengths of will that even the clever hypnotist can’t get around and must accept, strengths that inevitably bring about his downfall. Preminger uses close-ups quite well, too, allowing us to see clearly emotions and conflicts in the faces of the principal characters.

Though her more reserved acting style doesn’t quite allow her to milk the part’s more extreme emotions for maximum effect, Gene Tierney still makes an identifiable victim. Richard Conte has been cast against type as the thoughtful professional man, and he does fine within the bounds of his less well-written character. It’s really Jose Ferrer’s show to steal, and he does it effortlessly as the charlatan who’s always a few jumps ahead of everyone else. Charles Bickford gives weight and authority to the role of the homicide detective in charge of the investigation gradually allowing his by-the-book procedural methodology to be tweaked just enough to allow for something more fantastic as an explanation of the events he’s investigating. Barbara O’Neil is always a welcome presence even in the limited role of a murder victim who only gets a scene or two to show her stuff before she’s offed. The great Constance Collier likewise adds color to a couple of scenes as a party hostess in what eventually became her last film role.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. In a very film-like transfer, most of the imagery is sharp and clear (except in moments where Preminger deliberately soft-focuses the image for effect). The grayscale is excellent throughout with rich black levels that blend into the pillarbox bars. But there are some occasional specks and spots, not enough to be a problem but just enough to be noticeable. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The disc offers mono and stereo versions of DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. For the purposes of the review, I spent more time with the stereo encode (which is the default encode on the disc) which stretches out the dialogue, David Raksin’s music, and the sound effects across the front soundstage. It’s a fuller and more involving listening experience than the mono encode with its very limited fidelity, but purists will appreciate its presence as a choice. There is no evidence of any age-related problems with hiss, flutter, crackle, or pops.

Special Features: 3/5

Audio Commentary: film critic and historian Richard Schickel presents another of his rather ineffectual tracks ported over from the DVD release. It begins promisingly enough with an analysis of Preminger’s staging and framing of the opening scene, but that’s the last such evidence that he’s going to do something other than snidely comment about what’s happening on-screen and occasionally make reference to the more famous of the film’s actors without providing much in the way of biographical information about them or lending background on the film’s production. By about halfway through he only occasionally adds a comment between long gaps of silence.

Isolated Music Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.

Original Theatrical Trailer (2:39, SD): This can also be played with just an isolated score track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.

Six-Page Booklet: contains some black and white stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Mike Finnegan’s entertaining essay on the movie.

Overall: 3.5/5

Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool presents a unique crime drama with a noir style that’s good but not quite at the level of the era’s best mysteries. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release offers very good sound and picture to fans of the stars or the genre. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.

Published by

Matt Hough

editor,member

7 Comments

  1. Thank you for your review. I have the 2015 UK Blu-ray that I'm very happy with so I don't see the need to buy the TT Blu-ray too. It also has a different audio commentary by Adrian Martin that I have not listen to yet, so I'll do that with my next viewing of this movie. I still have the DVD disc with Richard Schickel's commentary and I agree with you that most of his commentaries are not very good.

  2. Robert Crawford

    Thank you for your review. I have the 2015 UK Blu-ray that I'm very happy with so I don't see the need to buy the TT Blu-ray too. It also has a different audio commentary by Adrian Martin that I have not listen to yet, so I'll do that with my next viewing of this movie. I still have the DVD disc with Richard Schickel's commentary and I agree with you that most of his commentaries are not very good.

    I've never heard the Adrian Martin commentary, but even unheard, I'd be willing to bet it's superior to Schickel's effort. He really didn't put forth much on most of his tracks. Seems like there were one or two I heard years ago that weren't abysmal, but they usually don't have ANY information in them that the ordinary movie fan wouldn't already know.

  3. I just finished it. Nothing about what I watched would lead me to believe this is a new transfer. Some of it is fine, some less than fine and some downright odd fluctuations in the image.

  4. Much higher bitrate on the TT. I haven’t had time to compare them yet but scanning it thought the TT had slightly higher grain management, and slightly finer shadow detail. The originals were done by Schawn Belston’s team at Fox, ditto Angel Face and Where the Sidewalk Ends. All three BFI discs looked great but I frankly always see a slight increase in PQ when you uprez a very high bitrate encoded AVC to 4k.

    Another Fox topic OT, anyone have opinions about the new Criterion Cluny Brown?

  5. david hare

    Much higher bitrate on the TT. I haven’t had time to compare them yet but scanning it thought the TT had slightly higher grain management, and slightly finer shadow detail. The originals were done by Schawn Belston’s team at Fox, ditto Angel Face and Where the Sidewalk Ends. All three BFI discs looked great but I frankly always see a slight increase in PQ when you uprez a very high bitrate encoded AVC to 4k.

    Another Fox topic OT, anyone have opinions about the new Criterion Cluny Brown?

    Perhaps, it's best to ask that question in the Cluny Brown thread.

    As to the slight increase in PQ for Whirlpool, it's not enough difference for me to spend another $29.95 to find out by purchasing the TT disc, especially, if I'm happy with the BFI disc and this isn't exactly one of my favorite movies.

  6. david hare

    Much higher bitrate on the TT. I haven’t had time to compare them yet but scanning it thought the TT had slightly higher grain management, and slightly finer shadow detail. The originals were done by Schawn Belston’s team at Fox, ditto Angel Face and Where the Sidewalk Ends. All three BFI discs looked great but I frankly always see a slight increase in PQ when you uprez a very high bitrate encoded AVC to 4k.

    Another Fox topic OT, anyone have opinions about the new Criterion Cluny Brown?

    My only point was this is NOT a new transfer, it's probably what was used for the DVD.

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