Believe it or not, Whirlpool (1949) is my very first Otto Preminger film, probably because I spend a great deal of time rummaging around in the cinematic `bargain bin', meaning many of the movies I watch (almost exclusively on DVD) tend not to be of the highest caliber...that's not to say I don't enjoy wonderful films like this, but I may not review them as often as I should...anyway, based on a novel by Guy Endore titled "Methinks The Lady", and directed by Otto Preminger (Laura, The Man with the Golden Arm, Porgy and Bess), the film stars the very lovely Gene Tierney (Laura, Leave Her to Heaven, The Razor's Edge), Richard Conte (Call Northside 777, The Blue Gardenia, Ocean's Eleven), and José Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac, Moulin Rouge), whom I'm thankful to see in a decent, if not excellent role, given the last two films I saw him in, Dracula's Dog (1978) and Bloody Birthday (1981), were hardly vehicles that showcased his true talents, but I suppose in Hollywood, to maintain a sense of longevity in terms of an acting career, you take what you can get...also appearing is Charles Bickford (Brute Force, A Star Is Born) and Barbara O'Neil (Gone with the Wind, I Remember Mama).
As the film begins we see an attractive woman (Tierney) leaving a department store (stores have valet parking? I gotta get out more...), soon to be accosted by the store detective, as she's caught stealing an expensive trinket. As she's hauled back in, protesting all the way, a man named David Korvo (Ferrer) recognizes the woman, and comes to her aide. Turns out she's Ann Sutton, wife to a prominent and affluent psychoanalyst named Dr. William Sutton (Conte). The management, seeing the possibility of negative publicity for the store, releases Ann (must be nice...if this happened to me I'd probably be enjoying the comforts of a 6 by 9 concrete room with burly man named Bubba), but thus begins her relationship with Korvo, an oily, opportunistic, highly intelligent and perceptive con artist who passes himself off as a doctor of sort, his specialty being astrology and hypnosis. Given this recent event, you'd think it a prime opportunity for blackmail, but Korvo expresses interest in helping Ann with her issues, which include a persistent case of insomnia. Ann secretly takes Korvo up on his offer mainly due to the fact her husband doesn't know about her condition, as she's afraid of the adverse effects her problems may have on her husband's career (and their marriage) if word ever got out, but Korvo's machinations prove a slippery slope marked with lies, deceit, and even murder.
There were two stand out performances here for me, that of Gene Tierney, sporting a very short hairdo (she looks so much better with it long), and José Ferrer, whose credentials I began to question lately due to some of his later choices in film roles. Tierney does a great job filling out her character, one full of emotion, passion, fear, love, and confusion. She's a strong, beautiful, and intelligent woman, struggling with her supposed role in life, specifically the perceptions of what she's supposed to be, and what she would like to be...the psychological conflict is purposely buried, but ends up manifesting itself in strange behavior. Ferrer's character, picks up on this enough so to work himself around it, insinuating himself into Ann's life, and setting in motion a carefully crafted, highly devious plan designed to misdirect, confuse, and obfuscate the truth. Oh how I hated him (his character, that is)...he was so manipulative, smug and pretentious...and greasy...oh, not physically, but on the inside. Some of my favorite lines in the film occur at the afternoon society party thrown for Korvo, as he makes various cloaked, verbal jabs at his host...was she deserving? Probably so, but once you get a full realization of from who the remarks are coming from, it tends to feel much like the pot calling the kettle black, except for the fact the kettle is really only gray and the pot is completely charred. Does that make sense? Probably not...the really interesting thing about this movie is I doubt any of the characters here are people I'd want to spend time with...a thief who has clandestine meetings with another man and keeps past indiscretions from her spouse, her knuckleheaded husband who sees his wife as more of a trophy rather than an individual, despite obvious signs the role is not a good fit for her, and a top notch con man willing to do anything to protect himself from trouble. As far as the rest of the performances, some were good, albeit familiar (Bickford), while others seemed acceptable (Conte). As intelligent as Conte's character was supposed to be, he seemed always a few steps (at least) behind what was actually going on...I guess the difficulty I had here was not with the performer, but more so the character, as he presented these perfectly simplistic notions with regards to his relationship with his wife (along with some associated lines of dialog), unable to sense the turmoil developing within, especially given his profession. Was it a case of not seeing the forest for the trees? No, it was more like not seeing the forest or the trees...I found it hard to buy off that Conte's character could be as noted and respected as he was within his profession, yet so dense when it came to his own wife. Despite this gripe, the overall story is solid, interesting and filmed immaculately well, and the dialog strong and supportive and in tune of the differing characters and the performers playing them. The story does feature some fantastical elements to be sure, but there's a level of complexity within the material that can actually support the burden, and create a sense of plausibility, for myself, at least...
The picture on this DVD, presented in the original aspect ration (1.33:1), looks exceptionally clean and sharp, and the audio comes through excellent, available in both Dolby Digital stereo and Dolby Digital mono. Special features include a commentary track with film critic Richard Schickel, a theatrical trailer, and trailers for other Fox noir DVD releases like Call Northside 777 (1948), The Dark Corner (1946), House of Bamboo (1955), Laura (1944), Nightmare Alley (), Panic in the Streets (1947), and The Street with No Name (1948).