Experiment Perilous (1944)

Experiment Perilous (1944)

“I’ve been living that diary tonight — living the strange, distorted lives of Nick and his sister.”

A psychiatrist (George Brent) falls in love with a woman (Hedy Lamarr) whose husband (Paul Lukas) is possessively jealous of her.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Gaslighting
  • George Brent Films
  • Hedy Lamarr Films
  • Jacques Tourneur Films
  • Jealousy
  • Paul Lukas Films

Released the same year as George Cukor’s Gaslight (1944), this Victorian-era melodrama by Jacques Tourneur (his first A-level picture for RKO studios) is similarly concerned with the deadly ramifications of marital distrust and psychological manipulation. Its opening sequence, taking place on a train, is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), as George Brent encounters and befriends a mysterious older woman (Olive Blakeney) who offers him her “special brand of tea”. Blakeney is superb in her all-too-brief supporting appearance, but her character is killed off in order to set in motion the chain of events that will eventually lead to Brent’s infatuation with Blakeney’s lovely sister-in-law, the equally mysterious Allida Bedereaux (Hedy Lamarr, giving a haunting performance). Unfortunately, despite plenty of atmosphere, the rest of the story remains disappointingly conventional: the mystery of who exactly is insane — Lamarr or her husband — is resolved fairly early on, so that the bulk of the narrative is simply concerned with Brent’s obsessive quest to rescue Lamarr from her controlling husband. Fans of Tourneur will want to check this film out, and it’s certainly worth viewing once — but it’s not a must-see title.

Note: The film’s title is taken from the following provocative quote by Hippocrates (voiced by one of the characters): “Life is short, art is long, decision difficult, and experiment perilous.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Hedy Lamarr as Allida
  • Olive Blakeney as Cissie
  • Tony Gaudio’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s worth viewing once.


One thought on “Experiment Perilous (1944)

  1. Not a must. First viewing.

    Even Tourneur fans (and I’m one of them) are likely to ultimately find this a ho-hum affair. The director and the production team have done their best to gussy up a script that, yes, is derivative of other films. Overall, the performances are professional, even if they can’t help us overlook the static nature of what they’re involved in.

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