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The Bigamist
The Bigamist
Actors: Jane Darwell, Ken Drake, Joan Fontaine, Lilian Fontaine, Edmund Gwenn
Director: Ida Lupino
Genres: Drama
NR     2004     1hr 19min

Edmund O'Brien, the soft, sweaty Everyman of so much early-'50s film noir, is cast as a sympathetic bigamist in Ida Lupino's 1953 film; a traveling salesman married to a frigid Joan Fontaine in San Francisco, he lets his l...  more »

     
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Movie Details

Actors: Jane Darwell, Ken Drake, Joan Fontaine, Lilian Fontaine, Edmund Gwenn
Director: Ida Lupino
Genres: Drama
Sub-Genres: Love & Romance, Family Life
Studio: Alpha Video
Format: DVD - Black and White - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 12/21/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 19min
Screens: Black and White
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
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Movie Reviews

"I'll get into something real uncomfortable."
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 03/23/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)

"In case you're wondering, the term bigamist is derived from the word bigamy, which means `The criminal offense of marrying one person while still legally married to another', a practice which still thrives in some parts of this country, particularly in the Salt Lake City area. The Bigamist (1953), not to be confused with the Italian film Il Bigamo (1956), starring Marcello Mastroianni, is based on a story by Collier Young, who just happened to once be married to both the female costars of this film, but not at the same time. The film, directed by Ida Lupino, stars Edmond O'Brien (D.O.A), Joan Fontaine (Suspicion, Ivanhoe), and Ida Lupino (High Sierra). Also appearing is Kenneth Tobey (The Thing From Another World) and Edmund Gwenn, who appeared in a number of films, but is probably best remembered for his role as Kris Kringle in the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street (1947).

The film starts out with a couple, Harry (O'Brien) and Eve (Fontaine) Graham in the process of applying to adopt a child in the office of Mr. Jordan (Gwenn), who works for the state of California in the capacity of being a child welfare worker. Things seem to be going well until Mr. Jordan presents documents to the couple that would allow for a background check, apparently because the state of California doesn't just give away parentless kids to any schlomo off the street. The presentation of said documents elicits a pained look on Harry's face, one that doesn't go unnoticed by Mr. Jordan, and prompts him to initiate an extra thorough investigation into Harry's affairs, who's a traveling salesman by trade, maintaining offices in both San Francisco (that's where he and his wife Eve live), and also in Los Angeles. Arriving in Los Angeles, Mr. Jordan makes the startling discover that Harry has another wife (GASP) and now has some serious `splaining' to do...which we get to hear as the film goes into a lengthy flashback. Seems Harry, suffering from both marital issues and loneliness (he's on the road a lot), took up pitching woo to a woman named Phyllis (Lupino), but never intended it to go very far...until Phyllis found herself in a sticky predicament (can you guess what it was? I'll give you a hint...it involved a bun and an oven). Harry, being a standup guy, tries to do the right thing, but circumstances and complications stack themselves up in such a way as to limit his actions. So the question now is what is to become of Harry, now that his secret is uncovered?

While I enjoyed this film, I felt it had a few, relatively minor faults, and I'm not terribly big on the heavy melodrama (I was looking for something a bit more sensational). As far as the subject matter, while it may have been taboo back in the 50's, it seems tame by today's standards (that's a scary thought). I thought the film did a good job in presenting the material, as it seemed not to try and take one side or the other, but rather an objective overview how a relatively decent man could wind up in a situation like this (there was a little bit of heavy handed moralistic postulating here and there, but it was kept limited and didn't appear out of place due to the subject matter and the general consensus that's such behavior is pretty despicable)...O'Brien's character is well developed, a man struggling to do what he thinks is right, but finding himself sinking deeper and deeper into the sticky morass of socially unacceptable behavior. While I appreciated his situation and his good intentions, I could never find myself developing any sense of sympathy for his character. He had numerous opportunities to extricate himself before the situation became as bad as it did, but never followed through. It's not that I'm a high-hatted, moralistic goodie goodie or anything like that, but I am a firm believer that when one makes ones bed, he must lie in it, not matter how uncomfortable. He was the source of his own problems and had no one to blame beside himself. I thought both Fontaine (who's incredibly hotsy totsy here) and Lupino did very well with their characters, creating a sort of ying and yang as the two, seemingly halves may have represented a whole woman to Harry...either that or he just had a whole lotta love to give...if it were me, having seen how well (or poorly) each of the women have aged over the years, I would have stuck with Ms. Fontaine, as she continued to retain her hottiness while Ms. Lupino acquired a Jabba-like appearance as the passage of time was not so good to her (little to do with the film, but I thought it worth mentioning). As far as Ms. Lupino's direction (she was an extremely accomplished director and actress), it works well, and she keeps the story humming along, but it's not her best, when compared to her other release that same year in The Hitch-Hiker, which I would highly recommend.

