[Film Review] Another Man’s Poison (1951)

Another Man's Poison poster.jpg

Title: Another Man’s Poison
Year: 1951
Country: UK, USA
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Drama
Director: Irving Rapper
Screenwriter: Val Guest
based on the play DEADLOCK by Leslie Sands
Music: John Greenwood
Cinematography: Robert Krasker
Editor: Gordon Hales
Cast:
Bette Davis
Gary Merrill
Emlyn Williams
Anthony Steel
Barbara Murray
Reginald Beckwith
Edna Morris
Rating: 6.7/10

Another Man's Poison 1951.jpg

Whisked away to make this murder-mystery with her newly hitched fourth husband Gary Merrill in Britain, a follow-up of her “all-time best performance” in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s ALL ABOUT EVE (1950), Ms. Davis recruits the director of NOW, VOYAGER (1942), Irving Rapper to take the helm, but overall, the final product is a secondary offering in every aspect.

ANOTHER MAN’S POISON, takes place in a Podunk Northern England town, mostly, sets in an isolated, but gorgeous and impressive mansion inhabited by mystery novelist Janet Frobisher (Davis), who has no qualms about poisoning her long-absent husband when the latter gets rough, and soon is pressed into playing wife and husband with George Bates (Merrill), her husband’s bank-robbing accomplice, on the contingency to cover for her crime and grant George a haven to stay, one stone two birds? Hardly so.

The imposter game is played out with barbs and ploys duly leveling at each other, while Merrill is surely fierce enough to be alternately menacing, callous and even wanton, winning an upper hand for him is a forlorn hope from the very start in the face of Davis’ characteristic wide-eyed fearlessness and insidious fickleness. Firing on all cylinders, her madness and vile calculation completely overshadows the danger befalling on a woman mired in a precarious situation, thus not for one second, audience dreads for Janet’s safety, which makes her a less all-around character for the sake of characterization. Janet is no man’s fortune but all man’s poison, yet, she still enjoys a last laugh before ironically hoisted by her own petard.

Also enmeshed in the fix (though unwittingly) is Janet’s secretary Chris Dale (a comely Murray, calmly nerves herself to confront Davis in a poorly designed role) and her fiancé Larry (a blandly handsome Steel), who actually is Janet’s paramour for almost a year. While the bloom is clearly off the rose, Davis (at the age of 43) pluckily knuckles down the cougar town and as this reviewer sees it, takes more visible pleasure in the scenes where a youthful Chris concedes defeat to her and implores her to give Larry back, lines like “you are a charming woman who can have any man you want.” appear many time to reassure Davis that her appeal still prevail (over her much younger competitors), but in hindsight, a self-defeating whiff of deep-rooted insecurity is all one can sniff.

British actor Emlyn Williams, third-billed as the nosey-parker, smart-aleck veterinarian-turned-amateur-sleuth Dr. Henderson, has never bedded in felicitously in his somewhat vexing and often unaccountable blow-ins, only if a better script would offer more coherence, but one thing is for sure, this film-noir does pull out all its stops to suffix poetic justice in its cockamamie tangle.

referential entries: Rapper’s NOW, VOYAGER (1942, 8.7/10); Stuart Heisler’s THE STAR (1952, 6.0/10); William Wyler’s THE LETTER (1940, 8.0/10).

Oscar 1951 - Another Man's Poison.jpg

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