WOMAN OF STRAW. United Artists, 1964. Gina Lollobrigida, Sean Connery, Ralph Richardson, Alexander Knox, Johnny Sekka. Based on the book by Catherine Arley (Collins Crime Club, UK, 1957; no US edition) previously published in France as La Femme de Paille in 1953. Director: Basil Dearden.


   What you should do first is go to British mystery writer Martin Edwards’ blog, where he cited the book the film is based on as part of Patti Abbott’s “Forgotten Books” project on her blog. This is a joint enterprise in which every Friday people post suggestions of books worth being recognized again (or for the first time).

   I hadn’t heard of either the book or the movie, but when I read Martin’s write-up and then I learned that Sean Connery and Gina Lollobrigida played the two of the three leading parts in the film, I couldn’t resist.

   I haven’t ordered a copy of the book, but I was able to obtain a DVD of the movie version rather easily. Most of professional reviews have been negative (Variety and so on), but with one tiny qualification on my part, in my opinion most of the professional reviews are wrong. If you are a fan of detective fiction and if you ever come across a copy of this movie, by all means, don’t hesitate. Snap it up at once.


   From Martin’s account, the book takes place in Germany, and the movie takes place in England (and Majorca), but from there, the basic plot line sounds the same.

   When a wealthy old man with a world-hating disposition (Ralph Richardson) needs a nurse, his nephew who hates him and for good reason (Sean Connery) makes sure that the nurse he gets (Gina Lollobrigida) is the one that the nephew wants.

   Mr. Connery (of course) has a plan.

   Let me describe the wheelchair-bound uncle this way, using the nephew’s own words. “He treats his servants [black] as dogs, and his dogs as servants.” Nurse Maria resists the nephew’s plans for her at first, but 50 million dollars is very, very tempting. Nonetheless, her resistance — and eventually making him come to her, the uncle, that is, not her to him — is what eventually wins him over.


   And believe it or not, her charm not only works on the nephew, as it has all along, but the uncle’s behavior seems to take a turn for the better as well.

   I’d have to agree that wealthy (and unlikeable) people being murdered by relatives for their money is old hat stuff in detective fiction, and maybe this is what turned the professional reviewers off. That and the fact that it takes a long time to develop the characters with very little happening.

   I didn’t mind it at all. Delicious! Sean Connery is super suave, Miss Lollabrigida is delectable with just a hint of naivete, and Ralph Richardson as an upper-crust man who’s unhappy with both life and wealth — it is a role he was born to play.

   And when the expected event happens, it doesn’t happen the way I expected it to happen, and there’s no way I could have turned this movie off from that point on, no matter what. I was glued to the chair. Suspense? Yes, and I’m only sorry I can’t tell you more.


   But I did mention a tiny qualification for my praise for this movie, and that’s the ending, which came a little too fast and seemed a little too pat to be totally satisfactory.

   I may have to watch the movie all the way through again sometime, just to be sure, but I’ve already watched the ending twice, and no, I’m not really displeased.

   It’s only a quibble, and a minor one. Other than that, I’m going to repeat myself, and recommend this highly as a Must See.