Sunday, February 21, 2016

Another Man’s Poison (1951)

Another Man’s Poison is a deliciously overheated 1951 British crime melodrama with Bette Davis delivering one of the most outrageously over-the-top performances in a career studded with over-the-top performances.

Davis plays Janet Frobisher, a successful crime thriller writer who lives in a slightly gothic old house in Tarnmoor, a small village on the Yorkshire Moors. Her peaceful existence is interrupted by the arrival of George Bates (Gary Merrill). Bates wants to see Janet’s husband and he wants to see him urgently. Janet is estranged from her husband but Bates knows he has  been there recently. He knows this because he and her husband have just robbed a bank together. A policeman was shot during the robbery so Bates is a man in a great deal of trouble. He claims that Janet’s husband did the shooting but the police think Bates did it.

Janet explains that her husband can’t see him at the moment on account of being dead, Janet having killed him that morning.

They’re obviously both in difficult situations but Bates thinks he has an answer. If he poses as Janet’s husband he can hide out there indefinitely, and if Janet can produce a husband who is very much alive she’ll be off the hook for the murder of the husband who is now very much dead. The husband has been in Malaya for some years and no-one in the village has ever seen him so the plan should work.

There are a few complications. Janet doesn’t want a husband, alive or dead. She certainly doesn’t want George Bates as a husband. And George seems to be taking the posing-as-married thing a bit too seriously. He seems to be falling in love with her. That’s inconvenient since Janet is busy trying to carry on her affair with Larry Stevens (Anthony Steel). Larry is engages to Janet’s secretary Chris Dale (Barbara Murray),which is another complication.

There’s also the problem of the local vet, Dr Henderson (Emlyn Williams), who is a man with an insatiable curiosity. He’s Janet’s closest neighbour and he seems to be popping in all the time, asking some slightly worrying questions.

As you can see there’s plenty of potential for steamy melodrama here and that’s exactly what this movie delivers. The plot twists are sometimes a little predictable but in some ways that’s a plus - it adds to the fun when you can see each catastrophe coming. Catastrophes there are in plenty. George’s ingenious plan is the match that sets light to the powderkeg that has been building up as a result of Janet’s manipulativeness and possessiveness. 

Davis’s performance is deliriously over-ripe and superbly enjoyable. Val Guest’s screenplay offers her some choice bitchy dialogue which, as you would expect, she relishes. Just when you think Davis can’t get any more excessive there’s the horse episode and the excessiveness level goes right off into the stratosphere.

Gary Merrill and Emlyn Williams provide good support. Merrill holds his own surprisingly well even when Davis is in full flight.

While the story may not hold many surprises it’s the execution that matters and the execution is so manic that you don’t have time to notice the gaping plot holes. Gaping plot holes such as expecting us to believe that there’s not a single solitary soul who has ever set eyes on Janet’s real husband. Or that a bank robber can disappear from view merely by pretending to be someone’s husband even though his photograph has been plastered on the front page of every newspaper in the country. And my favourite - a major plot point is that the most incriminating piece of evidence against George is the fingerprints on the gun used in the robbery, even though George has the gun in his possession and could easily just rub the damned fingerprints off!

Irving Rapper directs with energy and style. He’s particularly fond of extreme high-angle shots which he uses very effectively.

Simply Media’s Region 2 DVD is barebones but the transfer is a very good one.

This is a movie that makes no sense at all but with Bette Davis in this sort of form that doesn’t matter in the slightest. Another Man’s Poison is a high camp extravaganza that will delight any Davis fan. Forget about logic and just sit back and enjoy the ride. Highly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment