“How can you call [your wife] and tell her that you must have a divorce? Worse than that, you’ve been unfaithful — you’re going to be a father. How can you hurt someone so much?”
When Harry Graham (Edmond O’Brien) and his wife (Joan Fontaine) try to adopt a baby, the head of the agency (Edmund Gwenn) senses something is not quite right with Harry. After following him on a business trip to Los Angeles, Gwenn discovers that Harry is married to another woman (Ida Lupino), and has a young child with her.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Edmond O’Brien Films
- Edmund Gwenn Films
- Flashback Films
- Ida Lupino Films
- Joan Fontaine Films
- Love Triangle
Ida Lupino’s earnest “problem picture” (her second-to-last directorial feature) suffers greatly from Collier Young’s overly cautious and dated script. In order to “justify” O’Brien’s lapse into a second marriage, Fontaine is depicted as both career-obsessed and unwilling to acknowledge blatant hints that her husband might be straying. In one particularly implausible scene, O’Brien calls Fontaine from Los Angeles and openly admits to her that he’s been flirting with a “brown haired mouse” — yet Fontaine acts as though she hasn’t heard him; later, Fontaine is shown flaunting her technical knowledge and social finesse during a business dinner with prospective clients, effectively “emasculating” poor O’Brien. It’s no wonder — in typical ’50s ideology — that O’Brien’s Harry is “forced” to turn to Lupino, a “real” woman able to give him a child from a single night of sex (though this is implied rather than depicted, naturally). Adding to the overall impression of Harry as someone steamrollered into bigamy, it’s made clear that marrying Lupino — while also saving Fontaine from the tragedy of divorce — is the only “right” thing to do. Despite its clumsy script, however, The Bigamist remains oddly watchable, thanks in large part to the truly heartfelt performances by O’Brien (he’s perfectly cast), Lupino, and Fontaine. It’s fascinating to know that in real life, Fontaine had just married Lupino’s ex (Collier Young, the film’s screenwriter), thus eerily echoing the story’s marital love triangle. Much less impressive — in fact, downright annoying — is Edmund Gwenn as the head of the adoption agency; he’s a busybody snoop who may mean well but ultimately comes across as creepy. Fortunately, his presence merely bookends the film.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Edmond O’Brien as Harry
- Ida Lupino as Phyllis
- Joan Fontaine as Harry’s self-deluding career wife
No, but fans of Lupino’s work will likely want to check it out.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)