Directed by Ida Lupino and screenplay by Collier Young from a story by Lawrence B. Marcus and Lou Schor, The Bigamist is the story of a traveling salesman from San Francisco who has a life there but another life in Los Angeles where an adoption agent discovers this man’s immoral act. The film is an exploration of a man caught between two lives as well as the fact that he’s in love with these two women. Starring Edmond O’Brien, Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino, and Edmund Gwenn. The Bigamist is a riveting and somber film from Ida Lupino.
The film is the story of a traveling salesman from San Francisco whose wife wants to adopt a child where an adoption agent becomes suspicious and learns that this man has another wife and a child in Los Angeles. It is a film with a simple premise as it also has a unique structure in Collier Young’s screenplay where the first 20 minutes is about this traveling salesman in Harry Graham (Edmond O’Brien) as he is meeting this adoption agent in Mr. Jordan (Edmund Gwenn) who notices something is off about Harry during their meeting that included Harry’s wife Eve (Joan Fontaine). Mr. Jordan goes to Los Angeles to know more about Harry in his business trips to the city where he finds a name similar to Harry in an address where he makes this discovery.
It is where the film’s tone becomes a reflective one where Harry tells his story to Mr. Jordan about the fact that he has another wife in Phyllis Martin (Ida Lupino) whom he had met at a bus tour as they just clicked despite not romantically being interested in one another. During the course of the film, Harry struggles to do the right thing for both women but circumstances beyond his control as it relates to Eve’s own family issues and Phyllis’ health forces him to be with both whenever he can as both women are unaware of each other’s existence.
Lupino’s direction is largely straightforward in its visuals though there are bits that do play like a noir film of sorts though it is largely a dramatic film set and shot in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. While there are wide shots to establish some of the locations, much of Lupino’s direction is intimate as it play into the drama with the usage of medium shots and close-ups. Lupino also maintains this tense atmosphere in the conversation between Mr. Jordan and Harry with the latter talking about how he met Phyllis and how their relationship only began slowly because both of them were lonely with Harry often feeling secondary to Eve who is dealing with her ailing father. Lupino’s direction showcase the conflict that Harry is dealing with where he thinks about leaving Eve because she’s been distant in order to be with Phyllis but then Eve calls him to be more involved emotionally as things get more complicated. Even in the third act where Mr. Jordan processes Harry’s story where Lupino showcase how complicated things are as its ending is heartbreaking not just for the women but also for Harry who knew things weren’t going to end well. Overall, Lupino crafts a compelling yet haunting film about a man who is married to two women.
Cinematographer George E. Diskant does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography where it is largely straightforward for many of the daytime interior/exterior scenes as well as the usage of some lights for some of the scenes at night. Editor Stanford Tischler does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some nice usage of transitional dissolves to play into the drama. Art director James W. Sullivan and set decorator Edward G. Boyle do fantastic work with the look of the home that Graham lives with Phyllis as well as the Chinese restaurant where Phyllis worked at. The sound work of Dick Tyler Sr. and Howard Wilson is terrific for its natural approach to the sound from the way some noise is presented at a party to the quieter moments in the film. The film’s music by Leith Stevens is wonderful for its lush orchestral score that ranges from its dramatic and somber themes to suspenseful themes with the string arrangements to play into Harry’s plight.
The film’s superb ensemble cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from George Lee as the Chinese restaurant head waiter Sam, John Maxwell as the judge in the film’s final scene, Lilian Fontaine as Phyllis’ landlady, Peggy Maley as a phone operator that works in the L.A. building where Harry would work at, Jane Darwell as Mr. Jordan’s cleaning lady Mrs. Connelley, and Kenneth Tobey as Harry’s lawyer Tom Morgan. Edmund Gwenn is brilliant as Mr. Jordan as an adoption agent who is suspicious about Harry as he tries to figure him out as he would later listen to Harry’s story where he makes his own assessment revealing to be a man who has a job to do but is sympathetic to Harry’s issues. Joan Fontaine is amazing as Eve as Harry’s wife/business partner as a woman who was emotionally-detached for a time due to her ailing father as she is someone who is always good to him and hopes adopting a child would bring them closer.
Ida Lupino is amazing as Phyllis as a woman who works at a Chinese restaurant as she befriends Harry through mutual loneliness as they have a tryst that at first meant nothing until she realizes she is pregnant while also realizing how much they care for each other. Finally, there’s Edmond O’Brien in an incredible performance as Harry Graham as a traveling salesman who is in love with two women as he puts himself in an awful situation as it is largely driven by uncertainty and loneliness where O’Brien displays that vulnerability of a man who knew he had done something wrong but couldn’t help but try to make things right for these two women.
The Bigamist is a phenomenal film from Ida Lupino that features great performances from Lupino, Edmond O’Brien, Joan Fontaine, and Edmund Gwenn. Along with its simplistic presentation as well as its study of bigamy and a man’s conflict in the decisions he’s made. It is a film that definitely explore a subject matter with great sensitivity while also knowing the implications it would cause in the lives of three people. In the end, The Bigamist is a sensational film from Ida Lupino.
Ida Lupino Films: (Not Wanted) – (Never Fear) – Outrage (1950 film) - (Hard, Fast, and Beautiful) – The Hitch-Hiker - (The Trouble with Angels)
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