The wife of a rubber plantation administrator shoots a man to death and claims it was self-defense. Her poise, graciousness and stoicism impress nearly everyone who meets her. Her husband is certainly without doubt; so is the district officer; while her lawyer’s doubts may be a natural skepticism.
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The director par excellence of the standard language, with an application of the virtues and limitations of such, as the camera movements, depth of field and cinematography, all established for the enjoyment of an immaculate narrative. The starting and end sequences are a fruitful example of this, in a way that evoked Tourneur's "I Walked with...". The rest is mainly Bette Davis, ie the thick line of professionalism.
Somerset Maugham's novels and novellas inspired and will still inspire a lot of screen writers. The atmospheric writer's world is a godsend for a director like William Wyler. Observe the scene when Bette Davis gives her version of the murder. Four characters are on the screen and the four of them are turning their back on the camera. Because there is nothing to see at this moment. That's mise-en-scene. Masterpiece.
Bette Davis is superb in one of the best-looking films of the 1940s. The opening murder sequence starts things in spectacular fashion and then Wyler and DP Tony Gaudio take over to make the shadows creep over everything on the plantation.
The Little Foxes may be the better of the two, but this is still a fabulous Davis-Wyler collab. Davis actually gives a comparatively restrained (for her) performance in this one, similar to that of Now, Voyager. The rather dark ending is uncharacteristic of Hollywood at the time, and this is also one of the best "shot" Hollywood films pre-Kane. 4.5 stars
Initially I was dissatistied with this film but after revisiting it, it was like a new experience to me. I thought it was more engaging this 2nd time around and while not perfect, I came to fully appreciate its strong points. The direction itself is really strong since Wyler managed to turn this rather simple story into a multi-layered, striking and visually stunning film. I was in awe of its impecable photography.
This is pretty close to a masterpiece. In any event, Davis's performance certainly is. Update: I just saw this film again. It is the best movie Davis ever made. Not her best performance. That would be "Jezebel."
She and Wyler were a wondrous team.