The picture quality on the Alpha Video release varies from decent to rough to rotten (there's points where frames are missing), and the audio is decent throughout. The glossy DVD case would make it appear the film is in color, but it's in black and white (Alpha is known for creating especially attractive artwork for their generally substandard releases of films and television shows that have fallen into the public domain, meaning the copyright has expired, so any yahoo can release the material, which is often why you may see any number of different releases of the same film or TV show). The extras include a graphic listing of other Alpha titles, and trailers for the films Just Add Pepper (2002), A Chronicle of Corpses (2000), Magdalen (1998), and Candy Van Dewd (2002).

Cookieman108

By the way, I think the film would have been much more effective with a less direct title...
"
Avoids Soap Opera
Douglas Doepke | Claremont, CA United States | 11/14/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"One of a handful of low budget films from pioneering woman film-maker Ida Lupino. Known mainly for her soulful screen portrayals in the 1940's of downtrodden women, she managed this career turn in the early 50's, a remarkable feat given a production industry so thoroughly dominated by men.

Her best known feature is the chilling and critically acclaimed account of serial killer Emmet Myers, called "The Hitchiker". But all her films are marked by an earnest concern for the lives of ordinary people, whether menaced in extreme circumstance or in more ordinary circumstance by the unwed pregnancy of "The Outrage". Moreover, at a time when studios were fending off small screen television with big budget technicolor, she gamely persisted with the small, the intimate and the unglamorous.

"The Bigamist" remains an oddity, very much an artifact of its time, but worth viewing for its sensitive handling of male loneliness, a topic for which macho Hollywood has never had much time. The acting is first-rate from a trio of de-glamorized Hollywood professionals, including the poignant Lupino; there's also Edmond O'Brien in a low-key, nuanced portrayal of a man trapped by emotions, showing once again what a fine, intelligent performer he was. Notice how elliptically the pregnancy is presented and how subtly Fontaine's career woman is projected into the breakup. Both are very much signs of that time. Although the subject matter may have tempted, the results never descend into bathos or soap-opera, even if final courtroom scene appears stagy and anti-climatic. All in all, it's a very well wrought balancing act.

Lupino's reputation should not rest on gender. This film as well as so many of her others demonstrate what a versatile and unusual talent she was, whether in front of the camera or behind. Too bad, she never got the recognition from an industry to which she contributed so much."
Strangely compelling.
Jonathan M. Norberg | Grand Forks, ND | 07/03/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This is a weird one for sure. When a man and his wife try to adopt a baby the adopting inspector discovers the man is married to another wife in another town! With the whole story being explained you are supposed to almost feel sorry for the man--but how can you really?! The speech by the judge at the end is very true.

I was very amused at an "inside joke" they pulled in the movie--making reference to Edmund Gwenn who happened to be the inspector! Seemed somewhat out of place in a movie of this nature. Overall, I'm not sorry I watched the movie."
Poor Harry.
JOHN GODFREY | Milwaukee ,WI USA | 10/10/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"What he didn't realize that in 1953 you couldn't fall in love with two women at the same time. He did anyway. He surely did know you can't be married to two women at the same time. He lived in San Francisco & his marriage had become as frosty as his business. He sold deep freezes.
Wife #1 of eight years, Eva was barren & had thrown herself into the business, neglecting Harry. On his weekly business trip to Los Angeles, Harry meets & becomes involved with Phyllis. In an effort to revive their marriage Eva & Harry decide to adopt. Eva undergoes an attitude adjustment & their relationship improves. Unfortunately, Phyllis proves to be be very fecund. Because he loves her, Phyllis becomes wife #2. In an immodest amount of time, she has a baby. The movie implied to me that it would have been better had Harry merely kept Phyllis as a mistress. But because he tried to be a decent guy he got busted. It's a most heinous crime & justice (?) will be severe. Ida Lupino serves double duty here & she's one excellent director. Her acting as Phyllis is very good as is Joan Fontaine as Eva. But the best perfromamce is Edmund O'Brien as Harry. He really shows some acting chops in this one. Ida Lupino had not gotten the recognition she deserved as the fine director she was in her own time. She is getting a little now belatedly, thanks to TCM."