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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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