Today, I’ve had the good fortune to watch a little something something titled A Woman’s Vengeance (1948).
IMDB.com indicates this one was directed by Zeltan Korda, a talent with a tie to genre properties in that he’s often cited as the ‘uncredited’ director of 1940’s The Thief Of Baghdad as well as the credited director of 1942’s The Jungle Book. (FYI: he also directed Humphrey Bogart in 1943’s Sahara, one of my personal favorite World War II flicks, but that’s a whole other issue.) Interestingly enough, Vengeance has another fascinating tie-in with Science Fiction in that its screenwriter is none other than Aldous Huxley, the genius behind the novel Brave New World originally published in 1932 and eventually adapted on film.
But who are its players, you ask?
The bulk of the action takes place between philandering Henry Maurier (played by Charles Boyer) and Janet Spence (Jessica Tandy), a family friend who has spent years pining for Henry’s carnal affections but has been ignored. But when the elder gentleman instead takes the hand of the very young Doris Mead (Ann Blyth), the lady Spence decides her secret attempt to garner the man’s attention can instead be used to spell his private doom. But with all of this intrigue, who would’ve expected the private workings of Dr. James Libbard (Cedric Hardwicke) might steal the show?
Why, it’s enough to keep one up at night!
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A cheating husband is charged in the poisoning death of his invalid wife, in spite of other women and suicide also being suspected.”
Described as a classic film-noir, I didn’t think that the plot of A Woman’s Vengeance would have the feature truly standing side-by-side with other significant entries of that genre, and I stand by that. Stronger stories of this type tend to involve action and (especially) danger a bit broader in scope than what Huxley’s script squeezes into its 96 minutes, and I wonder if viewers drawn to the picture with such expectations might even turn away at the film’s midpoint. In fact, there’s really no intensity to the flick at all until the second half, at which point Maurier’s bad habits catch up with him in the worst way imaginable. Charged with a murder he insists he never committed (we’re not quite sure yet, though the suspect list is considerably slim), there’s finally some greater linkage to noir beyond the obvious stylings.
The greatest drawback to the narrative as presented is that – in all honesty – there really isn’t all that much mystery here. As I said, the suspect list is very small, and the tale unfolds in a way that points rather heavily in a single direction. (No, no, no: I always try to avoid spoiling the big details, even though this one is well beyond spoiler rules.) Those watching closely will undoubtedly have a solid theory regarding precisely ‘whodunnit,’ though I’ll admit the script gave the culprit a bit of wiggle room up until a point wherein there was a well-timed confession. At that point, why go on?
Well, that’s because Sir Cedric Hardwicke damn near steals the entire picture in the finale. As the town doctor, he’s a kindly gentleman who both has and keeps his suspicious to himself, but he isn’t above pointing you and me – the audience – in the right direction with that knowing glance. Motivating by his professional oath to ‘first do no wrong,’ Dr. Libbard bends the rule just enough to finally get to the heart of the matter. Though today’s science would probably not allow such a confession to hold up in a court of law, it works rather brilliantly on film, making the closing exchange a high point to the whole sordid affair.
A Woman’s Vengeance (1948) was produced by Universal International Pictures (UI). DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the good folks at Kino Lorber. (For clarity’s sake, this was part of their Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema XI Collection, in case you’re looking to pick up a copy.) As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought that the sights and sounds to this 4K digitally restored version (from the 35mm Nitrate Original Negative) were very, very good: there are some very good sequences photographed in heavy darkness that stand out incredibly well in here. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features, there’s an audio commentary from film scholar Jason A. Ney and the original theatrical trailer to enjoy.
Oh my gosh, I do so very much prefer watching older films, and A Woman’s Vengeance – a flick I’d honestly heard very little about – was a delight. Aldous Huxley’s script (thankfully!) wasn’t heavy on melodrama – as even noirs of this era can be – and there was a good balance between conventional mystery and traditional suspense that made this one work very well. Still, I would’ve approved a bit more screen time somehow given to the sleuthing physician who truly cracks this case when others should’ve, but that’s small potatoes with a flick that embraced the unconventional at a time when Hollywood was producing a catalogue of fairly predictable fare.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of A Woman’s Vengeance (as part of their Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema XI Collection) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.