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DVD Review: “The Strange Woman” (1946)

The DVD Review of the 1946 American historical melodrama film “The Strange Woman” praises its captivating storytelling and visually stunning cinematography.

One of the main reasons dedicated cinema enthusiasts hold ‘B’ filmmakers in high regard is their ability to achieve impressive visual styles on modest budgets, often surpassing the work of more acclaimed directors with significantly larger budgets and doing so with remarkable speed and efficiency.

This is exemplified by ‘B’ directors such as John Brahm, Robert Florey, Ida Lupino, William Witney, Norman Foster, and William “One-Shot” Beaudine, who found success in television due to its more generous budgets and schedules.

Edgar G. Ulmer personified this concept of achieving more with fewer resources.

DVD Review: The Strange Woman

Film Chest has recently released a high-definition restored version of Ulmer’s 1946 costume melodrama The Strange Woman as part of their series of remastered DVD releases of public domain movies.

Similarly, The Strange Woman, like Hollow Triumph, another ‘B’ film from the 1940s recently remastered and released on DVD by Film Chest, was a project initiated by its star, Hedy Lamarr.

Despite being previously dismissed as just another attractive actress with limited acting ability, it is now widely known that Lamarr had a remarkably high IQ and co-invented significant technology with composer George Antheil.

Lamarr’s dissatisfaction with her time at MGM, where she was relegated to glamorous but insubstantial roles, was compounded by MGM’s refusal to loan her to Warner Bros. for what would have been the most significant role of her career, Ilsa Lund in Casablanca.

However, two years later, MGM did loan Lamarr to Warner Bros. for The Conspirators.

The Strange Woman
The Strange Woman

Also, see Haskell Wexler and the Making of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’

After departing from MGM in 1945, Lamarr ventured into freelancing, a popular choice for film stars seeking more autonomy after the expiration of their studio contracts.

Lamarr acquired the film rights to Ben Ames Williams’ novel The Strange Woman, a provocative story depicting the journey of Jenny Hager, a young seductress from the less privileged part of Bangor, Maine, in the early 1800s, as she uses her charms to attain wealth and respectability.

Lamarr collaborated with former MGM colleagues Jack Chertock and Hunt Stromberg to produce the film.

Additionally, she enlisted Ulmer, a childhood acquaintance from her hometown of Vienna, to direct the project.

The Strange Woman
Ulmer was directing Lamarr and Sanders.

The Strange Woman was created on a modest budget as an independent production.

However, it likely appeared extravagant compared to the meager budgets Ulmer was accustomed to while working under contract to Producers Releasing Company (PRC), the most economical of Hollywood’s “Poverty Row” studios.

The film falls into the category of “bodice rippers,” characterized by passionate costume romantic melodramas featuring male scoundrels and promiscuous female protagonists.

This subgenre gained popularity post-war in films such as The Wicked Lady (UK, 1945), Forever Amber (1947), and That Forsythe Woman (1949).

Despite The Strange Woman’s significantly smaller budget, Ulmer’s visual ingenuity defied its modest resources.

However, the film’s visual appeal did not elevate its soap opera-like plot and script. Although credited to radio writer Herb Meadow, it is rumored that Ulmer and Stromberg contributed to the screenplay without credit.

The storyline of The Strange Woman resembles a poor-quality Harlequin romance.

This genre can be redeemed with exceptional directing, writing, and acting, as demonstrated in William Wyler’s Jezebel (1938) with its award-winning performance by Bette Davis.

Lamarr acknowledged in her autobiography that she lacked the depth to portray the role effectively, stating, “I just wasn’t a tigress. All the talent at my disposal couldn’t make me one.”

During this period, a cliché often used was depicting the main characters as children to reveal their inherent psychological traits.

In the opening scene of The Strange Woman, allegedly directed by an uncredited Douglas Sirk, the main characters are introduced as adolescents playing by a river, portraying young Jenny as a troublemaker with callous behavior.

A decade later, Jenny, now an attractive young woman, is depicted as ambitious and determined, aiming for financial security rather than youthful romance.

She strategically targets the wealthiest man in the area, Isaiah Poster, exploiting an opportunity presented by her father’s sudden demise to secure a marriage proposal from Isaiah.

DVD Review: “The Strange Woman” (1946)
The Strange Woman

Jenny sees an opportunity in Isaiah’s son, Ephraim, returning from boarding school.

Portrayed by Louis Hayward, the adult Ephraim embodies the characteristic blend of naivety and moral ambiguity common in his roles.

He becomes an ideal pawn for Jenny’s manipulative plans. Jenny seduces Ephraim, and their intimate moment is witnessed by Isaiah, causing him to suffer a stroke.

Despite Jenny’s anticipation, Isaiah unexpectedly recovers, prompting Jenny to devise an alternative strategy. Emulating the film noir femme fatales, she persuades Ephraim to eliminate his father.

The chance arises during a trip to the lumber camp, where both Posters must navigate treacherous waters.

Ephraim, unable to swim, experiences a panic attack, causing the canoe to capsize and resulting in Isaiah’s demise.

With her ulterior motives fulfilled, Jenny accuses Ephraim of her husband’s death and banishes him from the family home.

She seeks to remove Ephraim from the equation as she sets her sights on her next target: John Evered, the fiancé of her childhood friend Meg Saladine.

The Strange Woman
The Strange Woman

The supporting cast of The Strange Woman includes exceptional character actors such as Alan Napier, Rhys Williams, and Moroni Olsen.

However, the screenplay fails to effectively utilize their talents, with Sanders appearing underused in a standard leading role rather than portraying one of his usual villainous characters.

While the film has fleeting moments that hint at becoming a cult classic, such as Jenny’s wicked smile during a scene with her father and her seduction of John Evered in a thunderstorm, these instances are overshadowed by extensive and tedious dialogue.

Although Jenny’s use of her newfound wealth to assist townspeople in need presents an interesting angle, it cannot compensate for the screenplay’s shortcomings.

Despite the visually appealing remastered DVD release by Film Chest, the film’s worthiness of being watched remains debatable.

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Ashish Maharjan
Ashish Maharjan
Ashish, a seasoned editor and author for World Cinema Paradise, intricately weaves creativity with precision in his writing, establishing himself as a prolific content creator. Renowned for clarity and captivating storytelling, Ashish has cultivated a devoted readership, driven by his unwavering passion for words and commitment to excellence.

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