Experiment Perilous


1h 31m 1944
Experiment Perilous

Brief Synopsis

A small-town doctor tries to help a beautiful woman with a deranged husband.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Thriller
Period
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 1944
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 29 Dec 1944
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Experiment Perilous by Margaret Carpenter (Boston, 1943).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,200ft

Synopsis

Psychiatrist Huntington "Hunt" Brailey recalls a chance meeting that began the strangest days of his life: In the early spring of 1903, Hunt meets Clarissa "Cissie" Bedereaux when the eastbound train on which they are traveling is assailed by a violent storm. When Hunt calms the frightened Cissie, she invites him to join her for lunch the following day. At lunch, Cissie tells Hunt that she is returning home to see her brother Nick after spending five years in a sanitarium for her heart condition. After confiding that she is writing a manuscript about her volatile brother and his beautiful young wife Allida, Cissie announces that she has decided to live on her own and asks Hunt to take her suitcases to his hotel and reserve a room for her. In New York that evening, Hunt joins his friends, Clag Claghorn and Elaine, for dinner. At the restaurant, he overhears artist John Maitland describing the sudden death of Cissie Bedereaux. When Hunt exhibits an interest in the Bedereaux family, Clag sends his friend to the museum to view Maitland's portrait of Allida and invites him to tea at the family mansion. Upon returning to his hotel, Hunt sends Cissie's luggage to the Bedereaux mansion on Murray Hill. Unknown to Hunt, the hotel maid has accidentally switched his briefcase with Cissie's, which now sits in his closet. The next day, Hunt is captivated by Allida's portrait and accepts Clag's invitation. Upon meeting the overwrought Allida, Hunt is enchanted by her beauty and tells her that he would have painted her standing in a field of daisies. Soon after, Nick visits Hunt at his office and states that he thinks his wife is insane. As proof, Nick tells Hunt that Allida sends herself daisies and is instilling night terrors in their young son. Intrigued, Hunt accepts Nick's request to observe Allida. On his way home that day, Hunt notices a man following him, and when he arrives at his hotel, he finds Cissie's briefcase in the closet and discovers her diaries. Her manuscript relates the story of Nick: After their mother died while giving birth to Nick, their father blamed the infant for her death and one year later, committed suicide. Cissie reared Nick, who later became infatuated by the much younger Allida when he encountered her standing in a field of daisies. Nick invited Allida to accompany him and Cissie to Europe, and two years later, after molding her into a sophisticated woman, he married her. In New York, Nick gives Allida a birthday party. Writer Alec Gregory, who is in love with Allida, presents her with a bouquet of daisies and later recites a love poem that he has written for her. Nick, jealous, overhears Alec's confession of love, and after the party, the two men argue. Hunt's study of Cissie's narrative is cut short when Allida phones and asks him to follow Nick to their son's room when he comes to their house for dinner the next evening. Sensing danger, Hunt goes to visit Clag, but before leaving his room, he hides Cissie's case. When Hunt tells Clag that he finds Nick sinister and thinks that someone is following him, Clag discounts his friend's fears. Hunt's suspicions are confirmed, however, when he returns to his hotel room and discovers that Cissie's case is missing. At dinner the next night, Hunt is mystified to learn that the Bedereauxs' young son is named Alec. At the dinner table, when Nick criticizes Allida for ordering daisies, she protests that she ordered roses. When Nick is called away from the table to comfort the hysterical Alec, Hunt follows him and finds a discarded bouquet of roses in the hallway. While standing in Alec's doorway, Hunt listens as Nick terrorizes his son with stories of bad witches and tells him that Allida is one of them. After dinner, Hunt excuses himself to visit a patient, and after Nick leaves for his club, Hunt calls Allida and asks her to meet him at a restaurant. When Hunt questions her about Alec Gregory, Allida tells him that Alec was run over and killed on the night of her birthday party while walking with Nick and that Nick insisted on naming their son after Alec. Concerned for Allida's safety, Hunt calls Clag at the club to make sure that Nick is still there. After a drunken Clag repeats their conversation aloud, Hunt sends Allida home and writes Clag a letter detailing his suspicions about Nick murdering Alec and Cissie. The next day, Allida visits Hunt at his office and tells him that Nick has boarded a ship bound for Boston. Soon after, Hunt receives a note from Nick, informing him that he is planning to commit suicide by jumping overboard and challenges the doctor to stop him. In a moral quandary, Hunt escorts Allida home, and when she hears Alec crying, she goes upstairs to his room. Hunt is about to call Clag when Nick, disguised in a butler's uniform and carrying a gun, emerges from the shadows. After calmly informing Hunt that he killed Cissie because she realized that he was trying to drive Allida mad, Nick announces that he has adjusted the gas stove in the nursery to explode and kill Allida and Alec. By knocking over a table, Hunt distracts Nick and knocks him unconscious, then runs upstairs to save Allida and Alec. Regaining consciousness, Nick races up the stairs, and as the two men struggle, the house explodes. Seeing the fire trucks headed for Murray Hill, Clag follows and learns that a man was killed in the explosion. Some time later, in a country house surrounded by fields of daisies, Hunt reassures Alec with stories of good witches. When the district attorney visits Allida to inform her that the dead butler's dental records match those of her husband and concludes that Nick was criminally insane, she asks him to consider how the information would affect her son and he decides to drop the case. Allida then walks outside to join Alec and Hunt in the fields.

Cast

Hedy Lamarr

Allida Bedereaux

George Brent

Dr. Huntington Bailey

Paul Lukas

Nick Bedereaux

Albert Dekker

Clag [Claghorn]

Carl Esmond

[John] Maitland

Olive Blakeney

[Clarissa] Cissie [Bedereaux]

George N. Neise

Alec [Gregory]

Margaret Wycherly

Maggie

Stephanie Bachelor

Elaine

Mary Servoss

Miss Wilson

Julia Dean

Deria

William Post Jr.

District Attorney

Billy Ward

Alec, 5 years old

Alan Ward

Shoes

Nolan Leary

Bellhop

Larry Wheat

Caterer

Sam Mcdaniel

Porter

Edward Clark

Train steward

Joel Friedkin

Brakeman

Broderick O'farrell

Frank

Jack Deery

Doorman

Eddy Hart

Doorman

Lillian West

Salesgirl

Almeda Fowler

Clerk

Dick Bartell

Hospital intern

Perc Launders

Ambulance man

Mike Lally

Intern

Terry Frost

Doctor

Bert Lebaron

Attendant

Charles Mcmurphy

Policeman

John Elliott

Telephone operator

Mitchell Ingraham

Bellboy

Janet Clark

Deria as a girl

Evelyn Falke

Cissie at 5 years

Peggy Miller

Cissie at 8 years

Georges Renavent

Voice instructor

Adrienne D'ambricourt

Voice instructor

Michael Visaroff

Ballet master

John Mylong

Nick, Sr.

Bob Morgan

Gary Del Mar

Victor Romito

Tom Martin

Clark Morgan

Charles Meakin

Art Butler

Major Sam Harris

Carey Harrison

Nan Holliday

Virginia Engels

Ruth Eddings

Dulcie Day

Stuart Hall

George Golden

Stanley Mckay

Joe Gilbert

Robert Strong

John Estes

Glen Stephens

Jack Fitzpatrick

Mal Merrihugh

John Benson

Field Norton

Paul Kruger

Hans Moebus

Max Linder

Tom Costello

Fred Hueston

Eric Mayne

John Ardell

Dick Earle

Dick Gordon

Sherry Hall

Lulu Mae Bohrman

Mary Benoit

Tom Ferrandini

James Conaty

Bill Dillon

Monty O'grady

Larry Stanton

James Carlisle

Bob Evans

Tom Murray

Oliver Cross

Larry Williams

Don Wayson

Alan Schute

Harold Miller

Joseph P. Mack

Louise Laureau

Joan Dix

Gayle Ronn

Wanda Cantlon

Helen Blizzard

Kathleen Ellis

Josephine Smith

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Thriller
Period
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 1944
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 29 Dec 1944
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Experiment Perilous by Margaret Carpenter (Boston, 1943).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,200ft

Award Nominations

Best Art Direction

1944

Articles

Experiment Perilous (1944)


