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The Strange Woman

Posted by martinteller on January 4, 2014

In 1820’s Bangor, Maine, Jenny Hagar (Hedy Lamarr) was raised by her drunken brute of a father (Dennis Hoey).  As a child, she is self-serving and manipulative… as a young woman, even more so.  Her father’s sudden death has the townsfolk uncertain of what to do with her, and the wealthy Isaiah Poster (Gene Lockhart) decides to marry her.  Jenny’s new status has her using her husband’s money to help the needy… and at the same time, she’s busily seducing his son Ephraim (Louis Hayward).  She schemes to get Isaiah out of the picture and then sets her eyes upon John Evered (George Sanders)… the lumberjack lover of her best friend Meg (Hillary Brooke).

This is about on par with another period noir by Ulmer, Bluebeard.  The photography is excellent and although the atmosphere isn’t quite thick enough, it puts the film’s relatively high budget to good use.  The period detail is convincing enough and the chiaroscuro lighting gives the film more of a darkness than you’re likely to see in other productions of the era.  Lamarr is the best I’ve ever seen her (although her accent makes no sense in this setting, considering Hoey has none).  Jenny is both a wicked femme fatale and a complex one.  Perhaps the character isn’t as memorable or gripping as Ann Savage in Detour, but there’s some real psychological nuance at play.  Her callousness is motivated by the beatings she receives from her father (and a hint of incestuous molestation as well).  Her misdeeds need to be weighed against the genuine, heartfelt good she does for the community, coercing the greedy rich into aiding the impoverished… honoring her roots.  At times she seems as much a victim of her own passions as anyone else.  Her sexuality is formidable and twisted… at one point, she entices Isaiah by casually revealing her bare, whip-scarred shoulder.

Unfortunately, the movie has some marks against it.  Sanders is wasted in a role that doesn’t exploit his talents.  In fact, none of the supporting characters are all that interesting.  The pacing is sometimes sluggish.  And the film on the whole, although generally good, lacks something truly special to elevate it.  But definitely a worthwhile semi-noir for fans of either Ulmer or Lamarr, with a very intriguing and complicated central character.  Rating: Good (74)

IMDb
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