Wednesday, March 21, 2018
The Woman in Question (1950)
The Woman in Question has an apparently simple plot. The murdered body of Agnes Houston (who worked as a fortune-teller under the name Madame Astra) is found. The discovery is made by a small boy. He is the son of a neighbour, Mrs Finch (Hermione Baddeley). Agnes Houston had been heard having a violent quarrel with her sister Catherine (Susan Shaw) and with Bob Baker (Dirk Bogarde). It appears that Bob’s affections, initially directed towards Agnes, had recently been diverted towards her sister.
Superintendent Lodge (Duncan Macrae) interviews the various witnesses and suspects. Their accounts are presented to us in a series of flashback sequences.
Catherine’s version of events is very different. Far from being a paragon of respectability it now appears that Agnes was much too find of the bottle and much too fond of men, and it also appears that she had been a less than ideal wife to her late husband. Catherine and Bob were innocent young lovers, if Catherine is to be believed.
Bob is the next to be interviewed. Not surprisingly his account is very favourable to himself, and not at all favourable to the late Mrs Houston.
The fifth interview is with two girls who turned up on the night of the murder to have their fortunes told.
There’s one last possible suspect, an Irish sailor with whom Agnes Houston was very friendly indeed. He was also at her house on the fatal night, and he has his own version of the story as well.
While the narrative structure is clearly very very close to that of Kurosawa’s film the intentions of Asquith and his scriptwriter John Cresswell are rather different. While the multiple perspectives are certainly used for straightforward detective story purposes they are also used as an opportunity for a great deal of sly humour and some acute social observation. On the whole The Woman in Question has a fairly light and rather witty feel to it.
The Woman in Question is an innovative and skilful piece of film-making. It’s also a clever and inventive murder mystery and an amusing and witty exploration of the various faces that we present to the world, and how the world sees us. Very highly recommended.