Experiment Perilous (1944) was a prestigious A-budget picture from RKO, stylishly directed by Jacques Tourneur, who had recently been moved up from B-movie status based on his successful work for producer Val Lewton on films such as The Leopard Man (1943) and Cat People (1942). Experiment Perilous was based on a novel by Margaret Carpenter and adapted by screenwriter-producer Warren Duff, who altered the setting from the present day to the year 1903. The film is burdened by an inordinate amount of exposition, particularly in the first half, but the deliberate pace is helped considerably by both the acting and by Tourneur's eye for detail and some inventive visuals. (The film was photographed by Tony Gaudio, and the sumptuous art direction by Albert S. D'Agostino and Jack Okey earned the film its only Academy Award® nomination). Maureen O'Hara and Laraine Day were both considered for the female lead, but RKO ultimately borrowed Hedy Lamarr from MGM, and the result was one of Lamarr's most memorable performances.

Hedy Lamarr's character makes a fashionably late appearance in the film, although in the best tradition of such enigmatic 1940s characters as Rebecca (1940) and Laura (1944), she is the constant topic of conversation. As the movie opens, Dr. Huntington "Hunt" Bailey (George Brent) is traveling via train to New York during a pounding thunderstorm. Fellow passenger Cissie Bederaux (Olive Blakeney) is frightened and chats with Bailey for comfort. She tells him that she has been away in a sanitarium with a weak heart, but is returning to visit her brother Nick (Paul Lukas) and his wife Allida (Hedy Lamarr). Cissie arranges to have her bags sent on under Bailey's care in New York as they part ways. Later, Bailey joins his friends Clag (Albert Dekker) and Elaine (Stephanie Bachelor) at a party and is astonished to overhear artist John Maitland (Carl Esmond) mention that Cissie had just died of a heart attack. Bailey is fascinated by Cissie's former revelations about Nick and his young wife, especially after he goes to a museum and sees the portrait Maitland painted of the beautiful Allida. He is invited to tea at the Bederaux house, is taken with Allida and becomes intrigued when Nick confides his fears that his wife may be insane. Through a mistake made on the train, Bailey is able to read Cissie's journal about her brother and comes to the conclusion that Nick is wildly possessive of Allida, has killed for her in the past, and may kill again.

In his book on the director, Jacques Tourneur: the cinema of nightfall, Chris Fujiwara quotes producer Robert Fellows on the logic behind the change in setting: "It was felt that the slightly archaic quality of the heroine, who appears in the book as a cloistered and frustrated orchid, would lend itself to a clearer expression on the screen if presented against a less realistic background." The change in setting further put critics and moviegoers in the mind of a similar story that had recently been brought to the screen, MGM's Gaslight (1944), starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Fujiwara feels that the switch in period allows the filmmakers to "...tap into the subtext of Victorianism [and] the sexual motifs of the story. Nick becomes the arch-Victorian bourgeois, obsessed with the constant danger of his wife's sexuality and driven to kill in an effort to control it." Fujiwara also sees Experiment Perilous as more optimistic than the films Tourneur made for producer Val Lewton, but the film "...revises the triangle of Cat People....Whereas Cat People transforms and displaces female sexuality into a monstrous becoming-animal, Experiment Perilous instead makes the heroine's husband into a kind of monster, motivated by his own sexual problem, at which the film hints in Nick's line, 'Mentality never quite makes up for the physical, does it?'"

Fujiwara has high praise for Hedy Lamarr's performance, which he says "somehow suggests both fragile inadequacy...and modest assurance....Much of the intense, evanescent eroticism of the film can be attributed to [her]. Modern audiences may luxuriate in the camp effect of casting the Vienna-born star as a woman who retains her simple Vermont origins despite an intensive program of Europeanization by her Austrian husband, but the internal contradiction of Lamarr's casting perfectly suits the ambiguity of the film. Her strange, paradoxically triumphant performance is visibly a weird structure of compromises required for the character simultaneously to seem 'insane' and be 'normal.'"

