Rage in Heaven is one of those classic films that to me had potential to be a well known psychological drama from the early 1940s but only came this close because of one issue. The issue happens to be, unfortunately, Robert Montgomery’s acting. There is not much mystery to the plot it is just interesting to see how Montgomery’s character unravels and brings people along with him and purposely does so.
Friends Philip Monrell (Robert Montgomery) and Ward Andrews (George Sanders) meet each other for the first time in ages at a hotel in London. Philip invites Ward back to his family home in the country. When the men arrive they are met by Philip’s mother’s new secretary Stella Bergan (Ingrid Bergman). Stella is very pretty and both men are immediately taken with her. The next day she goes out horseback riding with Ward. It is clear that he is in love with her but she says that she does not plan to stay long with Mrs. Monrell she is young and wants to see the world. On the way back Ward finds a kitten in the woods and gives it to Stella.
When Ward returns back to work in Scotland and Philip makes his move. He confides in Stella that he is nervous about having to run his family’s steel mill and that while he was in Paris he became afraid and went under Ward’s name because Ward is a brave confident person. Insecure he asks Stella that if he were asking as Ward if she loves him and she says that she loves him as Philip. His jealousy is so deep that he kills the cat so he will have no reminder of his friend.
Sometime later Philip and Stella get married. Everything seems to go well until Philip begins to become jealous of his friend. He thinks Stella only thinks about Ward and is unhappy being married to him. Stella tells Philip over and over again that she loves him she married him not Ward. Also Philip acts very peculiar at the steel mill- all day he does nothing but work on his crossword puzzle then when Stella comes he has the other board members come into his office and he is unkind to them leaving one of the men who had been with the company for thirty years to resign.
One night Philip invites Ward over for dinner without telling Stella. He did this purposely to see her reaction when she sees Ward. Philip offers Ward a job as engineer in the mill and Ward accepts. Behind all this Philip has a plan to catch them in whatever act he thinks his wife and friend are doing together. Philip says that he has to go away for a few days leaving Stella and Ward alone together. Ward questions Stella about Philip he knows that something is wrong with his friend. Stella vehemently denies there is anything wrong but the next day she confesses she feels like Philip is trying to kill her love. Ward takes Stella out for dinner at a hotel he used to frequent. Philip walks in and sees them at dinner together.
A riot occurs at the steel mill causing Philip to become nervous and sick. After he recuperates Ward lets him know that a man died after he fell into molten metal. You can see the light go off in Philip’s head when he hears this. He has Ward take him over to the mill where the molten metal is poured. He plans to kill Ward and almost does but he is still not right and the plan fails. Ward noticed what Philip was trying to do and quits his job.
Stella begins to fear for herself and for Philip. She now sees what is happening to her husband. One night he puts his hands around her neck as if to choke her. Stella runs to her room, lays in her bed to make as if she is asleep until Philip goes to his room then when all is quiet she quickly packs a few things and runs for her life. Stella goes to London where Ward is. Philip calls at the hotel looking for his wife but Ward tells him that there is no way Stella is going back to him. Ward says that he was offered a job in Dublin and has to be there in the morning when Philip asks him to come to the house so they can talk. Philip convinces Ward to stop by since the house is along the way. Ward does not know that Philip got him the job in Dublin and what his former best friend has in store for him.
Philip’s plan for Ward works perfectly. Ward is put into jail for something he did not do. Stella feels helpless she can do nothing to help Ward until a doctor from France comes to her. The doctor tells her that two years ago Philip had been in a psychiatric until under the name of Andrews but he escaped. The doctor says that Philip had some disturbing issues that he was the type of man to write his actions down. Luckily Philip kept journals. Stella and the doctor find Philip’s last journal in time to save Ward.
So this is a suspense story and it really is I liked it I felt tense watching the events unfold. But as I said at the beginning Robert Montgomery did not give a very good performance. He was flat line reading his part. You can totally tell he did not put any effort whatsoever into his role. It is a shame because the character needed some emotion and feeling behind it and Montgomery did none of that whatsoever. Also his performance is a shame because Ingrid Bergman was excellent and so was George Sanders. Both actors made up for Montgomery really. Bergman was still new to Hollywood she had yet to become a superstar. The woman was just so ridiculously talented. I am so used to Sanders playing the slimy bad guy that seeing him as the good guy was surprising but very nice to see. The more I see Sanders the more I like him and see his range.
I must/have to talk about Ingrid Bergman’s costumes in the film. MGM’s most famous costume designer Adrian made Bergman’s clothes. Ingrid Bergman looked incredible I think this is her best costumed film. In her other films the costumes seem to accentuate how tall and broad she was but in Adrian’s dresses she looked incredible, the clothes looked like they were fitted for her just right she did not look big or broad at all. Adrian was a brilliant and outrageously talented designer and after seeing his dresses for this film I can see why Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and so many other actresses at MGM only wanted to wear Adrian gowns; he made them look so good.
Rage in Heaven is not a terribly bad film. I really liked it. I just wish Robert Montgomery had put some effort into his role. I do not know why he did not like making this film but unfortunately it shows and takes away from the film a little. Unfortunately, I do believe it is his performance that keeps this film from being better known and that is not fair to Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders since they were great. Besides Montgomery Rage in Heaven has a good story that does keep you in suspense.