Cast & Crew
In a Los Angeles department store, unorthodox therapist David Korvo watches as Ann Sutton, wife of famous psychoanalyst Dr. Bill Sutton, is stopped for shoplifting. After convincing the manager that arresting her would mean a scandal for the store, he arranges to meet her the next day. Although Ann assumes that Korvo is a blackmailer, he gives her the store records to destroy, and invites her to a party a few days later. There, Korvo informs her that he can tell that she is a kleptomaniac, and is tired and hurt by emotional pressures. When Ann admits that she cannot sleep, Korvo assures her that he can help and then hypnotizes her without her knowledge. A patient of Bill's, Theresa Randolph, sees them together and moments later warns Ann that Korvo must be after her money, to which Ann responds angrily. After a deep night's sleep, she gratefully accepts an appointment with Korvo, but insists they meet in his building's bar instead of his apartment. In the bar, Ann agrees to see Korvo professionally, and then leaves to call Theresa to apologize. Her absense gives him enough time to steal her glass and scarf, then break his own glass and ask the waiter to clean it up. A few nights later, Ann, under a hypnotic spell, retrieves the recordings of Theresa's therapy sessions with Bill and hides them in Theresa's house. While entering the house, she trips an alarm, then sits calmly next to Theresa's body, which has been strangled with Ann's scarf. Ann is arrested, and when she cannot tell Lieutenant James Colton what she did that night, he assumes that she is in love with Korvo and killed Theresa out of jealousy. Bill arrives at the station and does not believe Ann's pleas of innocence, as he has learned that the police have found a glass supposedly left by Ann in Korvo's apartment, and that Ann is alleged to have argued with both Korvo and Theresa. Bill then remembers a therapy session during which Theresa claimed that Korvo stole her daughter's inheritance and that she had threatened to expose him. Bill suspects Korvo may have killed Theresa because of the accusation, but Colton soon discovers that Korvo is recuperating from surgery that was done on the day of the murder. After Bill offers to play the recordings of Theresa's sessions, he finds them missing. Bill, his lawyer and Colton then question Ann again, but Bill thinks she is lying and leaves, after which she confesses to being a kleptomaniac. Bill learns about her revelation and immediately runs to Colton to tell him that he believes Ann was hypnotized into stealing the records and that Korvo then hypnotized himself to rise immediately after surgery to kill Theresa. Colton does not agree but, sympathetic because of the recent loss of his own wife, consents to take Ann back to Theresa's house to jog her memory. Meanwhile, Korvo, hearing that the police believe the records will pinpoint the murderer, hypnotizes himself so that he can go to Theresa's without pain and destroy the recordings. There, he hears Colton, Bill and Ann enter, and hides while Bill assures Ann that she can trust him to heal her. As Ann regains her memory, Korvo desperately holds them at gunpoint and plays the records while making his way to the door. Before he can escape, Korvo dies from internal bleeding, and Colton calls for an ambulance as Ann and Bill embrace.
Jane Van Duser
Dr. H. A. Conway
Harry M. Leonard
Fred D. Schneider
Walter M. Scott
The movie is a psychological film noir, directed by Otto Preminger, in which Conte plays a psychiatrist who doesn't realize his wife, Tierney, is a kleptomaniac. She enlists a hypnotist named David Korvo (Jose Ferrer) to help cure her, but Korvo has sinister motives of his own -- and is not above using hypnosis for nefarious purposes! Ultimately, a police detective (Charles Bickford) steps in to try and unravel the events surrounding a murder, with all three men trying to access Tierney's mind for the answers.
According to film historian Chris Fujiwara (The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger), Darryl Zanuck's memos from the time indicate that he specifically wanted Whirlpool to recapture the magic of Laura (1944), which had also starred Tierney, been directed by Preminger, and told a noir-ish mystery story. In addition, both films have scores by David Raksin, and Whirlpool even works in a portrait of one of its female characters in a nod to the famous Laura portrait. Zanuck further wrote that he wanted Korvo, the Jose Ferrer character, to be "just as interesting as Clifton Webb was in Laura."
Korvo certainly is interesting -- if you consider it interesting for a character to hypnotize himself to feel no pain soon after a gallbladder removal surgery, which he only had in the first place to create an alibi! Whirlpool is steeped in the world of medicine and hypnosis, and studio production notes indicate that Preminger was fastidious about portraying this content accurately. He "had every premise of the screenplay checked and re-checked by physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists and analysts." He even engaged as an on-set technical adviser one Fred Schneider, a so-called hypnotist to the stars.
