The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)
starring Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck
supporting cast: Alexis Smith and Nigel Bruce
Why in the world are movies like Gaslight, Dial M for Murder, and Midnight Lace so insanely popular? I guess audiences just love to see men plotting to kill their wives, either out of some crazed need for control or simply because they are crazy.
In that vein, the plot for The Two Mrs. Carrolls is really nothing new.
Humphrey Bogart plays a starving artist type of character named Geoffrey Carroll whose wife always serves as his muse. At least until he tires of her, bumps her off kindly with poison, and marries the next in line. Talk about a vicious cycle, and who should get caught up in it but Barbara Stanwyck as the next wife in line, one Sally Morton Carroll. A charming, naive young woman, Sally adores her new husband and his little 10-year-old daughter. She supports Geoffrey in all he does, and things go along cheerfully for awhile in what is known as the honeymoon stage. That is until his inspiration starts to fade, his irritation peaks, and the gal down the street, Cecily Latham (played by Alexis Smith) insists he paint her portrait. Now Geoffrey has his eye on the next Mrs. Carroll and its time to bring out that old bottle of poison again. The bumbling town doctor played by none other than Nigel Bruce (wow, did he lose some weight!) thinks Sally's illness is just an attack of nerves, but pieces start to fall into place and Sally begins to see her beloved husband in a new, and far more suspicious, light. The question is, can she gain back her strength and energy before it's too late? Perhaps not ever her ex-fiance Charles Pennington (Patrick O'Moore), who she calls Penny, can get to her in time.
Most of my Bogie experience stems from the films he made with Lauren Bacall, but I must say I don't understand why the critics though he was miscast in this role. Humphrey Bogart really sent shivers up my spine, probably because I'd never seen him play an outright villain, but still, he was downright scary. It's bad enough when a guy is evil for evil's sake, like Charles Boyer in Gaslight, but Carroll is outright crazy, thinking that he must keep moving through wives in order to keep his muse active. The last portrait he does of his wives is always a grim reaper type of painting that must, apparently, culminate in that wife's death once the painting is complete. Creepy, right!?
I do believe this might be the very first Barbara Stanwyck movie I've ever watched. She's just never really come on my radar before. Oh, no, I did watch A Night to Remember about the sinking of Titanic and I think she was in that. I feel now that I haven't paid her any attention before because she's quite remarkable. Truly, she and Bogie took what easily could have been a B grade film noir and push it up a couple of notches towards A grade.
One of the true gems, though, is little Ann Carter who plays Carroll's daughter, Bea. A serious child, Bea possesses the soul of a woman 5 times her age, and she is as unaware of her father's wrongdoings as Sally, making poor Bea another victim of Geoffrey's insanity. I love child actors of early cinema, and Ann Carter is superb, holding her own against so many established stars. I just wish she'd had a chance to perform in more important roles, but alas, her career fizzled in the early 1950s. I sure hope Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood appreciated their rise to stardom that lasted well beyond their childhood years.
I won't say much about Alexis Smith other than I don't usually like homewreckers and her character fits that description. Except the home was already wrecked before she ever got there and I'm sure that Geoffrey would have murdered her too at some point. He was healthy like that.
Nigel Bruce was fun, essentially reprising his role as the slow-witted Dr. Watson from all those Sherlock Holmes movies England insisted on cranking out in the wrong era. Only here he also drinks too much and couldn't give an accurate diagnosis to save his life. Or her life, as it were.
Overall, The Two Mrs. Carrolls is gripping. And knowing these movies, it could have ended either way. Which is probably why I didn't get bored with it, and was practically glued to the television screen by the end. Not that it's perfect, what with the melodramatic music and the occasional overacting by supporting cast, but still, for the film noir genre, it's a decent addition.
But it's a darn good thing I watched Bogie in a lot of likeable roles first. If I'd started with him here, I doubt I would have given any of his other movies a shot! Still, it was exciting and petrifying to see him embark on a villainous role and do it so well. Not that I should be surprised. I always suspected he had it in him. ❤