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Another Man’s Poison

Posted by martinteller on November 28, 2012

“Yes, the night air teems with unexpected guests.  Sounds like Shakespeare, but isn’t.”

Janet Frobisher (Bette Davis), a popular murder mystery novelist, has an unexpected guest problem.  First her long-estranged husband shows up, on the run after a bank robbery, demanding money and shelter.  Janet hates him — and he’s been blackmailing her over her apparently frequent affairs — and so she poisons him.  Then her husband’s partner in crime, George Bates (Gary Merrill, Davis’s actual spouse at the time), arrives, looking for his accomplice.  When he learns what’s happened, he agrees to help Janet dispose of the body.  Just at that moment, the inquisitive veterinarian Dr. Henderson (Emlyn Williams) pops in to borrow a book.  Now George has to pretend to be Janet’s husband.  And wouldn’t you know it, here comes Janet’s secretary Chris (Barbara Murray) and her fiancé Larry (Anthony Steel)… the man Janet is currently having a fling with.

This is a delightfully vicious tale of deceit, power struggles and who’s got the goods on whom.  It’s a particularly savage take on marriage as Davis and Merrill play the dysfunctional non-couple, while Davis toys with the lives of Murray and Steel.  In fact, it feels not entirely unlike a Bergman chamber drama, with its relatively self-contained cast of characters and the action rarely leaving the house.  There’s a lot of venomous fun and games, with Davis and Merrill constantly vying for the upper hand, and Williams dropping in every now and then to stir the pot with his nosy questions.  The film has a delicious little ending that sees evil being punished without being the least bit sanctimonious or upbeat.

Davis is a hoot, as always, really digging into the role and being her usual wonderfully sarcastic and sometimes hammy self.  It’s absolutely her picture, but Merrill holds his own as well.  Williams is quite amusing, appropriately annoying in his suspicious inquiries.  Not much to be said about Murray or Steel, less interesting roles to be sure but performed more than adequately.  Robert Krasker’s photography is lovely, particularly in the scenes of the highest tension.  The rainy English setting is quite appropriate for this nasty little tale.

There may be a couple of plot holes here and there, but it’s a mighty entertaining noir… dark but also darkly comic at times.  Rating: Very Good (85)


2 Responses to “Another Man’s Poison”

  1. Thanks for sharing your review – this movie sounds interesting, will add it to my watch list.

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