Theresa over at cinemavensessaysfromthecouch, is hosting this blogathon all about murders that occur in a marriage. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
I’m writing about the 1946 film Dragonwyck. The film is directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and it is based upon the 1944 novel of the same name by Anya Seton. Where do I begin with this one?
Well, I have to say upfront how much I love this film. I like how it is a mixture of Gothic, romance, melodrama, suspense and horror, and how all of these different genres are mingled together to great effect. There’s even a subplot about the ghost of a Van Ryn ancestor who haunts the house! Truly this film has something in it for everyone.
Vincent Price gives one of the best performances of his entire career in this, and it annoys me that his performance here is rarely mentioned when people discuss his screen performances. It’s also interesting to note that Vincent’s character in this film, and indeed the Gothic look and plot of the film, are basically setting up so many of the characters Vincent would play in those Roger Corman directed Poe cycle Horror films in the 1960’s.
Dragonwyck is such an atmospheric film and I think that the set design for the house interiors is absolutely stunning. This Gothic film reminds me somewhat of the story of Jane Eyre. A young woman falls in love with an older man, who she (and we)feel sorry for and believe to be desperate for a different life. There the similarities to Bronte’s tale ends though, as Dragonwyck begins to transform into a dark mixture of murder, drug addiction and madness.
I also think that the murder plot is somewhat similar to Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder.The murder plot in Dragonwyck is practically perfect, in fact it’s downright scary just how close the killer comes to getting away with their crime(much like the one planned by Milland’s character in the Hitchcock classic), the first murder goes unsuspected, it is only when another is attempted later that a doctor becomes suspicious and the first is uncovered.
The film is set in America, in the 1840’s. Miranda Wells (Gene Tierney) is a young, sheltered woman who is raised in a God fearing, farming family in Connecticut. Miranda longs for adventure and to be able to see more of the world, than just the small part of America she was raised in. Miranda’s mother (the ever terrific Anne Revere)receives a letter from Nicholas Van Ryn (Vincent Price)a distant and wealthy relative.
Nicholas invites one of the Wells daughters to live at his house called Dragonwyck and act as companion for his daughter. Miranda accepts the invitation and she and her father, Ephraim (Walter Huston)travel to the city to meet Nicholas. Her father disapproves of him, but Nicholas soon charms him and he permits his daughter to go and work for Nicholas.
Miranda and Nicholas make a tragic romantic couple. Image source IMDb.
Soon Miranda finds herself falling in love not only with Nicholas, but also with the beautiful house of Dragonwyck. Nicholas returns her feelings and likes her honesty and outspoken nature. Her presence seems to lift him out of himself and become less distant. She seems to be the medicine he needs to be happy. Nothing can come of their love though, as he is married to the self centred (although as we later learn obviously deeply unhappy and unwanted)Johanna (Vivienne Osborne).
When Johanna suddenly falls ill and then dies, it would seem that nothing can stand in the way of Nicholas and Miranda’s future happiness. Only the sight of a rare and deadly orchid plant in Johanna’s bedroom seems out of place, and its presence plays on the mind of the attending doctor, Turner(Glenn Langan).
Being unable to prove foul play, but nevertheless highly suspicious doctor Turner (from a distance)keeps an eye out for the new Mrs. Van Ryn. Later when Miranda also falls dangerously ill, his suspicions prove to be founded in truth. But just who is the murderer?
This is a dark and atmospheric tale of love, desire, murder and unhappiness. The film looks stunning visually, and the set design and costumes are sumptuous and impressive. This is one of my favourite films from the 1940’s and it’s a great one to watch if you’re looking for a spooky tale. Murder is terrifying enough as it is, but to discover a murder is being planned by someone close to you is another thing entirely, and this film captures that horror and fear.
My favourite scenes are the following. Miranda going to attic and discovering the truth about Nicholas (some powerful acting by Price in that scene). The ball sequence, particularly where Nicholas dances with Miranda and basically says who cares what his neighbours and friends say. Ephraim and Nicholas meeting in the hotel. The doctor telling Miranda he will look after her now. Miranda’s first meeting with Johanna and the house staff.
Vincent Price is excellent as the reserved Nicholas. He makes you believe that this man has a terrible life and longs to break free of his dull society. His transformation towards the end of the film is quite a shock and he makes it so convincing and dark. He becomes downright terrifying in the latter part of the film.
Gene Tierney is superb as the young woman falling in love for the first time in her life. I also like how she makes Miranda not care one bit for convention and that she always speaks her mind. Miranda is very much her own person.
Vivienne Osborne has the tough job of playing both an annoying and sympathetic character and she does this very well. She manages to make us both pity and dislike Johanna.
Glenn Langan is good as the kind and observant doctor who becomes Miranda’s ally and protector.
Spring Byington provides solid support as the almost otherworldly housekeeper of Dragonwyck. There’s also an appearance by a young Jessica Tandy as the maid who helps Miranda.
Anne Revere and Walter Huston are excellent as Miranda’s parents. Anne does a good job of playing a woman who wants her daughter to be happy and have adventures, but doesn’t want to go against the husband she loves when he says Miranda can’t do certain things. Walter perfectly captures the gruff but loving dad act perfectly.
If you haven’t seen this one yet, then I highly recommend it to you. I’d love to get your thoughts on this one. Please leave your comments below.
Click the link below on the 24th to see all the live posts. https://cinemavensessaysfromthecouch.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/till-death-us-do-part-2/