Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 1956. Crown Productions. Screenplay by Lawrence Roman, based on the novel by Ira Levin. Cinematography by Lucien Ballard. Produced by Robert L. Jacks. Music by Lionel Newman. Production Design by Addison Hehr. Costume Design by Evelyn Carruth, Henry Helfman. Film Editing by George A. Gittens.
The first of two adaptations of Ira Levin’s first novel, this one stars a subtly creepy Robert Wagner as an ambitious sociopath who romances Joanne Woodward at college and pretends that he wants to marry her after she reveals to him that she is pregnant. She is the daughter of a rich industrialist who will never accept their union, so Wagner decides to start all over again: he commits murder and makes it look like a suicide, then heads out to find her sister (Virginia Leith) and use her to work his way into the family’s money. A textbook example of fifties aspirational Americana on screen, this one features the opulent beauty of widescreen cinematography and some dazzling, bright colours that feel so sinister when applied to a story so quietly destructive. The performances are impressive, making it that much more disappointing that the film is weighed down by sluggish direction from the debuting Gerd Oswald, who kills a great deal of the possible tension with a wooden pace and little ingenuity in his visual construction. Remade in 1991 by James Dearden with Sean Young and Matt Dillon.