UNHOLY WIFE, THE
(director: John Farrow; screenwriters: based on a story by William Durkee/Jonathan Latimer; cinematographer: Lucien Ballard; editor: Edna Warren; cast: Rod Steiger (Paul Hochen), Diana Dors (Phyllis Hochen), Beulah Bondi (Emma Hochen), Gary Hunley (Michael), Tom Tryon (San), Arthur Franz (Father Stephen Hochen), Joe de Santis (Gino Verdugo), Tol Avery (Carl, D.A.), James Burke (Sheriff), Marie Windsor (Gwen); Runtime: 94; RKO; 1957)
“A ponderous melodrama.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A ponderous melodrama. It’s told in flashback as the convicted murderer, Phyllis Hochen (Dors), tells her story about how her perfect crime went wrong and how she ironically got convicted for a crime she didn’t do.
The blonde bombshell Phyllis and her girlfriend Gwen pick-up wealthy vintner Paul Hochen (Steiger) and his best friend Gino (de Santis) in an L.A. bar. They have come down from the San Francisco Valley for a vintner’s convention. In a whirlwind romance Paul asks the Londoner Phyllis to marry him, and he accepts her 6-year-old son Michael from a previous relationship with an American Air Force sergeant.
Back in the rich man’s beautiful estate and vast vineyards, the bored housewife meets a handsome rodeo rider named San (Tryon). She has an affair with him. For the past 6 days she has not been able to get away from her husband to see him. At home with her elderly mother-in-law Emma (Bondi), Phyllis prances around in a tight red evening dress and fires a gun to scare Emma. Emma thinks she hears a prowler around the house and calls the sheriff. The Hochen tradition is to never lock the front door, as the grandfather who came from Switzerland established that tradition because this country was so good to him therefore so must its people. The sheriff comes by to check out the complaint and brings along Paul’s brother, Father Stephen (Franz).
Phyllis figures she can kill her husband by making it look like an accident now that a prowler has been reported on their premise. When someone comes through the door she fires. But it’s not her husband as she expected, but it’s Gino. She then plots to get her husband to say he accidentally killed him, getting him to believe he wouldn’t be convicted for an accidental shooting, as she lies and tells him she’s a parole violator who if she admitted doing the shooting would have to go back to prison. When Paul goes to trial, it comes out that she planted a letter on Gino making it look like he was murdered. Paul is convicted and sentenced to die in the gas chamber.
Warning: spoiler to follow.
Paul’s brother finally gets it out of him that his wife killed Gino. Paul says that he took the rap because he found out he couldn’t for medical reasons have kids and doesn’t want Michael’s mother to go to jail, as he wants to leave him the winery. With Paul scheduled to die that night, San is over the house and is in the wine cellar when Phyllis tells him how she framed Paul. Emma overhears this, but has a heart attack upon hearing the news and can’t speak. The doctor prescribes for her a powerful pain-killing pill that is fatal if more than one is taken within an hour. When Emma, by hand signals, answers her son’s questions, Phyllis comes in to give her the medication. When the district attorney goes in to question Emma further, he finds her dead from taking 4 pills within the hour and charges Phyllis with the murder. The execution of Paul is put off, and Phyllis while in prison confesses to the priest and finally to the court that she murdered Gino.
REVIEWED ON 7/19/2001 GRADE: C-