The Two Mrs. Carrolls
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"Bogart appears uncomfortable. Violence and murder are old stuff to him, but madness and paint brushes are not quite his line," declared Time magazine politely in 1947. Time's analysis of Humphrey Bogart in The Two Mrs. Carrolls was a common one, and the decades since have not changed many opinions. In a chiller that veers into the overwrought, Bogart is cast as a painter in England who likes to kill his wives after painting their portraits. He poisons his first wife to marry Barbara Stanwyck, and after Alexis Smith moves into the neighborhood it's only a matter of time before Bogart is painting Stanwyck's picture.
Though completed in June 1945, The Two Mrs. Carrolls sat on the Warner Bros. shelf until March 1947, supposedly because of its similarities to Gaslight (1944). With Bogart now in the prime of his career, making one classic after another, The Two Mrs. Carrolls was an odd aberration. It did, however, earn Bogart a lot of money. In 1947 he made over $400,000, enough to keep him on the Motion Picture Herald's list of the top moneymaking stars in Hollywood.
Given the movie's plot, it's ironic that while making The Two Mrs. Carrolls Bogart was enjoying newfound marital bliss. Lauren Bacall became the fourth (and final) Mrs. Bogart just eleven days before filming began, and after a honeymoon they both went back to work at Warner Bros. (Bacall was shooting Confidential Agent, 1945.) The newlyweds drove to the studio together early in the morning, reported to their respective sound stages, ate lunch together when they could, and drove home together each evening, probably joking about Bogie's role as a wife killer.
Director Peter Godfrey was a veteran of the British theater who had come to Hollywood in 1939 to direct for Columbia. In 1944 he signed a five-year contract with Warner Brothers and made such well-received pictures as Hotel Berlin (1945) and Christmas in Connecticut (1945). Godfrey's stage experience is clearly visible in The Two Mrs. Carrolls (which itself was adapted from a play) in terms of the film's impressive Gothic atmosphere. Godfrey uses mysterious lighting, images of blowing curtains and haunting paintings, and sounds of creaking boards, closing doors, and church bells to build suspense and a creepy atmosphere. The British press found the movie's "English" atmosphere amusing. As one critic wrote, "Never was there so much quaint old English architecture in one village. Shop door bells tinkle as they hardly have done since Victorian days and it rains perpetually in what Americans fondly believe is the truly British way."
Barbara Stanwyck had been playing both dramatic and comedic roles for a decade when The Two Mrs. Carrolls was shot in 1945. But the following year's The Bride Wore Boots (1946) would mark her last feature comedy. Stanwyck later explained to Hedda Hopper that this was because she couldn't find a decent script. "I've always got my eye out for a good comedy. Remember Ball of Fire and The Lady Eve [both 1941]? But they don't seem to write that kind of comedy anymore - just a series of gags."
Some additional trivia: This was the second movie (after Conflict, 1945) in which Bogart attempted to kill for Alexis Smith. Look for director Peter Godfrey in a bit role as a race track "tout" who gives horse tips, and keep an ear out for Bogart spoofing his Casablanca (1942) dialogue with "I have the feeling that this is the beginning of a beautiful hatred."
Producer: Mark Hellinger, Jack L. Warner
Director: Peter Godfrey
Screenplay: Thomas Job, Martin Vale (play)
Cinematography: J. Peverell Marley
Film Editing: Frederick Richards
Art Direction: Anton Grot
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Geoffrey Carroll), Barbara Stanwyck (Sally Morton Carroll), Alexis Smith (Cecily Latham), Nigel Bruce (Dr. Tuttle), Isobel Elsom (Mrs. Latham), Patrick O'Moore (Charles Pennington).
BW-94m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold