Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1952. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier. Cinematography by Joseph LaShelle. Produced by Nunnally Johnson. Music by Franz Waxman. Production Design by John DeCuir, Lyle R. Wheeler. Costume Design by Dorothy Jeakins. Film Editing by Louis R. Loeffler. Academy Awards 1952. Golden Globe Awards 1952.
Daphne Du Maurier’s captivating mystery was barely on the shelves for a year when this big screen adaptation was released, introducing mass audiences to the talent of Richard Burton in his first widely seen role (and his first of seven Oscar nominations). He plays the orphan raised by a loving cousin who learns that his guardian married a woman in Italy after moving there for his health before an unexpected demise. Burton is convinced that this woman killed her husband and he plans to exact vengeance on her, but she comes to visit him in England (played by Olivia de Havilland) and he is captivated by her beauty and her affectionate manner, abandoning his ideas of hating her and falling madly in love with her instead. Heedless of advice from those around him, Burton eventually gives de Havilland his entire inheritance and then begs her to marry him, but she asserts her independence and it makes him question her morality yet again. What’s fascinating in this story is just how very much it is about the speculation of behaviour and not the behaviour itself: how much suspicion does de Havilland inspire merely because of his own unchecked emotions, considering that she never seems to get caught in a lie or contradict herself? The moral ambiguity is something that would be explored better decades later in the 2017 remake by Roger Michell, not to mention that the ending is softened a tad in Burton’s favour, but this is still a beautifully filmed and sexy movie that benefits greatly from the terrific chemistry between its leads. de Havilland is particularly compelling as a woman whose kindness always exists from behind a gauzy mask of intelligent restraint and care.