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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

WOMAN OF STRAW (1964)

By the time British director Basil Dearden gets this promising murder-with-a-twist pic to the table, the dish has turned lukewarm. But in its first half, Ralph Richardson blazes away as a despicable tycoon, an ailing, aging millionaire despot who lords it over associates, house staff & heir-apparent nephew Sean Connery from his wheelchair, treating everyone like dogs. Literally so for his two African personal servants who are made to perform actual dog tricks. And now he’s planning on leaving his fortune to charity. No wonder Connery’s looking for a lever to shake things up. Enter Gina Lollobrigida, a gorgeous nurse with too much integrity to (initially) jump at Connery’s sneaky financial offer to get at all that loot. But it’s precisely her stubborn refusal to play along, with either Connery or Richardson, that turns the old man’s head and brings them to the altar. He molts; she sees a new man under the shell; Connery worries the old goat may live longer than he thought possible. So, just where does that leave the old man’s fortune? Pretty interesting psycho-sexual set-up by the halfway mark. Which is exactly when the film resets; turning into a standard, if third-tier DIAL ‘M’ FOR MURDER wannabee. (Connery/Lollobrigida/Inspector Alexander Knox in for Ray Milland/Grace Kelly/Inspector John Williams.) But without the clever forensic-based drama and meticulous logistical thrills of Hitchcock’s fun little classic.* (Dearden also drops the arhythmic staccato editing he uses in the first half.) Instead, farfetched & risibly dumb, with lazy plotting & a couple of fright-laughs when a pair of sun-glasses slip off a dead man’s nose. (A stab at covering all the implausibilities in a courtroom summation comes across as amateur obfuscation.) Elegant to watch though, thanks to dreamy locations, dreamy looking Gina & Sean, and Otto Heller’s dreamy lens work.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Might as well rediscover DIAL 'M,' Hitch’s elegant drawing room murder puzzle. (Now out in BLU-RAY 3D.)

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