Jun 10, 2011

Movie Review: Dragonwyck (1946)

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!!

(*sighs again*)

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.

Vincent Price.
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 patroon
that 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!)


  1. Well, Gene did find eventual happiness with her second husband Howard Lee and they were married for over twenty years. In her autobiography, she claims that he and John F. Kennedy were the handsomest men she ever knew.

  2. The 'Curve of Interest' made me laugh! Gene dealt with a lot of sad things. I watched a biography about her and it made me feel terrible. I haven't seen Dragonwyck yet, but I plan to watch it. I wish I had 'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.' That one is funny!

  3. Clara, your review of DRAGONWYCK was excellent, including your tongue-in-cheek interest curve! If I recall correctly this was the talented Joseph L. Mankiewicz's first film as a writer/director, well before his Oscars for ALL ABOUT EVE. I remember when I first saw DRAGONWYCK as a kid. It really creeped me out, and like you, I found myself in tears over the death of our heroine's baby -- and this was before I learned about Gene Tierney's tragic real life! I'm glad she eventually found happiness with her second husband. Well-done!

  4. You're right Rachel, I forgot about that! I'll try to focus on that fact next time I see Gene on screen :) Thanks for visiting!

  5. Thanks Kalli! I know, watching her bio made me feel terrible too, but like Rachel said, at least Gene found happiness with her second husband. Dragonwyck is entertaining and only a bit scary (for you I mean, I was hiding under my sheets)...and yes, "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" is great, I really liked it, only it was a bit sad. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Thanks, Dorian, I'm glad you liked my review! It was really scary at some points, and yes, the baby scene is one of the saddest I've seen! Thanks for visiting, girl!

  7. Gene did have a VERY hard and sad life. But for some reason, I never really see that in her. I think that is a tribute to her nature--despite her problems, she was a fighter and she fought on until she eventually did find happiness. I really admire and relate to her in that way, and it makes me think that she must have been a very special person because of it.

    I have not seen this film yet, but I really want to after reading your review. :)



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...