Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Bigamist (1953)

Director: Ida Lupino                                       Writer: Collier Young
Film Score: Leith Stevens                              Cinematography: George E. Diskant
Starring: Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino, Edmond O’Brien and Edmund Gwenn

It’s nice to see that Ida Lupino is slowly beginning to be recognized as a great talent from the golden era of film. Not only was she a fine actress who starred in some tremendous films, but she was also one of the very few women in Hollywood who had a strong career as a director as well as writing a few screenplays of her own. I saw The Bigamist on the Olympia Film Festival’s closing night and it was a terrifically entertaining film. This was an independent production financed by the screenwriter Collier Young, but I have a feeling it was hiring Lupino as the director than enabled him to get the likes of Joan Fontaine, Edmond O’Brien and Edmund Gwenn onboard to make it a legitimate mainstream film.

The film begins with O’Brien and Fontaine in the office of Gwenn, who heads the state adoption agency in San Francisco. Fontaine is obviously excited, while O’Brien seems worried, especially after he hears he must agree to a background investigation. After a little digging, Gwenn tracks down an address in L.A. that belongs to a man with a similar name, and when he knocks on the door O’Brien answers. After the baby in the other room begins crying Gwenn walks in and O’Brien spills the whole story. A year earlier, while alone during one of his trips to L.A. as a traveling salesman, O’Brien met Ida Lupino and fell in love. When he came back to San Francisco to get a divorce from Fontaine, she tells him that they have been accepted by the adoption agency. So, on his next trip to L.A. he decides to break things off with Lupino instead but discovers she’s pregnant with his child. Before he knows it, he simply decides to keep both women.

If the film has a downside, it’s definitely Young’s script. As the producer there was undoubtedly no one to tell when he was going over the line. In one scene in L.A., with O’Brien and Lupino on a bus tour of homes of the stars, the driver announces they are going by the home of Edmund Gwenn. In another scene when O’Brien and Lupino are drinking champagne, he says “Here’s looking at you,” in obvious reference to Casablanca. It’s all just a bit too precious. One of the best aspects of the film, however, is Lupino’s direction. Though the film is from 1953, it still has a forties sensibility, and she gives many of the shots a film noir styling. In one scene, after O’Brien has come back from a trip to L.A. he walks into the darkened living room and a shadow from outside covers his face. The music by Leith Stevens adds to this effect. Lupino has some nice moving camera shots, and frames her actors very well. It’s a nice film to look at.

Edmond O’Brien, who is probably best known by today’s audiences for his performance in the noir classic D.O.A. from 1950, was a hard-working actor who appeared in close to a hundred films. He had worked for Lupino in the original The Hitch-Hiker the year before, which she wrote and directed, and would win an Oscar for best supporting actor in The Barefoot Contessa the following year. But where O’Brien’s career was on the rise, Joan Fontaine’s best films were already behind her. Still, she’s a tremendous actress who does a wonderful job in the role of the San Francisco wife. Other great supporting roles are filled by Kenneth Tobey as O’Brien’s lawyer, John Maxwell as the judge, and in a bit part as a cleaning woman is the great Jane Darwell. The Bigamist is certainly not a brilliant film, but Idal Lupino is definitely a brilliant talent and it shows in this film.

No comments:

Post a Comment