Day 25 of Noirvember: Dive into Whirlpool (1949)

What is Gene Tierney up to? Watch Whirlpool and find out.

What is Gene Tierney up to? Watch Whirlpool and find out.

Released by 20th Century Fox in 1949, Whirlpool stars Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, and Jose Ferrer. It’s not quite noir – but it’s certainly, undeniably noir-ISH.

This is the story. Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney), the wife of a prominent psychoanalyst (Richard Conte), is caught shoplifting in a pricey department store. Just as authorities prepare to lower the boom, she’s rescued by David Korvo (Jose Ferrer), who happens to witness Mrs. Sutton being detained, and convinces the store manager to release her. Turns out that Korvo is not the knight in shining armor that he appears to be – he’s a hypnotist who uses his skills to bilk wealthy women out of their funds and, in Ann Sutton’s case, far more sinister purposes.

Jose Ferrer is not a nice guy. At all. Me likey.

Jose Ferrer is not a nice guy. At all. Me likey.

What I like about Whirlpool:

Jose Ferrer plays one of the nastiest fellas without a gat that you’re likely to see for a while. He’s clearly intelligent, slick as glass, cunning and shrewd – and not overly fond of women.

Gene Tierney’s wardrobe was designed by her then-husband, Oleg Cassini. And it. Is. Spectacular.

Barbara O’Neil – Scarlett’s mom in Gone With the Wind – has a small part in the film as a former client of Jose Ferrer’s, who warns Gene Tierney that he is after her money. She’s got a white streak in her hair that reminds you of the Bride of Frankenstein. Sadly, she’s only in one scene. I won’t say why.

What I don’t like about Whirlpool:

Richard Conte in a bow tie. Ew.

Richard Conte in a bow tie. Ew.

Richard Conte in a non-gangster role – wearing bow ties and glasses. Yecch. I mean, he’s still cute and everything, but – oh, wait. THAT’s the problem. Conte isn’t supposed to be CUTE. He’s handsome, virile, frighteningly scary. Yummy, even. But not cute.

I can relate to suspending my disbelief, but a few things happen in this film that make it REALLY difficult to do. There’s a scene in which David Korvo, who’s suffering from an infection from a recent gall bladder operation, hypnotizes himself, resulting in his ability to rise from his hospital bed, drive to another location, and carry out all kinds of nefarious activities. It’s a bit much.

The best quote in Whirlpool:

“I bow to your abysmal scruples.” – Jose Ferrer

Main question I have about Whirlpool:

Did people in the 1940s and 1950s really get in their cars on the passenger side and scoot over to the driver’s side? (Just wondering.)

My conclusion about Whirlpool:

It’s no classic, but it’s worthy of your time. Check it out if you get the chance. You’ll be glad you did. (I think.)

Join me tomorrow for Day 26 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 25, 2014.

5 Responses to “Day 25 of Noirvember: Dive into Whirlpool (1949)”

  1. Noirvember is sensational!!!!!!!!

  2. “Did people in the 1940s and 1950s really get in their cars on the passenger side and scoot over to the driver’s side? (Just wondering.)”

    Do you have ANY idea how many times I’ve wondered the same damn thing?! Was that considered the cool thing to do back then? HAHA!

  3. Gene Tierney always gave me the creeps — she always seemed so cold.

  4. As a 1950s kid, I can recall that drivers of cars with automatic transmission—like my dad—frequently entered or exited the car on the passenger side. I don’t know how manual transmissions were set up, but the automatic transmission apparatus was mounted on the steering column instead of the floor (which meant, incidentally, that sedans could seat six instead of five). So why did drivers slide in or out the passenger side? Sometimes it was a safety measure: One could avoid oncoming traffic by entering or exiting the passenger side from or to the sidewalk. (Growing up in New York City, where streets tend to be narrow and the stream of cars constant, that option was a bonus.) These days, when I’m parked in a lot and some jerk has pulled in so close next to my car that I can barely squeeze into my driver’s seat, I long for those distant days when I could get in easily from the passenger side.

    About Gene Tierney’s “coldness”: I believe she was as icy as the part demanded—which meant, of course, she was ideal as the beyond-cold Ellen Berent Harland in John M. Stahl’s Technicolor noir “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945). For glimpses into Tierney’s softer side, check her out in Ernst Lubitsch’s “Heaven Can Wait” (1943) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” (1947). By the way, if you know anything about the tragedies in Tierney’s personal life, what may be perceived as a cold veneer could well have been her defense against intense emotional pain.

    A side note about “Whirlpool”: Jean-Luc Godard pays brief homage to it in “Breathless” (1960). In a scene set inside a movie theater, we do not see the screen, but we can hear Gene Tierney speaking as Ann Sutton.

    Finally, Barbara O’Neil is featured also in another Preminger noir, “Angel Face” (1952) ), which stars Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons.

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