Saturday, September 5, 2009

Day 222: Whirlpool (1949) - Rank 4/5


A film noir about hypnosis, directed by Otto Preminger? Yes, please! While any storyline involving hypnosis feels a bit contrived, a decent script and excellent acting (well, superb acting where Jose Ferrer is concerned) imbue the film with a sizable amount of credibility. Ah, but the noirish atmosphere, complemented by a score with hints of theremin, that fills the screen during the scenes where the post-hypnotic suggestions are carried out add volumes to "Whirlpool."

The central character is Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney), a vulnerable, insomniac wife of Dr. Sutton (Richard Conte), the city's most prominent psychoanalyst. She also happens to be a kleptomaniac who indulges in shoplifting, as infamous hypnotist David Korvo (Ferrer) discovers. When Korvo prevents Ann from being arrested for shoplifting, he extorts her - but not for sex or money, just companionship. Soon, Ann seeks Korvo's help for her insomnia and next thing she knows, she wakes up in front of a strangled corpse with the police bursting in the door. All evidence points to Ann, but Dr. Sutton begins to suspect that Korvo may be the man behind the madness and seeks to expose him for the crook he is.

The story starts off a bit slow, but once Ann is arrested, the film becomes a battle of wits between Dr. Sutton and Korvo. At that point, the film really had me hooked. The film doesn't make any claim that Ann truly killed one of Korvo's former patients/lovers. Instead, it makes the heart of the conflict Dr. Sutton's quest to prove how Korvo carried out the murder, for at the time in question, he was hospitalized for an inflamed gall bladder - a seemingly airtight alibi. Ferrer easily steals the show, making Korvo seem as slimy as a street hawker, despite his fifth Avenue suit and posh surroundings. Tierney shines as well, making this a great view within the repertoire of Preminger.

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