Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Another Man's Poison

TCM is showing several movies tonight that were made in Britain, but are notable for their American stars or themes. I was thinking of doing a full-length post on No Orchids for Miss Blandish (overnight at 1:15 AM), which is interesting for the British trying to make a movie about Americans set in America. It's a fiarly straighforward Hollywood-style gangster story, but it's notable for having been made in the UK. The characters are supposed to be American, but as with Purple Noon, these characters don't seem like Americans I'd recognize. Anyhow, TCM's schedule lists No Orchids for Miss Blandish as being available on DVD, so I'd like to blog today about a movie that I don't think is in print on DVD: Another Man's Poison, tonight at 9:45 PM.

Bette Davis stars as Janet Frobisher, a mystery writer living in a country house somehwere in the middle of nowhere in norhtern. She's married, but her hasband has been away in Malaya managing the couple's business, that being a rubber plantation. At least, that's the story Janet has been telling everybody. In fact, we're about to find out that the truth is quite different, when one George Bates (Davis' real-life husband at the time, Gary Merrill) comes knocking on her door. George says that he and Janet's husband were both in prison together, but that they escaped and robbed a bank together. No wonder Jaanet didn't want to tell the townsfolk the truth about her husband. The robbery went wrong, though, and George traced Mr. Frobisher back to this house. So where's the husband, and where's George's half of the loot? Davis, of course, knows that the story of her husband being in Malaya is nonsense, and she's about to show George why. There's her husband in the study, really quite dead. Not only dead, but dead at the hand of Janet, who poisoned her.

Janet was presumably planning on burying the body, which would have gotten rid of all the evidence. Nobody in town had seen her husband, what with their thinking he's in Malaya. And it's not as if anybody lives with Janet to have seen her husband come to the house. But here's George, and he's bollixed everything up. The two of them are going to have to bury the body together, but surely they were familiar with Double Indemnity, so they'd know that wouldn't be the end of the matter. Janet certainly realizes it, as she's planning no poisioning George, too. But before that can happen, a young couple who are friends with Janet show up: Chris (Barbara Murray), is engaged to Larry (Anthony Steel), who it seems has a little closer relationship to Janet. Also constantly popping in to complicate things is the local veterinarian for Janet's beloved horses, Dr. Henderson (Emlyn Williams), whose purpose in the story in many ways seems similar to the one Edward G. Robinson has in Double Indemnity. Who is this strange man? Well, it's obvious that it must be Janet's husband, finally returned from Malaya!

Another Man's Poison is one of the many movies that has a bit of a problem in that, if they wanted to show the movie in American, they were going to have to deal with the restrictions of the Production Code. Bette Davis as a murderess can't get away with it unless the writers come up with a deus ex machina that somehow turns the killing into self-defense, which isn't really murder. Gary Merrill as a bank robger certainly can't get away with that. So we're left with seeing how everything is going to unravel. Well, we're left with that and Bette Davis. I can't help but think that the movie of Another Man's Poison (which was originally a stage play) was designed as a vehicle for Bette Davis to emote her way through: sometimes going over the top, but never failing to entertain. Gary Merrill was never the world's greatest actor, but tended to do OK when playing roles that had him be sturdy and a bit of a moral center, as in Phone Call From a Stranger or a bit less in All About Eve. Here, his sole purpose is not to get in Bete Davis' way, and in that he suceeds admirably. The young couple don't have much to do, while Emlyn Williams really looks like he's enjoying himself. All in all, it's entertaining if not great.

Amazon lists a ridiculously expensive DVD released in 2000, but also claims you can stream the movie if you're a member of Amazon Prime. Unfortunately I don't have the bandwidth or internet speed to do streaming video, so I can't comment on Amazon Prime streaming movies.

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