13 July 2011 | highwaytourist
A Victorian Film Noir with atmosphere to spare
This is one atmospheric and visually dazzling film. The ornate sets capture the mood to perfection, even if they aren't completely accurate. Kudos to the art director. Whoever designed Joan Fontaine's wardrobe also helped the mood, even if they were not historically accurate. Also praiseworthy is the cinematography, which is in stark black-and-white and makes perfect use of light and shadow. Indeed, the film's look in some ways reminds me of the later work of Josef Von Sternberg, while some of the night scenes are like a refined version of German Expressionism. If they had been supported by a great story, this could have been a classic. What they did use was a passable romantic drama which was only mildly interesting. Here, Joan Fontaine plays a Victorian Femme Fatale whose dullard husband doesn't make enough money to keep up with her spendthrift ways. She also has a lover on the side, a doctor whose possessiveness threatens to expose their affair to her husband. She thinks she's found the lavish life she wants when she meets a wealthy bachelor at a sporting event. She convinces him to hire her unemployed husband in the London office and then designs to seduce him. However, he can't bring himself to have an affair with a married woman. What's an unhappily married gold digger to do? Well, she turns Femme Fatale and schemes to get her husband and lover both out of the way, lying and manipulating in the style made familiar by Barbara Stanwick in "Double Indemnity." Interestingly, Joan Fontaine plays her as a mild, seemingly harmless woman, a performance she repeated in "Born To Be Bad" a few years later. Problem is that there are many slow parts and the interest lags, thanks to the talky script. Also hurting is the noisy musical score, which distracts from the mood and suspense. However, it's worthwhile for fans of older movies. I usually enjoyed it.