In her admittedly ghostwritten autobiography Ecstasy and Me, Hedy Lamarr said that "the picture I like myself best in is Experiment Perilous...It had a touch of all those popular films like Gaslight and Suspicion [1941] where a husband tortures his wife psychologically. It is a theme that fascinated me, with reverse English. I was often the victim of a husband, but it was my own strength that broke the bonds." Writing that the film was her first on loan-out from MGM, Lamarr noted that "it was the first time I worked at RKO. Everyone treated me like a queen. Never did a movie go so smoothly. One day when John (Loder, actor and Lamarr's third husband) visited me on the set I was so happy with my working on the lot that I convinced John he should move there from Warner's. He got caught up on my enthusiasm and did. Even after we were divorced, he said it was the smartest career move he had ever made."

Experiment Perilous was overshadowed in its year of release, unfairly or not, by the more popular Gaslight. Once past the comparisons, however, critical reaction was mostly positive; the writer for Variety said that "[The] picture unfolds in both straightline and flashback techniques. It covers a lot of territory and sets, and depends mainly on dialog to put over its dramatic unfolding. Despite these handicaps, [the] picture carries good pace of suspense."

Executive Producer: Robert Fellows
Producer: Warren Duff
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay: Warren Duff, based on the novel by Margaret Carpenter
Music: Roy Webb
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Editing: Ralph Dawson
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Jack Okey
Set Decoration: Claude Carpenter, Darrell Silvera
Cast: Hedy Lamarr (Allida Bederaux), George Brent (Dr. Huntington Bailey), Paul Lukas (Nick Bederaux), Albert Dekker (Clag), Carl Esmond (Maitland), Olive Blakeney (Clarissa 'Cissie' Bederaux), George N. Neise (Alec/ Gregory), Margaret Wycherly (Maggie).
BW-91m.

by John M. Miller

Experiment Perilous (1944)

Experiment Perilous (1944)

