Eleanor Parker gives a standout performance in “The Woman In White,” a movie that’s available as a Manufactured on Demand (MOD) title from the Warner Archive Collection. The picture, based on Wilkie Collins’ 1859 novel, may not be a household name but it’s a flick that’s not to be missed. Here’s 5 reasons to watch “The Woman In White.”
1. Eleanor Parker Does Double Duty With Panache
“The Woman In White” begins with painter Walter Hartright (Gig Young) arriving in Limmeridge, England, where he’s assigned to work at the British estate of the Fairley family. On his way to the property, Hartright bumps into the mysterious Ann Catherick (Parker), aka the “woman in white” whose beauty and mysteriously erratic behavior peaks his interest.
Also peaking Walter’s interest is Laura Farlie (Parker), the well mannered heir to the Fairlie fortune who eventually falls in love with Walter. Alexis Smith co-stars as Marian, Laura’s responsible cousin who is essentially the matriarch of the mansion (patriarch Frederick Fairlie, played in scene stealing fashion by John Abbott, is a hypochondriac who remains stuck in his stately room).
One of the reason for “The Woman in White’s” success is Parker’s ability to play the initially naive Laura Fairlie and capture the psychological complexities behind Ann Catherick. The key mystery lies in Ann’s connection to the Fairlie’s dark family secrets, and Parker does a great job at pulling double duty.
2. Sydney Greenstreet Almost Steals The Show
Sydney Greenstreet is best known for his memorable work opposite Humprhey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, and with “The Woman In White” his talents are on full display. Greenstreet commands the screen as Count Fosco, a manipulative, money grubbing huckster who serves as a threat to anyone who crosses his path. Fosco’s main motivation is to steal the Fairlie fortune, even if it leaves a ton of collateral damage (including Agnes Moorehead, who plays Countess Fosco) in its wake. Greenstreet is the perfect villain for “The Woman In White,” and you’ll be praying for his demise all throughout the narrative.
While the allure of “The Woman In White” is attempting to solve its multi-layered mysteries, Greenstreet infuses Count Fosco with malevolent brio, and even though he’s committing dastardly deeds, it’s hard to take your eyes of Greenstreet.
3. “The Woman In White” Is Composed By Film Icon Max Steiner
These days we revere such composers as John Williams and Ennio Morricone. That being said, it’s hard to top, in sheer volume and scope, the work of Max Steiner, a three-time Oscar winner who composed over 300 film scores throughout his career.
Steiner’s score opens up the film in a sweeping manor, letting viewers know that they’ll be embarking on a grand adventure. The composer’s subtlety is in full effect during Walter’s moments with the “woman in white” and when it’s time to bring a haunting flavor to the proceedings, Steiner is more than up to the task.
4. The Head Scratching Storyline is Immersive
Since I’ve never read the novel, a few of the finite details of “The Woman In White” still escapes me, as peeling the onions behind this tragic mystery left my brain reeling. Though you may continue to have a few questions about the Fairlie family tree after the film’s climax, the picture’s biggest twists and turns are fully explained.
I’m definitely interested in reading Wilkie Collins’ novel based on the strength of the film alone. Also, the book was actually turned into a 1997 film featuring The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln as Walter Hartwright!
5. The Cinematography Is Eye Catching
Director Peter Godfrey and cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie infuse “The Woman In White” with a deft mixture of romanticism and dread, and although both of Parker’s characters are often draped in white, the movie’s overall tone is has an eerie, shadowed feel. Most of the film’s pivotal moments take place during the dead of night, where secrets and double crosses seem to possess a deeper level of horror. Credit goes to the filmmakers for bringing a visual richness to the film’s darker moments, and “The Woman In White” is also filled with beautifully framed shots (like the one below).
“The Woman In White” also contains a first rate performance from Alexis Smith who, though not as well known as her fellow co-stars, is actually serves as the story’s emotional anchor. Smith previously work with director Peter Godfrey in The Two Mrs. Carrolls, and that’s another movie I’ll be tracking down to complete my 1000 movies in 2016 list.
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