Starring: Edmond O’Brien, Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino
Director: Ida Lupino
When a man tries to adopt a child with his wife, the agency looks into his life and finds that he has actually been living two lives with two different wives. When confronted, he tells is his story about how is all happened in flashback.
Perhaps intended to be salacious, after all, bigamy and having two wives was very shocking and subversive in the 1950’s, this film feels fairly tame by modern tastes and mores, in that respect. What is striking is the direction of this film. The looks or the inability to make eye contact between the characters, their quiet desperation. Each seems to be tough on the exterior and yet covers a heart that is full to breaking of sadness.
This is down to the hand of Ida Lupino, one of the few female directors of her era and this film is the first film where a woman director also stars in her film. Ida Lupino was a really wonderful director, getting more emotion and subtlety from her actors than many of her contemporaries. She is one of Hollywood’s unsung heroes, so it’s nice to talk about her and her work here.
The film is a three hander. Edmond O’Brien as Harry, who doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but who lives in what he feels is a loveless marriage, and falls into the arms of a woman who he then has to marry as she’s pregnant. Joan Fontaine, with her beautiful, elegant features, is the first wife, who takes an interest in helping her husband to manage his business when she finds that she can’t have children. She seems so strong with her organisational skills and head for figures, but she’s hurting and can’t reach out. Meanwhile, Ida Lupino is a tough waitress, but her heart is fragile and easily broken. She also hides her neediness and vulnerability behind her tough talk.
All three are sympathetic characters, though Harry really could have been a bit less weak and not gotten all of them into the mess they find themselves in, but you really do feel the pressure and strain that he’s been under to maintain his double life. The ending is ambiguous, what will happen to them all with the choices they are faced with? Whatever does happen, there is tragedy all round for the broken hearts and hopes of these three.
See it if: you are interested in women directors, especially those of the old Hollywood era. Ida Lupino is marvellous.