“You were wise not to tell your husband, Mrs. Sutton. A successful marriage is usually based on what a husband and wife don't know about each other.”
Whirlpool is one of those films that has so much potential with a great sounding plot, a fabulous leading lady, and one of the greatest Noir directors but it falls flat. Besides the areas and characters that make the film fall flat there are some moments that will keep you hooked.
As she walks out the door of a department store Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney) is stopped by security. They say that she has stolen something from the counter and she needs to go with them to see the manager. On her way up the elevator she faints. When she wakes up she is in the manager’s office and at once they begin accusing her of stealing a pin. Out of nowhere walks in a man named David Korvo (Jose Ferrer). He tells the manager that Ann’s husband Dr. William Sutton (Richard Conte) a very well known psychiatrist. Korvo says that to have Ann arrested would be a major mistake since her husband does not know she is a kleptomaniac and to just put the pin on her bill and be done with the whole ordeal.
Ann goes back to her husband who has no idea about the incident. She goes to tell him but she runs upstairs to her room. For days after the incident Ann cannot sleep. Ann meets Korvo again at a party at her friend’s home. She finds out that Korvo is a hypnotist and astrologist. She tells him that she has not been able to sleep because of what happened at the store. He tells her that he can help her get some sleep. He hypnotizes her but he sees that even in a hypnotic state she does not follow all of his commands. When he awakens her Ann says she feels like she got a great sleep. While she was under Korvo tells her that at eleven o’clock that night she will fall fast asleep. That night Ann falls into a deep sleep at exactly eleven o’clock.
Ann is so pleased with what Korvo has done for her that she asks to see him. They meet again at the hotel he is staying at. She refuses to go to his room insisting that they sit in the lounge in the hotel. Korvo is a bit upset that she does not want to go to his room because he has a plan for one of his mistresses that involves using Ann as the scapegoat.
A few nights later Ann is alone in her home while her husband is away. In what seems like a daze she goes down to her husband’s office and takes two recordings from the vault in it. She gets in her car and drives to a house. She walks into the house, puts the records in a closet hiding them then walks downstairs to the living room where a dead woman is sitting on the couch. When she snaps out of her daze the police come and take her away.
Ann is arrested for murdering the woman who was a patient of William’s and who she had had an argument at her friend’s party. Korvo lets it be known that he knew the woman and that he was caught in a court case with her over money he owed her. All the evidence including the evidence Korvo has planted is against Ann’s innocence. She does not know what happened to her that night or what her actions were, she just knows that she is innocent and whatever her actions may have been they were not done on her own will.
I found the film predictable which to me is the major reason the film falls flat. We know who the real murderer is and we know right away that Ann is innocent. The second major reason the film falls flat is Richard Conte playing the character of Dr. William Sutton. He was completely unconvincing as a famous psychiatrist. He barley helps his wife he cannot see that she is mentally ill and that she was put under hypnosis until it was almost too late. Conte had the look and the speech of a man who belongs in a gang or in a business or somewhere in New York or New Jersey (he was from Jersey City which explains a lot. I can say this; I have family from Jersey City). Even Jose Ferrer commented that throughout the filming everyone felt that Conte was wrong for the role.
Another huge mistake was Otto Preminger and Ben Hecht trying to make Whirlpool like Laura. Many scenes were filmed at odd angles, the cinematography is dark and mysterious, and Gene Tierney stands below a portrait just like she did in Laura. David Raskin, just as he did for the previous film, created the score with Alfred Newman as musical director. The cinematography and camera angles greatly help the tone, atmosphere, and add the only real amount of tension.
Gene Tierney and Jose Ferrer were the best parts of the film. Tierney is beautiful which makes her character that more tragic and sad. I love watching Tierney act because she is so natural she never overacts and her facial expressions say so much you know what she is feeling and what is running through her mind. I had never seen Ferrer in a film before and I really liked him. He was perfect as the sleazy hypnotist hypnotizing women to give him their money. The first time you see him in the film you know he is absolutely no good.
Whirlpool is not a bad film despite certain moments that bring the film down a few notches. The story of a woman keeping a secret from her husband who could really help her but she turns to someone who is a fraud and that man uses her is very interesting. The filming techniques that Otto Preminger transferred from Laura to Whirlpool and Gene Tierney and Jose Ferrer’s performances do outweigh the less than perfect aspects of the story and some acting. Whirlpool at the time it was released was not regarded as important but today along with Preminger’s Laura and Where the Sidewalk Ends is considered a Film Noir essential.