July 9, 2012

Another Man's Poison (1951)
Grade: 63/100

Director: Irving Rapper
Stars: Bette Davis, Gary Merrill, Emlyn Williams

What it's about. Bette Davis' follow-up to her great All About Eve success again pairs her with hubbie Gary Merrill. Set in the English countryside, Davis is a smug and successful mystery novelist conducting an affair with the much younger Anthony Steel. The latter is engaged to pleasant cutie Barbara Murray, Davis' secretary. Davis' true love, however, is for her horse, Fury.

Now the plot becomes ridiculous. Davis' ne'er-do-well husband returns to England after a lengthy tropical adventure. He robs a bank with Merrill and kills a guard. The husband returns to Davis but she poisons him. All of this paragraph's action is told to us after the fact, since the movie is based on a single-set play.

Merrill shows up at Davis' cottage to confront her husband. But since he is dead, and is not known within the village, Merrill decides to pose as the husband indefinitely to avoid capture. However, neighbor and polite busybody Emlyn Williams is suspicious of the mysterious and moody Merrill, who doesn't seem to understand that a cottage hideout works best if you keep a low profile. On the other hand, low profiles are uncinematic.

How others will see it. Davis was notorious for her roles as a selfish, catty villainess. She's up to no good here as well, and that's just the way we like it. The film also benefits from direction by Irving Rapper, who did such a good job with Davis on Now, Voyager.

The plot is too preposterous to regard the film as anything more than camp, but that's little obstacle for Davis fans. They constitute most of the film's audience. At imdb.com, the user vote total is modest at 686. A substantial gender gap exists, and it increases with advancing age. Men over 45 give it a good-plus 6.6, while women of the same certain age award it a very high 7.9.

Presumably, men find the plot a bit overheated, but women, perhaps accustomed to soap operas, accept the story as an excuse for the characters, particularly Davis, to behave badly.

How I felt about it. Again, the plot is so far-fetched that we are not expected to take it seriously. It's all about Davis, and she is in fine malicious form. She's so bad that she even regards her own death as hilarious. We do wonder, though, what Steel sees in her, when Murray is much more young and comely. And nicer too. We also wonder why Merrill is so jealous of Davis that he shoots her horse. This only manages to put him on the outs with horse doctor Williams, who previously enjoyed toying with Merrill too much to turn him over to the authorities.

The other curious character here is Murray, who seems oblivious to Davis' affair with her fiancé until Merrill kindly points it out to her. The world's nicest person, she bypasses the opportunity, before leaving, to tell off Davis, who not only deserves it, but might even have enjoyed it.