Experiment Perilous (1944) was a prestigious A-budget picture from RKO, stylishly directed by Jacques Tourneur, who had recently been moved up from B-movie status based on his successful work for producer Val Lewton on films such as The Leopard Man (1943) and Cat People (1942). Experiment Perilous was based on a novel by Margaret Carpenter and adapted by screenwriter-producer Warren Duff, who altered the setting from the present day to the year 1903. The film is burdened by an inordinate amount of exposition, particularly in the first half, but the deliberate pace is helped considerably by both the acting and by Tourneur's eye for detail and some inventive visuals. (The film was photographed by Tony Gaudio, and the sumptuous art direction by Albert S. D'Agostino and Jack Okey earned the film its only Academy Award® nomination). Maureen O'Hara and Laraine Day were both considered for the female lead, but RKO ultimately borrowed Hedy Lamarr from MGM, and the result was one of Lamarr's most memorable performances. Hedy Lamarr's character makes a fashionably late appearance in the film, although in the best tradition of such enigmatic 1940s characters as Rebecca (1940) and Laura (1944), she is the constant topic of conversation. As the movie opens, Dr. Huntington "Hunt" Bailey (George Brent) is traveling via train to New York during a pounding thunderstorm. Fellow passenger Cissie Bederaux (Olive Blakeney) is frightened and chats with Bailey for comfort. She tells him that she has been away in a sanitarium with a weak heart, but is returning to visit her brother Nick (Paul Lukas) and his wife Allida (Hedy Lamarr). Cissie arranges to have her bags sent on under Bailey's care in New York as they part ways. Later, Bailey joins his friends Clag (Albert Dekker) and Elaine (Stephanie Bachelor) at a party and is astonished to overhear artist John Maitland (Carl Esmond) mention that Cissie had just died of a heart attack. Bailey is fascinated by Cissie's former revelations about Nick and his young wife, especially after he goes to a museum and sees the portrait Maitland painted of the beautiful Allida. He is invited to tea at the Bederaux house, is taken with Allida and becomes intrigued when Nick confides his fears that his wife may be insane. Through a mistake made on the train, Bailey is able to read Cissie's journal about her brother and comes to the conclusion that Nick is wildly possessive of Allida, has killed for her in the past, and may kill again. In his book on the director, Jacques Tourneur: the cinema of nightfall, Chris Fujiwara quotes producer Robert Fellows on the logic behind the change in setting: "It was felt that the slightly archaic quality of the heroine, who appears in the book as a cloistered and frustrated orchid, would lend itself to a clearer expression on the screen if presented against a less realistic background." The change in setting further put critics and moviegoers in the mind of a similar story that had recently been brought to the screen, MGM's Gaslight (1944), starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Fujiwara feels that the switch in period allows the filmmakers to "...tap into the subtext of Victorianism [and] the sexual motifs of the story. Nick becomes the arch-Victorian bourgeois, obsessed with the constant danger of his wife's sexuality and driven to kill in an effort to control it." Fujiwara also sees Experiment Perilous as more optimistic than the films Tourneur made for producer Val Lewton, but the film "...revises the triangle of Cat People....Whereas Cat People transforms and displaces female sexuality into a monstrous becoming-animal, Experiment Perilous instead makes the heroine's husband into a kind of monster, motivated by his own sexual problem, at which the film hints in Nick's line, 'Mentality never quite makes up for the physical, does it?'" Fujiwara has high praise for Hedy Lamarr's performance, which he says "somehow suggests both fragile inadequacy...and modest assurance....Much of the intense, evanescent eroticism of the film can be attributed to [her]. Modern audiences may luxuriate in the camp effect of casting the Vienna-born star as a woman who retains her simple Vermont origins despite an intensive program of Europeanization by her Austrian husband, but the internal contradiction of Lamarr's casting perfectly suits the ambiguity of the film. Her strange, paradoxically triumphant performance is visibly a weird structure of compromises required for the character simultaneously to seem 'insane' and be 'normal.'" In her admittedly ghostwritten autobiography Ecstasy and Me, Hedy Lamarr said that "the picture I like myself best in is Experiment Perilous...It had a touch of all those popular films like Gaslight and Suspicion [1941] where a husband tortures his wife psychologically. It is a theme that fascinated me, with reverse English. I was often the victim of a husband, but it was my own strength that broke the bonds." Writing that the film was her first on loan-out from MGM, Lamarr noted that "it was the first time I worked at RKO. Everyone treated me like a queen. Never did a movie go so smoothly. One day when John (Loder, actor and Lamarr's third husband) visited me on the set I was so happy with my working on the lot that I convinced John he should move there from Warner's. He got caught up on my enthusiasm and did. Even after we were divorced, he said it was the smartest career move he had ever made." Experiment Perilous was overshadowed in its year of release, unfairly or not, by the more popular Gaslight. Once past the comparisons, however, critical reaction was mostly positive; the writer for Variety said that "[The] picture unfolds in both straightline and flashback techniques. It covers a lot of territory and sets, and depends mainly on dialog to put over its dramatic unfolding. Despite these handicaps, [the] picture carries good pace of suspense." Executive Producer: Robert Fellows Producer: Warren Duff Director: Jacques Tourneur Screenplay: Warren Duff, based on the novel by Margaret Carpenter Music: Roy Webb Cinematography: Tony Gaudio Editing: Ralph Dawson Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Jack Okey Set Decoration: Claude Carpenter, Darrell Silvera Cast: Hedy Lamarr (Allida Bederaux), George Brent (Dr. Huntington Bailey), Paul Lukas (Nick Bederaux), Albert Dekker (Clag), Carl Esmond (Maitland), Olive Blakeney (Clarissa 'Cissie' Bederaux), George N. Neise (Alec/ Gregory), Margaret Wycherly (Maggie). BW-91m. by John M. Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Hedy Lamarr's singing voice was dubbed by Paula Raymond.

Notes

According to pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter, this film was originally to be produced by David Hempstead and star Cary Grant. After Hempstead terminated his contract with RKO, Grant dropped out of the project and Robert Fellows was assigned to produce it. Gregory Peck was then slated to star in the male lead, but a prior commitment to David O. Selznick productions forced him to bow out of the picture. Other pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter add that Leonide Moguy was initially signed to direct the film and that RKO considered Maureen O'Hara and Laraine Day for the female leads. RKO borrowed Hedy Lamarr from M-G-M and Carl Esmond from Paramount to appear in the film. To create the snow storm sequence, the studio used one hundred tons of ice and six wind machines, according to another news item in Hollywood Reporter. In an interview printed in a modern source, Paula Raymond stated that she dubbed Lamarr's songs in this picture. The picture was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction. George Brent reprised his role in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on September 10, 1945, co-starring Virginia Bruce.