Thu 31 Jan 2013
A WOMAN’S VENGEANCE. Universal, 1948. Charles Boyer, Ann Blyth, Jessica Tandy, Cedric Hardwicke, Mildred Natwick, John Williams. Director: Zoltan Korda.
A Woman’s Vengeance is undeniably a Class Act. That it also makes compelling viewing is just an added bonus. Directed by Zoltan Korda, written by Aldous Huxley (from his own story “The Giaconda Smile”) with a big budget and a cast that includes Charles Boyer (then past his prime as a leading man but growing in stature as an actor) Jessica Tandy and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, with support from Mildred Natwick and John Williams (the actor, not the composer; look to the right) plus a fine ingénue turn by Ann Blyth.
The story served by all this talent is one of harrowing simplicity: Boyer is an English Country Squire (by marriage) nursing a whiny invalid wife as attentively as he can while carrying on a covert affair with a younger woman (Ann Blythe, who radiates a voluptuous innocence here).
He is also being blackmailed by his worthless brother-in-law and loved from anear by neighbor Jessica Tandy, who finds daily excuses to visit the sick wife and chat with Charles.
So when the invalid wife dies suddenly, following tea in the garden with Jessica and Charles, the viewer knows almost at once what happened, whodunit and who’ll get the blame. The wonder is in seeing how skillfully director Korda and writer Huxley can play it out.
The dramatic effects sometimes seem a bit too carefully orchestrated (not unlike certain powerful scenes in the Huxley-scripted Jane Eyre of1943) such as Tandy declaring her love for Boyer in a darkened room while a violent electrical storm thunders and flashes outside; or a character gloatingly confessing guilt to another who is sitting on death row for the crime while the nearby guards studiously ignore them. But that’s just me carping; this is gripping all the way.
Jessica Tandy is brilliant here, but even better thesping comes from Sir Cedric Hardwicke, a fine actor who spent too much time in movies like Ghost of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man Returns. He plays the doctor who falls into some disrepute for mis-diagnosing the death as due to natural causes; when it’s revealed as a murder, he intuitively knows who was responsible, but he also knows that his opinion doesn’t carry much weight lately. His patient, compassionate detective work here is one of those cinematic examples of a fine actor perfectly suited to a meaty part, and much pleasure to watch.