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Noir-vember 2014: Ivy

Posted by martinteller on November 10, 2014

“He’s in a bit of a hurry to get that rope around his neck, isn’t he?”
“So is she.”

Ivy Lexton (Joan Fontaine) has her eyes set on the wealthy Miles Rushworth (Herbert Marshall).  There’s only two things standing between her and the object of her ambitious affection.  The first is her husband Jervis (Richard Ney), unemployed and constantly struggling to keep up with his wife’s extravagant tastes.  The other is her lover, the possessive Dr. Roger Gretorex (Patric Knowles).  How do you get rid of two men while still making yourself available and desirable to a third?  Poison one and frame the other, of course.

Victorian noirs are a little tricky to fit into the genre.  For one thing, you miss out on all that juicy hard-boiled lingo.  I like to find a sharp quote to kick off my Noir-vember reviews, but for this one I had to settle for something without much sizzle.  And you don’t have the urban settings or the contemporary social issues as a factor.  But this type of film does lend itself nicely to dark themes — especially operating outside the law — and a lot of gothic stylization.  Director Sam Wood (probably best known for comedies like The Devil and Miss Jones and two key Marx Brothers movies) brings in some oppressive shadows and off-kilter angles to give it a noir feel.  The movie opens with a startlingly offbeat scene of Ivy visiting a fortune teller (a great character performance by Una O’Connor) while an assistant creepily plays the harpsichord.

The movie doesn’t ever quite live up to the unsettling tone of that opening scene, but it’s anchored by a fine femme fatale performance from Fontaine.  Ivy perhaps isn’t one of the most memorable dangerous dames of noir, but she’s a master manipulator.  She exploits men’s perceptions of her as a fragile, helpless creature.  When her husband confronts her about her reckless spending, she turns on the waterworks and bemoans her own incompetence.  It only takes a few seconds before he’s begging for her forgiveness, and when he leaves the room her tears turn into a sly smile.

None of the other actors are worth singling out, but they’re all fine (we can give a nod to Cedric Hardwicke as the obligatory detective whose suspicions are never satisfied with the story he’s being fed).  The plot moves at a satisfying clip and culminates in a fitting end.  Not a must-see by any means, but enjoyable, especially for fans of Fontaine.  Rating: Good (74)


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