Whirlpool was shot in seven weeks during the summer of 1949 at a cost of about $1.3 million. It opened that November to mixed reviews; many of the plot contrivances were seen as unbelievable, but the hypnosis subject matter proved intriguing -- as it still does. Some advertisements warned, "If you are easily hypnotized, don't see it alone!" Jose Ferrer, in only his second film, drew the best notices. Richard Conte seemed miscast as a psychiatrist, though it is entertaining to see him bring his tough-guy disposition to the part. And Gene Tierney was welcomed back to the screen after almost a year's absence following the birth in 1948 of her second daughter, Christina.
By Jeremy Arnold
Whirlpool on DVD
An intricately plotted script establishes Gene Tierney right off the bat as a closeted kleptomaniac. When she is caught shoplifting at a department store, oily hypnotist Jose Ferrer is there to see it and intervene. Tierney fears that her psychoanalyst husband (Richard Conte) will learn of her kleptomania so she meets with Ferrer in the hopes that hypnosis will cure her. But to Ferrer, a weak and unstable mind is a pliable mind. And a pliable mind means that Tierney is just the kind of woman he needs - to frame for a murder, of course! Eventually a police detective (Charles Bickford) enters the story to try and solve said murder, and Conte realizes he must save his marriage. All three men are attempting, in effect, to access Tierney's mind in some way.
On the surface, Whirlpool is a convoluted, implausible melodrama which even works in an unlikely scene of self-hypnosis. Yet it holds together quite well on the basis of its underlying, psychological character motivations. The script has an answer for everything. Ferrer may be creepy and smooth-talking, for instance, but he's good at what he does, and his diagnoses of Tierney mental condition are right on the money. Similarly, there is a psychological honesty in the way Tierney and Conte's marriage is presented. Whirlpool is really a film about character relationships, which is undoubtedly what interested Preminger.
Instead of trying to build Hitchcock-style suspense, Preminger approaches the story more objectively. He generally asks us to observe his characters react to situations rather than have us participate in the reacting. This is an engrossing approach which Preminger would take over and over in his career and which is always fascinating to ponder. In Whirlpool, the bad guy and his scheme are revealed to us well before they are revealed to the characters. Normally this would create emotional involvement for the audience, but here it serves to detach us and cause intellectual involvement. As another example, watch the simple 20-second sequence in which Tierney, under hypnosis, drives from her home to a dead woman's house. The camera never shares the car with Tierney. Instead, we are always watching her from outside, usually in long shot as her car winds through the streets. Instead of driving with her, we're watching her drive. The difference is somehow both subtle and glaring.
As for the cast, Tierney is her usual sophisticated self and Ferrer is a bit over the top but otherwise effective. Richard Conte could, and did, play villains and good guys very well in a multitude of films noirs around this period. But he seems miscast as a respectable psychoanalyst, a rather bland role which is neither sympathetic nor despicable. He gives his character a jolt of energy, however, with his tough street-guy demeanor still coming through in his voice and body language. Conte was always dynamic when asked to show anger.
Critic Richard Schickel devotes far and away most of his commentary track to examining the script's content and themes, with little on the style and aesthetics of the movie. More of that side would have been welcome, but overall his commentary is interesting. For example, he makes a good point about the three men (Bickford, Conte, Ferrer) representing three varying ways of approaching the story's problem (rational, scientific, and pseudo-scientific), and three forces which are vying for control of Tierney's fate. He ties this into the role of women in post WWII American society, which is certainly valid enough. The technical apects of this DVD are very well handled by Fox, and even the DVD cover design is beautiful, using Whirlpool's original poster art.
For more information about Whirlpool, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Whirlpool, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Whirlpool on DVD
The working titles of this film were Methinks the Lady and Dilemma. Letters from spring 1945, contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, indicate that M-G-M was the first studio to express interest in producing a film based on Guy Endore's novel, and that Pandro S. Berman was to be the producer. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, Endore collaborated with Harry Kleiner on several drafts of a screenplay for the picture, but it is doubtful that any of their work was used in the finished film. In April 1946, an Hollywood Reporter news item announced that William Eythe would star in the picture, although in June 1946, Hollywood Reporter noted that Eythe was to be replaced by Cornel Wilde. According to studio records, Thomas Brown Henry was originally set for the role of "Mr. Simms." None of these actors appeared in the final film. Due to screenwriter Ben Hecht's self-proclaimed anti-British views, in regard to England's political relationship with Palestine, the Cinematograph Exhibitors Association of Great Britain passed a resolution in 1948 stating that none of its members would show a film with which Hecht was associated, according to a November 26, 1950 New York Times article. The article notes that Whirlpool was exhibited in England, however, because Hecht's work on the picture took place before the ban was enacted. Hecht's name was removed from the onscreen credits, and the pseudonym "Lester Bartow" was inserted.