movie review: Whirlpool (1950)

What did you watch? The 1950 drama Whirlpool.

Is it about a dishwasher or washer/dryer repairman? No.

Have you written spec scripts about the Maytag repairman? Maybe.

Whirlpool stars Gene Tierney, Jose Ferrer, and Richard Conte, and likely showed up my streaming thanks The Algorithm thinking that I only want Richard Conte movies on my feed. That’s fine, he’s a good actor, and so far I’ve mostly enjoyed the movies he’s appeared in, at least the ones that we’ve discussed here. This time around he’s a psychiatrist and loving and patient husband, as opposed to a cunning, deadly, and amoral criminal mastermind in pretty much everything else I’ve seen him in.

Gene Tierney is Conte’s wife, and she has a bit of a problem: she likes to shoplift, which is how we’re introduced to her. She’s stopped as she tries to leave a high-end store where they have a valet service for their customers. She’s like, what, getting a watch? Or earings? They have a valet? Wow. I thought I was a big man when the local collectibles (used toy) store let me into the “vault,” the basement with the action figures that couldn’t fit in the main storefront. However, Jose Ferrer happens to be nearby, and intervenes with the staff and security that is about to hand her over to the police that she can pay for it on her credit, and that he’d make sure she would learn her lesson with his help.

See, Ferrer is a hypnotist, and maybe he has a “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” hand gesture that works with the rank and file who service the rich, and the rich, which is convenient here. His intentions don’t seem honorable, but Ferrer assures Tierney that he can help solve her kleptomania with his hypnosis and not blackmail her. For a lady easily swayed by a creep hovering around an expensive shop to see who gets nabbed by the cops for shoplifting, she is pretty strong willed, and though Ferrer can put her in a sleep trance, he can’t get her to go to his hotel room. Anyway, since he can’t have his way with her, Ferrer invites her to a fancy party where he again puts her in a trance and has her steal a few recordings from her husband’s office (he tapes his sessions) and takes them to another wealthy woman’s home. There, that wealthy lady is dead – and the police show up after Tierney stashes the recordings in a closet. If you can’t guess, Ferrer has killed the wealthy lady and the police arrest Tierney thinking she did it.

Conte can’t believe what is going on, that his wife would kill someone, and one of his former patients. It turns out that Ferrer had used his skill to steal from the rich lady, and Conte knew about this from their session, which was of course on those records. Conte tries to convince the police but the evidence is in favor of Tierney committing the murder, and also that Ferrer had been in the hospital for a surgery during the murder, and is still there.

Well, Ferrer finds out that Conte is looking for the recordings, so he hypnotizes himself to not feel the pain he’s in to leave the hospital and try and stop Conte and the police from finding the proof. Which is what he had done he night he killed the rich lady.

It’s not noir, because Tierney is innocent, and her relationship is solidified with Conte despite being framed for an affair she never had or a murder she didn’t commit. It’d be a bit harsher if she were hypnotized to kill, but the movie is set up to have a husband find out how inattentive he’s been to his wife’s problems prior to her being framed for murder. It’s also a little boring, because there’s a lot of talking and psychobabble from Conte and he begs the cops to believe him about his wife’s innocence, but it’s still pretty interesting.

The movie stars Jose Ferrer who is the father of Miguel Ferrer, aka Bob Morton the junior exec in Robocop, and also uncle to George Clooney. Ferrer was the first Hispanic & Puerto Rican actor to win an Academy Award and had a very long and successful career in Hollywood.

This is one of a few movies directed by Otto Preminger that also stars Gene Tierney. I don’t think I’ve discussed their movies here, but Laura is one of my favorites. It’s rather good, and I tend to discuss the lesser known crime & noir movies on this blog, so I likely won’t write about it (you should totally see it), but maybe I’ll write about Where The Sidewalk Ends in the near future.

ALSO, this kind of reminded me of another movie called The Amazing Mr. X, which came out in 1948. Maybe hypnosis was “in” at the time, it’s what you could do on a budget that was a little more surreal than men falling for femme fatales or mobsters or cops n robbers. It was also on Rifftrax and brilliantly roasted, which is how I found out about it – but it looks great and is pretty suspenseful.

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