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Friday, February 12, 2016

THE STRANGE WOMAN (1946)

The video era has made director Edgar G. Ulmer (auteur-in-chief of the quickie grade-Z pic) unintentional King of the subfusc Public Domain discount release. Dozens of intriguing titles, few in decent shape. So, all credit to Film Chest for a sharp restoration on this title. If only the film were worth the effort. Made in the wake of LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN/’45 and Margaret Lockwood’s generically titled THE WICKED LADY/’45, this period piece (set in Bangor, Maine!) finds Hedy Lamarr glaring one male victim to pieces after another (Gene Lockhart, Louis Hayward, George Sanders) before ravishing them with alternating fits of devotion & derision. Made up to look as much like Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara as possible, Lamarr is too limited an actress to pull off the pic’s central idea that this ruthless, self-centered venal bitch isn’t necessarily feigning when showing her better nature. Lamarr shows nothing but calculation. Passionless instead of dangerous; ridiculous instead of compelling, nothing adds up dramatically. Ulmer does a pretty good job moving his players & camera around, hiding some unhappy studio sets, but this castoff melodrama defeats him. Douglas Sirk supposedly helmed the prologue with junior versions of the leads already showing their worst traits. It’s decidedly creepy.

DOUBLE-BILL: To see Ulmer work with a decent budget and a top flight cast, try RUTHLESS/’47 in Olive Films’ fine restoration. (see below)

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