The wife of a psycho-analyst falls prey to a devious quack hypnotist when he discovers she is an habitual shoplifter. Then one of his previous patients now being treated by the real doctor is found murdered, with her still at the scene, and suspicion points only one way.
Gene Tierney ... Ann Sutton
Richard Conte ... Dr. William 'Bill' Sutton
José Ferrer ... David Korvo (as Jose Ferrer)
Charles Bickford ... Lt. James Colton
Barbara O'Neil ... Theresa Randolph
Eduard Franz ... Martin Avery
Constance Collier ... Tina Cosgrove
Fortunio Bonanova ... Feruccio di Ravallo
This is a marvelous film noir story set in every day upper-middle-class America. It presents the popular ambivalence felt at the time about psychoanalysis, with one "good" Doctor and one charlatan.
I am a fan of Gene Tierney, without thinking she a great actress. She was exceptionally pretty, had a very polished manner, and very average in range. This made her a wonderful representative of both the middle class, and their hopes of being refined. To my mind, while this is not her best film (That being either THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR or LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN), this IS her finest acting work. It uses her blankness to advantage, and this script also gives her the pathos and confusion to vent full emotional range which is rare for her films. (To the observant person, it also displays the flaws of her presentational acting style; as when she breaks down in a torrent of bitter tears, and looks up afterwards – dry eyed and serene. But for THIS film – playing a woman completely divorced from her own emotions – even that works to the benefit of the plot.)
An actor is always helped – made better, challenged more – by working with other great actors, and she is working here with one of the very best, Jose Ferrer. This was shortly before his academy award win in CYRANNO, and quite possibly, this incredibly complex performance contributed to that win, he is simply excellent. All screen villains should watch this, every second of his performance is filled with a gamut of emotions, and mundane details. It is clear that not only is his character the smartest person in the room, but Ferrer may be as well. Tierney carries the story and Ferrer moves it along. Charles Bickford also gives a marvelous performance in a smaller, yet layered role as the rumpled, grieving Detective.
Richard Conte, is the real oddball casting. His street-tough demeanor is what carried his career. (He is magnificent as the psycho mob boss in stylish expressionistic noir film, THE BIG COMBO.) So it was an interesting choice to cast him as the intellectual top-notch psychologist, and ideal husband, but it doesn't really work. We just can't really believe that people would turn to him for help, that level of sensitivity isn't there. Ultimately, this is an undercurrent of the movie, however, and Director Otto Preminger may have been making the point that even a good Psychiatrist may not be that good for people.
This film was probably shocking in its day – not very nice - like watching those lovely people next door have a drunken brawl. A larger theme which is being exposed here is that the "perfect post-war life" is an empty façade. Since this was made in 1949, this film presents a very early warning shot across the bow of the "Cleaver Family" façade. It would be almost 10 years before this was a much more common thread, in such movies as the Kim Novak/Kirk Douglas "STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET," and then films with James Dean, who became the poster boy of idyllic family life with a dysfunctional core.
The talented Ben Hecht wrote the screenplay with Andrew Solt, based on a novel by Guy Endore. Much more than mystery, much more than noir, this is a very fine story with good plot twists, emotional life (which is usually absent or ice-cold in noir), developed with subtlety and brains. It is still a joy to watch for itself, but made timeless by the despicable, love-to-hate-him performance of Jose Ferrer.
In a movie like "Whirlpool" you must take the good together with the weaknesses and naivety. The story is reasonably interesting and entertaining: the quack doctor Korvo (Jose' Ferrer) hypnotizes and cheats Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney), the spouse of a distinguished psychoanalyst (Richard Conte). A mysterious murder ensues... Unfortunately, some twists of the story are unplausible, to say the least. The moody atmosphere and the suspense are tame, even for the standards of the 1940's.
The black and white cinematography and the use of the camera are excellent. The direction by Otto Preminger is sound. The job of the cast is very good, especially by Jose' Ferrer, Gene Tierney and Charles Bickford, as the old, life-weary policeman. Richard Conte is less convincing, possibly due to the uneasy character he has to play: a famous analyst who, indeed, is incredibly dumb in getting the mental problems of his adorable spouse. There is a certain evidence that old masters of film-making had no much esteem of psychoanalysis: here Dr. Sutton seems far less competent in psychology than the quack doctor Korvo.
The major credit of "Whirlpool" is the presence of Gene Tierney. Her divine beauty shines through the film, although it somewhat makes Dr. Sutton seem even more stupid. I say: Sutton neglects Gene Tierney, to go to some blasted scientific conference. Are you kidding or what? And Gene has some scenes to show her outstanding talent as an actress. For instance, see Gene at the police station, first dizzy at her voids of memory, thereafter bravely facing and ill-using her husband, who thinks her to be an adulteress (another great job by Sutton! He is really a genius!).
Thus Gene Tierney's class, loveliness, radiant beauty, talent are largely enough to erase the defects of "Whirlpool". Let me recommend this nice movie.
One of the first things that struck me about Whirlpool is how good an actress Gene Tierney actually was. She does such a terrific job of portraying both the vulnerability and desperation of her character.
Set in Los Angeles, Whirlpool is an unassuming and unpretentious thriller that sort of fits the mold of noir. The movie certainly isn't the best example of the genre, but it does have many fine elements that, combined with Ms. Tierney's performance, make it eminently watchable.
Gene Tierney stars as Ann Sutton. Ann is the wealthy and respectable wife of successful psychiatrist Dr. William Sutton (a marvelous Richard Conte). The film opens as Ann is caught shoplifting a jeweled broach from a ritzy department store. The police and the store manager are determined to prosecute, but she gets off the hook thanks to David Korvo (Jose Ferrer), a mysterious hypnotist whom Ann employs to help her sleep.
Ann initially thinks that Korvo is out to blackmail her, and she offers him a large some of money to keep him quiet. Korvo, however, has another, far more furtive agenda. As he gradually builds Ann's trust, it soon is revealed that he has been having an affair with Sutton's former patient Theresa Randolph (Barbara O'Neil).
Shortly thereafter, Theresa turns up dead, and Ann is implicated as the murderer since she was found at the scene of the crime. Ann is arrested and charged with murder, but bitterly denies involvement telling her kindly husband that she just can't remember anything. So, who is the murderer? Surely it can't have been Korvo, as he was in the hospital during the time of Theresa's death.
It is left up to Lt. Colton (Charles Bickford) to use his detective skills and Dr. Sutton as the committed psychiatrist to break the hold that Korvo has on Ann and finally learn the truth behind the Theresa's murder.
Ferrer is terrific as the enigmatic Korvo. From the beginning it's plainly obvious that he's a sleazy, amoral confidence trickster, who is probably out to milk the Ann of her money and nothing happens to compromise his position. Richard Conte is also very good as Ann's concerned husband; he knows that his wife is not guilty but he's frustrated at the lack of inaction on behalf the local police to prove her innocence.
The issues of hypnotherapy, especially with the idea that hypnosis can make people do stuff they don't want to, is also interesting. Although, by today's standards it perhaps doesn't carry the kind of psychological weight and dramatic punch that it did back when the film was made.
Perhaps influenced by the wave of films during the period that utilized the growing field of hypnotherapy the picture might have seemed a bit fresher when it was first released. However, the Whirlpool is still fun to watch, especially for the lovely Gene Tierney who apparently used Whirlpool as a comeback after a two-year absence.