Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Ferrer is wonderfully sleazy as Korvo and makes the perfect foil for Tierney."

If you're a fan of high intensity pot-boilers and moody film noir, Whirlpool is an OTT treat you won't want to miss. Dealing in hypnotism, murder and melodrama, it's gorgeously shot and, for the most part, very well acted. Ben Hecht's punchy dialogue is consistently entertaining and contributes to what is a highly stylised whole.

At the heart of it is Gene Tierney's Ann, a respectable, dignified yet fragile woman - and a kleptomaniac. When smooth talking stranger David Korvo (José Ferrer) gets her off the hook over a petty shoplifting incident that threatens scandal, the spectre of blackmail arises. She's married to a very successful psychiatrist (Richard Conte) and she's also beautiful. Korvo seems interested in both, but each time he backs away from exploiting an obvious position of power, she comes to trust him a little more. So much, in fact, that when he says he can make her distressing memories of the shoplifting incident go away, she lets him hypnotise her - and that's where the real trouble begins.

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Tierney built her career on playing victims but none of them were ever straightforward. Here, Ann's brittleness and inept caution illuminate the many disadvantages she faces as a woman in a world that offers her little control. The various men she encounters may pity her but they don't seem willing to acknowledge her as a complex human being; even her husband treats her like a possession, something which harms him too, as he clearly longs for a closer relationship. Conte is the weakest of the actors - not actually bad, but bringing little to his character, who is essential in square-jawed (albeit slightly battered) hero mode. Ferrer, however, is wonderfully sleazy as Korvo and makes the perfect foil for Tierney.

Otto Preminger's love of twisting narratives, unreliable characters and visual trickery that complements both comes through strongly here. the fascination with hypnotism reflects California at the time but the way it is styled here also recalls early 20th Century European traditions, adding to the sense of darkness and impending horror. It hints at his later, borderline psychedelic work, but the rich blacks and long shadows of noir are still there, Tierney's uplifted face sometimes the only source of light. With Korvo a serial offender, we are invited to believe that much more than her own safety is at stake, and underneath the faintly ridiculous central plot there are suggestions of cataclysm, of a social disintegration that extends far beyond the hypnotist. The psychoanalysis on display (which hints at the more elaborate theories to be presented 15 years later in Hitchcock's Marnie) links Ann's kleptomania with an incident in childhood and, in doing so, suggests an infectious madness from which nobody is truly safe.

Recently remastered for Blu-ray and looking fantastic, Whirlpool is well worth returning to.

Part of The Otto Preminger Film Noir Collection.

Reviewed on: 13 Nov 2015
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A woman secretly suffering from kleptomania is hypnotized in an effort to cure her condition. Soon afterwards, she is found at the scene of a murder with no memory of how she got there and seemingly no way to prove her innocence.


New York 2012

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