“Whirlpool” is a film noir, crime, suspense movie effectively written by Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt, based on the novel, “Methinks the Lady”, by Guy Endore. The story revolves around a well to do, attractive woman named Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney), who also happens to be a kleptomaniac. Her husband, Dr. Sutton (Richard Conte), is a renowned psychoanalyst, who knows nothing of his wife’s condition. When she is caught shoplifting in a department store, the smooth talking David Korvo (Jose Ferrer) come to her rescue and gets her out of trouble. It turns out that he is a hypnotist, and he claims that he can help Ann to overcome her problem. Things go wrong, as Korvo ends up being more than Ann suspects, and she gets mixed up in a crime. Lt Colton (Charles Bickford) comes in to help sort out the facts and psychological details, but Korvo has planned things far better than anyone could have expected.
Otto Preminger is a brilliant director, whose expertise and skill in the crime genre seem to have no limit. “Whirlpool”, however, doesn’t bring everything together. Is it even really a crime film, or is it just a psychological melodrama? In the years before “Whirlpool”, Preminger delivered time and time again with films like “Laura” (1944), “Fallen Angel” (1945), and even “Daisy Kenyon” (1947), but this one just doesn’t have the excitement of his previous pictures.
What is strange is that there isn’t anything wrong with the construction of “Whirlpool”. The script flows nicely, and the story is interesting. Legendary Oscar-winning cinematographer Arthur C. Miller contributes with his usual high quality skills, and David Raskin provides an unsettling eerie score that seems to fit the overall feel perfectly.
And then there is the acting, which quite honestly, couldn’t be any better. Gene Tierney is marvelous, especially because she always seems to have that far off distant look in her eyes anyway, so playing a woman under hypnosis fits quite well. Jose Ferrer can do almost anything, but he plays evil best, and “Whirlpool” offers him plenty of chances to shine. Richard Conte and Charles Bickford aren’t given much screen time, but they use it effectively. All in all, it’s a wonderful ensemble picture, and this cast of professionals mesh together extremely well.
The only problem here is that with everything- all the work and all the effort-nothing ever really happens. It sounds interesting and exciting, but doesn’t develop beyond what’s on the surface. Essentially, the first twenty minutes is good, but as things progress it just doesn’t get better.
“Whirlpool” is one of those rare missteps for Otto Preminger. He would follow this one up with the superior “Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1950), also with Gene Tierney, the hard to find, “The 13th Letter” (1951), and (one of my personal favorites) “Angel Face” (1952). He has the ability to make films that are entertaining time and time again, and I suppose “Whirlpool” will just have to go under the heading of close… but not quite enough.