It's the late 1940s and a woman still needs a man to look after her (well her bills, jewels and mink coats anyway), what is a girl to do? How about a brief spell in a "School of Charm", a slight modeling career and throw in a wealthy prince charming to sweep you off your feet so you're happy ever after - and rich as well!

So far, so good. But what happens after the modern Cinderella marries her prince? Max Ophuls gives us a worst-case scenario in this wonderfully melodramatic film noir.

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Idealistic Leonora (Barbara Bel Geddes) wanders innocently through life, saving up cash from her car hop job for her intensive charm school training, little knowing what lies ahead. Becoming destroyed, then assertive and independent she finds love with a worthy doctor (James Mason unusually taking romantic lead), before finally shrieking and panicking around her mansion, desperate to escape the wealthy husband who is more concerned with ownership than love.

The only vaguely human relationship millionaire hubby Smith manages to maintain is with his rather camp colleague Franzi (a thankless role played wonderfully by Curt Bois) who sticks by him despite equally bad treatment.

Robert Ryan makes Smith a fantastically unlikable millionaire who we meet at night and are never allowed to see full daylight - yes, he is that evil. Though at first you cannot help but feel he has some entitlement not to be particularly courteous to the obviously gold-digging stranger he has married to spite his analyst.

The millionaire premise allows Ophuls to remain in his favourite opulent surroundings (albeit 1950's equivalents of his preferred 1900s decor) for much of the film. The dark and moody setting of the mansion take on a life of its own, with the initially hopelessly frail young blond Leonora wandering through like a stranded puppy posing in very beautiful (and usually white) dresses.

The film never quite builds the tension it needs, particularly in the first half where Leonora is so irritatingly wholesome that you almost wish Smith would push further with his tyrannical controlling of his wife. That said the whole film lights up when Mason arrives on the scene. Thoroughly watchable hokum.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Tense psychological drama about a young woman whose dream of marrying into riches descends into a nightmare.
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Emma Slawinski ***1/2

Director: Max Ophuls

Writer: Arthur Laurents, based on the book by Libbie Block

Starring: Barbara Bel Geddes, James Mason, Robert Ryan, Frank Ferguson, Ruth Brady

Year: 1949

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: USA


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