DATELINE: Oldie May Not Be Goodie
Great Stars! Abysmal Script!
Back in the late 1940s, it was tough to find leading ladies who were strong enough to stand up to Humphrey Bogart. Usually producers fell back on his wife, Lauren Bacall, for a counterpoint.
In a rare miss, Bogart was teamed with one of the big misses of the era.
Big women movie stars on the screen—like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis—did not measure up to the scripts that suited Bogart.
On the other hand, Barbara Stanwyk was also a tough cookie to play against. She was so tough that her leading men came off as Neanderthal, if not pussycats. Gary Cooper was a regular costar, and after that, you were facing weaker characters (played by Fred MacMurray or Ronald Reagan, or the nice guys like Bill Holden).
After Sorry, Wrong Number, she took on more nasty victims, and so we come to teaming Bogart and Stanwyk, almost deserving of each other in the dull-witted murder-thriller The Two Mrs. Carrolls. Stanwyk is hysterical on the telephone once again, and rest assured, the rainy Scottish weather means that Bogart will don his obligatory trench-coat and fedora for at least one scene. It isn’t enough.
It was post-World War II and tough-guy actors were stretching into demi-villains. Thus odd-ball film is set in Scotland with an American cast of apparent expatriates. Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson) is on hand as a dotty doctor for Stanwyk as she is poisoned, and Alexis Smith is the new muse for the diabolical painter.
You keep wondering when Sydney Greenstreet will show up to trap Bogart’s bad guy.
As Geoffrey Carroll, Humphrey Bogart loses interest in his latest wife as muse, murders her, and finds another. It is kind of Andrea del Sarto as Bluebeard.
He plays an unconvincing American artist in this one, not a detective, and he seems to have headaches when the word “death” echoes behind him. He exhibits a bunch of the Deadly Sins—including rage, pride, jealousy, among others.
His alleged successful paintings are deplorable.
These are not good signs for Bogie in the last days of noir. They may be worse news for Stanwyk as victim. She is made so demure that the point of putting a strong woman opposite Bogart was lost. Bogart feeds poisoned milk to his wives, like Cary Grant in Suspicion by Hitchcock. It’s that kind of copycat movie.
This British play is devoid of wit, suspense, plot, action, or anything that could be saved by the high-powered actors at the top of their careers. This was not a Warner Brothers film, or it would never have been made like this.
The final few seconds are the high-point when Bogie offers warm milk to the policemen about to take him away. (Oh, it’s laced with that poison).
What a disappointment for the most part.