STRANGE WOMAN, THE
(director: Edgar G. Ulmer; screenwriters: from the book The Strange Woman by Ben Ames Williams/Herb Meadow/Hunt Stromberg; cinematographer: Lucien Andriot; editors: James Newcom/John M. Foley/Richard G. Wray; music: Carmen Dragon; cast: Hedy Lamarr (Jenny Hager), George Sanders (John Evered), Louis Hayward (Ephraim Poster), Gene Lockhart (Isaiah Poster), Hillary Brooke (Meg Saladine), Rhys Williams (Deacon Adams), June Storey (Lena Tempest), Moroni Olsen (Rev. Thatcher), Olive Blakeney (Mrs. Hollis), Dennis Hoey (Tim Hager), Alan Napier (Judge Saladine); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jack Chertok/Eugen Schüfftan; United Artists; 1946)
“Should suit the many fans of Hedy Lamarr.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A dreary costume piece melodrama set in Bangor, Maine, during the early part of the 19th-century. It recalls Leave Her to Heaven in its spotlight on a female psychological pathology, but never had the impactful story to get the same good results. Star Hedy Lamarr, once billed as the world’s most beautiful woman, acquired the rights to Ben Ames Williams’ popular novel and chose Edgar G. Ulmer (“Detour”/”The Black Cat”) to be the director for her first venture away from MGM. Ulmer was her childhood friend from Vienna. The noted filmmaker paid back her vote of confidence by taking as many close-ups of her as he possibly could to show off her star power. The prolific B-film director gets a rare chance to work with an adequate budget and with top-notch performers (though Ulmer still received his customary low pay from United Artists).
This became Hedy’s juiciest role–a scheming woman playing games with three men while climbing the ladder of success–which proved to the doubters that she was not only a pretty face but could also act; though, her most celebrated role came later as Delilah in DeMille’s 1949 “Samson and Delilah.” Her most infamous role was for a Czech production called “Ecstasy” (1933), where she posed nude.
The film opens by the Bangor river bank in 1824 where a fresh Jenny Hagar, the daughter of the nasty town drunk, Tim Hagar, cows the shopkeeper’s timid son, Ephraim Poster, about being afraid of the water and when he’s pushed in by the other ruffians she refuses to come to the drowning boy’s aid until Judge Saladine arrives. At that point, she rescues him and pretends she’s really concerned.
Some 16 years later Jenny (Hedy Lamarr) grows up to be a beautiful and ambitious young woman. She receives a break when her embittered lout of a father dies and the wealthy widowed middle-aged shopkeeper Isaiah Poster (Gene Lockhart) seeks her hand in marriage after he takes one lustful look at the whip marks on her bare shoulder, from a beating administered by her drunk father. Overnight she goes from poverty–living in the growing industrial town’s slum, where there are “grog shops (bars) and low houses (whore houses)”—to the town’s richest lady living in a mansion on easy street. She easily takes to being a society lady, and gets along well the stodgy ruling-class church crowd by being an active member and doling out charity to the less fortunate in the community. The complicated lady (seemingly more so than a ‘strange lady’) mixes good deeds with dark actions. Jenny easily seduces her hubby’s cowardly son Ephraim (Louis Hayward) upon his return from college, and gives him one helluva a kiss in private so he gets up enough courage to carry out her malevolent scheme to make sure his dad drowns in what goes for an accident. Later, after inheriting hubby’s vast business and luxurious house, she turns the love-sick Ephraim away and goes after her sweet best friend Meg Saladine’s (Hillary Brooke) handsome but poor lumberjack boyfriend — John Evered (George Sanders).
This film should suit the many fans of Hedy Lamarr, where she plays this vile selfish creature as well as even Bette Davis could have. Otherwise, the lurid soap opera tale couldn’t hold my interest.
REVIEWED ON 1/17/2005 GRADE: C+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/