Whirlpool (Director's Suite) (1949)
Audio Commentary-Dr Adrian Martin, Monash University
|Year Of Production||1949|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Otto Preminger|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||English for the Hearing Impaired||Smoking||Yes, Period Consistent|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
††† Whirlpool is, in chronological order, the second film in Madman Entertainment's Director's Suite series on the films of Otto Preminger. My review of Fallen Angel from 1945 can be found here.
Like Fallen Angel, Whirlpool is often considered a key example of Preminger's skill in dishing out slices of film noir. But also, like the earlier film, Whirlpool is often genre defying, combining noirish elements with a mystery and a domestic drama. The film, made in 1949, brought back Gene Tierney, his star from the hugely successful Laura. She plays the dazzlingly beautiful and sophisticated Ann Sutton, the wife of successful psychiatrist, Dr Bill Sutton (Richard Conte). Her life is one of upper middle class privilege without upper class opulence.
Whilst shopping at an exclusive department store Ann is accosted by the store detective who extracts a purloined brooch from her handbag. Ann is wealthy enough to be able to afford the trinket. She has a charge account at the store. So, what's the deal? It turns out that the ravishing and demure Ann has a repressed secret - she is a kleptomaniac.
Things look bad for Ann until a guardian angel arrives in the form of David Korvo (Jose Ferrer). A commanding presence, Korvo takes control of the situation. He is also a type of psychiatrist but an entirely different type compared to the respectable Bill Sutton. For Korvo is an astrologer, psychologist and hypnotist.
After rescuing Ann from irredeemable social embarrassment he makes his motives clearer. Or does he? Inviting Ann out to lunch she fears that he is a petty blackmailer and tries to buy him off. However, Korvo wants nothing more than to take Ann to a society party. He perceives in Ann a troubled soul and offers to help her out with a little hypnosis. The first step - allowing her to rest her mind giving her a good night's sleep.
Korvo quickly learns that Ann is very susceptible to hypnosis. Before leaving the society party Ann quarrels with Theresa Randolph (Barbara O'Neil) who tells her that Korvo is nothing more than a quack and an extortionist. It turns out she and Korvo were formerly an item.
After her best night's sleep in years Ann agrees to meet Korvo for a series of treatments. As a respectable married woman she refuses to meet Korvo in his hotel room where he conducts his business, instead meeting him in a downstairs bar. When Bill Sutton leaves town to speak at a psychiatrist convention Ann rises from her writing desk and drives over to Mrs Randolph's house finding the society woman dead on her sofa. The police arrive and Ann is charged with murder!
So begins a game of cat and mouse as Police Lieutenant James Colton (Charles Bickford) and Dr Sutton attempt to unravel the mystery. Was Ann really the killer? Was she having an affair with Korvo leading her to kill her former rival in a fit of passion or is she somehow Korvo's tool?
Whirlpool is a cracking mystery/thriller that works on many levels. Scripted by Hollywood legend Ben Hecht in cooperation with Andrew Solt it moves a brisk pace with dialogue that leaps straight from the mouth. Tierney is both gorgeous and effective as the woman who doesn't know what is going on with her own mind. Many would remember Richard Conte from his numerous gangster roles, in particular in The Godfather. Even his fellow actors commented that Conte appeared to have been miscast in this film, too street level to effectively play a gifted psychiatrist. However, in the commentary track Dr Adrian Martin suggests that Preminger may have used Conte's mobster persona as a deliberate ploy in the film to get the audience asking the question of whether the good doctor was somehow implicated in the plot.
Charles Bickford always strikes me as an actor struggling to remember his lines. Here he plays the ageing Lieutenant well enough and I guess we should blame the scriptwriter's for a few of his puzzling approaches to his investigative procedures. My favourite moment? When the Lieutenant receives a phone call to say that the missing Korvo has been located and invites Dr Sutton to accompany him when questioning Korvo - the man who may have been having an affair with the doctor's wife!
Of course, the devil has the best tunes. Jose Ferrer is magnificent as Korvo. Plum voiced, compelling and wickedly urbane he is perfect for the role and the screen dims somewhat when he is not around. Only a desire to tie up the final act in a neat bow prevents Whirlpool from being an entirely satisfying experience. Preminger is clearly well in command of the medium never letting the story slip away.
Whirlpool is a very good Preminger film and an excellent companion piece to Laura.
††Whirlpool was produced and projected at the academy flat 1.37:1 aspect ratio. This Madman entertainment DVD closely mirrors that ratio. Naturally it is not anamorphically enhanced.
Like Fallen Angel this film has not gone through a detailed digital restoration, or even a decent clean up, before being issued on DVD. Therefore the problems that plagued that release; being an excessive amount of blobs, scratches and marks are also a problem in Whirlpool. There is 5 years difference between the two films. Whether the production qualities have anything to do with it or the print is simply in better condition I cannot say but the overall quality of the transfer, artefacts aside, is better than Fallen Angel. About one minute in, however, there is a jump in the print (through damage) that feels like a cat coughing up a furball.
The film is on a single layered DVD 5. Compression is not an issue due to the absence of any space gathering extras.
The film features an acceptable level of grain but is reasonably sharp with good shadows. Aside from the artefacts and the incidence of damage there is really only one defect in the transfer. It is difficult to tell whether the problem emanates from the telecine but for a significant period during various scenes (in the department store, at lunch with Korvo and at the party) scene the frame intemittently jumps. It is a problem that once noticed becomes annoying.
There are subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired which give a good account of on screen action.
Whirlpool has a Dolby digital 2.0 mono transfer running at 224Kb/s.
The soundtrack is appropriate for the film and it does not lack for a surround track. There are a few pops and crackles throughout however the persistent hiss that ran through Fallen Angel is not present on this DVD.The actors appear to be in audio sync.
|Surround Channel Use|
Another trailer full of spinning headlines and very dramatic voice-over. Worth a watch.
My greatest fear in listening to this commentary was that Dr Martin would simply replicate the commentary track on Fallen Angel. Fortunately, these fears were unrealised. This track puts the fear and wonderment of hypnosis and "pop psychology" in context and the "female Gothic cycle" of films from the 40's.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
††† The DVD is available in other Regions. These are (including meaningful extras):
R1 America - Commentaries:Audio commentary by film critic Richard Schickel Extras:Theatrical Trailer
R2 France Extras:Introduction by Patrick Brion (3:26) Photo gallery
R2 United Kingdom Extras:Biographies: - Otto Preminger - Ben Hecht
The condition of the Region 1 version has been positively reviewed. FAns of the movie may well wish to investigate it further.
Whirlpool is a well scripted, exciting thriller that zooms along for its 90 minutes.
The picture quality could be better and the sound is as good as one might expect.
The commentary track is interesting and informative.
|DVD||Pioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
|Display||Pioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||JBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer|