Review Date: 10/12/15
Cast: Charles Laughton, Ella Raines
A sad, cynical, and dismally depressing film about a good man who is forced to do terrible things by bad people. Philip Marshall (Charles Laughton) is a good, kind, and noble man who is trapped in a miserable and loveless marriage to a bitter, spiteful, and all-around terrible woman. He happens to meet a charming young lady named Mary Gray (Ella Raines) who is down on her luck, and the two become close friends. Unfortunately, when Philip asks his wife for a divorce, she threatens to ruin Mary's life as well as his own. Apparently, the morals of early 1900's London made it more socially acceptable to destroy someone's reputation, steal their money, make them lose their job, publicly shame and humiliate them, and kick them out of their own house to survive as a lowly beggar than to be gossiped about as a divorced woman. Makes absolutely no sense to me, but, whatever. Anyway, right as she's preparing to destroy poor Mary, Philip realizes the only thing he can do to save his friend is to murder his horrible wife. He stages it as an accident, but an annoying inspector from Scotland Yard is determined to prove him guilty. He even goads Philip's despicable and unscrupulous neighbor into blackmailing him, knowing full well that he can't prove anything. Philip's world continues to unravel until the inevitably downbeat ending.
It's a well made and suspenseful film that takes a very dreary and critical view of society. Philip and Mary (as well as the neighbor's long suffering wife) are the only likable characters in the film, and it's infuriating to see their happiness destroyed by the harpies that surround them. Yes, Philip murdered his awful wife, who was an absolutely terrible person, and you immediately sympathize with him because it was the most noble thing he could do and he had no other choice. His neighbor is also a terrible person who lives in perpetual debt, drinks irresponsibly, beats his wife, and refuses to get a job because "work is for working men." He sees himself as an entitled and elite member of the upper class, and makes no qualms about crushing the weak and underprivileged underfoot to meet his needs. In fact, he's quite proud of being a complete asshole, and admits as much. "The meek shall inherit the Earth, but we shall inherit the meek." He doesn't care if Philip murdered his wife or not, nor does he care if he ruins Philip's life. He only wants to take advantage of the situation and profit from the misery of others. Philip's wife's friends are no better. They're all petty gossips who only attended her funeral because there was food and wine. Charles Laughton does an excellent job as the doomed and tormented Mr. Marshall, and you hope for a happy ending even though you know it's impossible. Ella Raines is stunningly radiant and looks marvelous in her period garb. She's the reason I picked up the film in the first place. Again, you wish for Mary's well being, knowing full well that she's just another victim of society. While it's definitely not a "feel good" film, it's still worth a look for fans of murder mysteries and film noir.