A kind shopkeeper (Charles Laughton) with an unbearably shrewish wife (Rosalind Ivan) befriends and romances a pretty young woman (Ella Raines). When his wife threatens to expose his affair with Raines, Laughton kills Ivan, making it look like an accident — but a suspicious investigator (Stanley Ridges) is convinced Laughton is guilty, and won’t leave him alone.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Charles Laughton Films
- Ella Raines Films
- Henpecked Husbands
- Historical Drama
- Homicidal Spouses
- Robert Siodmak Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “Charles Laughton gave one of his best but least-known performances” in this “outstanding melodrama” (set in 1902 London) about a “fat and middle-aged” but “kindly” tobacconist who is “unable to take [his] shrewish, shrieking wife Rosalind Ivan any longer”, so “kills her”. It features “expert, atmospheric direction by [Robert] Siodmak”, who pulls us ineluctably into this tale of a man who “makes his own decisions rather than being controlled by fate”, and is “caught because of a choice he makes” but “does not suffer guilt”. Indeed, we’re astonished to find ourselves actually rooting for Laughton, and perhaps even agreeing that he’s done the right thing — such is the seductive power of Siodmak’s direction, Laughton’s performance, and the taut screenplay (by Bertram Millhauser and Arthur T. Horman). As Peary writes, “Laughton’s a sweet soul and you have to resent the smug Ridges for wanting to arrest him, especially since Ridges takes advantage of Laughton’s decency”; with that said, the film ends on the perfect note for such a morally ambiguous scenario.
While Laughton’s performance stands above the rest, Ivan is effective and convincing as the wife any man would be desperate to get away from; it’s interesting to contrast her performance with that of Flora Robson in an earlier iteration of the same general story, We Are Not Alone (the latter based on a novel by James Hilton, who was apparently inspired by the real-life case of murderous Dr. Crippen). In Hilton’s version, not only is the husband (played by Paul Muni) completely innocent, but his wife is a much more complex villainess; here, however, there are no two ways around it: Ivan’s a true henpecking b*tch. Raines, meanwhile, is appropriately sweet as Laughton’s romantic interest — and it’s at least partly to her credit that we are easily able to believe someone so young and beautiful would genuinely fall for an older, less-than-physically-attractive man like Laughton. Finally, Henry Daniell is perfectly cast as the wife-beating “rotter” of a neighbor who propels Laughton towards his ultimate fate; in an interesting bit of trivia, he played a small role in We Are Not Alone as well (as the lawyer working to convict Muni).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Charles Laughton as Philip
- Rosalind Ivan as Cora
- Ella Raines as Mary
- Henry Daniell as Mr. Simmons
- Fine attention to period detail
- Atmospheric cinematography
- Strong direction by Siodmak
Yes, as a most enjoyable unsung classic.