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Dr. Hunt Bailey (George Brent) is fascinated by a portrait of breathtaking Allida Bedereaux (Hedy Lamarr) - and with the woman herself. Fragile and frightened, Allida confides to him that she and her young son are in great peril. Her husband (Paul Lukas) insists she is insane. And around them, people mysteriously die. Director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, Out of the Past) brings his celebrated mastery of shadowy menace to this absorbing tale of madness and murder in an outwardly genteel world of wealth. Follow Dr. Bailey as he searches for the truth. And, like him, don't believe everything you are told.
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The gaslighting theme, repeatedly copied from Thorold Dickinson's superior UK original, is minimized here, and Tourneur's 1944 film has more in common with subsequent films, including LAURA, Lamarr's Ulmer film STRANGE WOMAN, Sirk's SLEEP, MY LOVE and Siodmak's SPIRAL STAIRCASE (Dr. George Brent again). The lavish RKO sets were partly repurposed from MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, and Tourneur stages this film in a cozily snowbound 1903 Manhattan. The stylistic gimmicks are abundant, including the spiral staircase, weird shoes on the good doctor's stalker, Lamarr's fabulous jade necklace (and her less than fabulous portrait), a strange aquarium gallery begging to be smashed, a wonky gas furnace and a fully exploded brownstone mansion.
Lukas, Brent and Dekker underplay their roles, Lamarr is passively and very glamourously victimized, and Tourneur flaunts creative directorial flourishes with actors, decor, light and shadow, also with the crabwise progression of the storyline, not fully resolved at the sunny finale. Many viewers prefer this more stylized and novelistic gaslighting drama to the stagebound Dickinson or Cukor versions of a familiar story, and Tourneur's sideways exposition of the story arc, accompanied by such baroque visual flair, makes the film worthy of repeat viewings. RKO was an ideal artistic haven for Welles, Val Lewton, Tourneur, Mark Robson and Robert Wise, and Tourneur in particular thrived on these lesser, derivative projects, making every programmatic studio assignment visually distinctive and stylistically unique.