Remember when I told you I wanted to check A shattered portrait, Gene Tierney's biography on Youtube, because I needed to know a happy fact about her that made me forget all the terrible things she had to face?
WELL I DIDN'T FIND ANY!! And to make things worse, besides the terrible episode of the sick "fan" that lead her to have a mentally handicapped baby AND the electroshock treatments.... I found out that her dad stole her money; Oleg Cassini, her first husband, cheated on her; that JFK loved her and she was mad about him but couldn't get married because of his promising career; that she almost jumped from a balcony causing commotion on the streets...and she wasn't even 40!!
So I thought, well, at least she left behind terrific movies. And I decided to see Dragonwyck (1946) directed by no other than Joseph L. Mankiewicz (if you read my People Will Talk review, you know he's one of my favorite directors). I didn't know what to expect and this is what I found:
The first conclusion of the "Dragonwyck's curve of interest" is that my Paint hand is unsteady.
The second is that it reaches a VERY interesting climax. Let me explain you why:
Gene Tierney lives with her farmer parents and her sister. One day a letter arrives: a wealthy landowner cousin nobody had heard of is inviting one of the girls to take care of his daughter. Gene Tierney is like "ME, ME, ME!!!", but the father (Walter Huston), who's very religious says no... and then yes.
We meet the famous cousin, masterfully played by Vincent Price...he's young, polite, rich and has very good manners...but there's something obscure about him. When they finally arrive to Dragonwyck castle (point 2 in the graph), residence of the rich guy, his weird wife and an unusual daughter, things start to get really interesting!
Dragonwyck (based on a novel by Anya Seton) is supposed to be "mystery" movie, but my super duper take on this is that is a great analogy about what the concentration of power and wealth can do to human beings.
The Van Ryn family is very dysfunctional: they seem to care about the others, but that's just a masquerade. They have parties in their castle, they invite people that love gossiping...but yet the wife is always eating; the husband is always away and the daughter says she doesn't love her parents. The atmosphere is really stuffy. Meanwhile the workers are very unhappy with the conditions held by Van Ryn. At some point, he talks with Gene's dad about the workers living in his lands:
Dad: Don't they own their own land?Cousin: No, it belongs to me. It belonged to my father and his father back to the first patroonthat took title in 1630. I permit the farmers to work my land and they in return pay me a yearly tribute and a share of their produce.Dad: But they can buy the land they've been working if they want to.Cousin: No.Dad: Why not?Cousin: Because it belongs to me (angry face)Dad: As a farmer, I'd rather own one half acre of barren rock free and clear than work the richest land in the world for someone else.
I thought about the feudalistic system on the Middle Age; I thought about the French and Russian Revolution and I even thought about the land reform that took place in the 60s in my country. They all have the same core: uneven distribution of wealth, powerful people that's not willing to make things better for the common people. If you look it that way, there's nothing mysterious about this film: it's just a metaphor about how awful, how vicious people become when there's too much power in their hands, when they live thinking only in their titles and their own comfort.
Van Ryn is prepared to do anything to have a heir. And when I say anything I really mean it. Your interest in the story starts increasing (points 2-3), especially when Gene makes an unexpected move, something dramatic happens and then something creepy happens. Yes, creepy things happen in this movie, but I could take them, so can you. Maybe you won't even find them creepy. I don't want to give all away, but believe me, this portion of the film is the best.
Jessica Tandy and Glenn Langan have secondary but very important characters, both Gene's allies. I hadn't seen Jessica in an old movie, but she plays a lame servant in a very convincing, touching way. And Glenn is effective in his role of a doctor.
One thing I didn't like is that one of the elements that, according to the movie/novel, make a difference between a good person and a bad person is religion. Van Ryn doesn't believe in God and the movie makes you feel that because of that (and other characteristics) you can expect the worst from him.
Although I like the way it ends for Van Ryn, a very metaphoric scene, I didn't like the final minutes of the movie, sooo not metaphoric . That's why the interest at point #4 is a bit lower.
Well, that's it. I enjoyed watching this film and if you're in the mood for a "fantasy/mystery" film with very real/historical interpretations, this one is a good option.
(On a side note that maybe you shouldn't read if you haven't seen this movie yet.........There's a scene in which Gene cries over her dead baby, and just having watched her bio, I found it really heartbreaking!)