Woman of Straw


2h 1964
Woman of Straw

Brief Synopsis

A rich old man's nurse and his nephew plot his murder.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Action
Crime
Mystery
Release Date
Jan 1964
Premiere Information
Chicago opening: 9 Sep 1964
Production Company
Novus Films
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United Kingdom
Location
Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain; England, United Kingdom
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel La femme de paille by Catherine Arley (Paris, 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)

Synopsis

Maria, an Italian private nurse, is hired by Anthony Richmond to care for his uncle Charles, a ruthless and malicious crippled millionaire. Anthony is convinced that Charles drove his father to suicide, then married Anthony's mother, and, following her death, willed his riches to charity. Believing the money to be rightfully his, Anthony persuades Maria to become his accomplice in obtaining the inheritance by marrying Charles. After the wedding, however, she has a change of heart and tries to be fair with both men. She is therefore shocked when Charles suddenly dies on his yacht. Knowing that Charles had changed his will in Maria's favor, Anthony convinces the unsuspecting woman that Charles's premature death will invalidate the will and that they must take the dead man home. Maria believes the story and goes through with the plan only to be met by the police and arrested for murder. A Negro servant loyal to Maria produces a tape recording made by Charles on his death bed, however, and this evidence establishes Anthony's guilt and clears Maria. The maddened Anthony confronts the servant, but during the scuffle he falls to his death down a flight of stairs.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Action
Crime
Mystery
Release Date
Jan 1964
Premiere Information
Chicago opening: 9 Sep 1964
Production Company
Novus Films
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United Kingdom
Location
Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain; England, United Kingdom
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel La femme de paille by Catherine Arley (Paris, 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)

Articles

Woman of Straw


One reason Sean Connery made the transition from sexy movie icon to beloved movie icon is that he almost always played the good guy. But there are exceptions. In Woman of Straw (1964), playing the calculating nephew of Ralph Richardson's rich old wheelchair-bound monster, he schemes with Gina Lollobrigida to murder the old boy. Connery filmed it just after the first two Bond films – Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963). But not for his oft-stated wish to avoid being typecast as Bond. It was for a simpler reason. Connery smarted at being paid only $6000 for the first Bond film, which neither he nor many others foresaw would become the franchise and cash cow it remains to this day. He remained bitter over his meager Bond payoffs for decades. But Bond did catapult Connery into international sexy tough guy stardom, and Woman of Straw earned him his first million-dollar paycheck.

Taken from Catherine Arley's French novel, La Femme de Paille, it's very post-Agatha Christie, with a scorpion's-tail twist. Watching it today is like time travel to a microcosm that exists as its own hermetically-sealed universe, much like those well-made but thoroughly musty stage constructs that one could almost always depend on encountering in the playhouses of London's West End. It's thinly populated by stock characters, yet enjoyable all the same, partly for its sense of sturdy, knowing craftsmanship, partly for the ways the actors inhabit their stereotypes. There also are entertaining bonuses in the interactions. Never for a moment do we believe in the sexual byplay between Connery's villain and Lollobrigida's nurse, hired, as she later learns, to facilitate the nephew's murder plot. Far from projecting sexual chemistry, the two leads seem matter and anti-matter.

Connery, known for his disciplined, detailed approach, resented Lollobrigida's temperament, her late arrivals on the set and her insistence on shaping the production. The National Enquirer reveled in relating on-set clashes soon after the obligatory publicity photo sessions ended and work began, citing a Connery eruption after Lollobrigida took to second-guessing director Basil Dearden. It quoted Connery thusly: "Either he's directing the picture or you are. If it's you, I may not be in it." The tabloid added that a slap in the face the script had Connery deliver to Lollobrigida was harder than it had to be. Connery's will prevailed. Yet Lollobrigida may have enjoyed the last laugh. Far from the malleable character she was in the story, Lollobrigida – who displaced Silvana Mangano as Italy's sexy glamour icon, only to be displaced a few years later by Sophia Loren -- was intelligent, with a mind of her own.

The strong will she projected alongside the curves in the obligatory cheesecake poses of the day was a constant. Revisionist criticism has correctly tabbed her a feminist forerunner who refused to play pushover characters, even in the script she had to work with here. True, she stands up to the old bully she's hired to nurse, but wilts when Connery slaps her around. Yet Lollobrigida was not one to be cowed by strong men. She walked away intact at the end of a seven-year contract with Howard Hughes early in her career, and after her film reign waned, she ran for public office, published several books of photographs, as a photojournalist interviewed Henry Kissinger and Neil Armstrong, scooped the world with a TV documentary on Fidel Castro, and later served as spokeswoman for UN and other charities. Here, she found positive aspects of what could have seemed indecisiveness and weakness of will on the part of the nurse bedded by Connery and later wed under his influence to his rich uncle, and channeled them into a character who retained points of sympathetic contact with the audience.

It isn't just a desire to share the inheritance that makes her go along with the vengeful nephew whose greed is stoked by the bitter memory of his uncle stealing his mother away from his father, then discarding her after her cuckolded husband committed suicide. She almost persuades us she's partly motivated by falling for the suave killer-to-be. And after she manipulates the old man into marrying her after storming off in response to one of his tirades, only to have him come wheeling after her, she softens toward him when she sees how all he really needed was a bit of TLC to make him almost human. During those few scenes when she angrily starts packing her things to leave, we believe she's at least capable of enough independence to walk away, even if the contrived plot won't let her. The emotional ambivalence she displays adds to the film.

She has feelings. The problem with the film is that Connery's character projects none. Displaying almost nothing but hard-edged disdain, he's smooth and more than slightly sinister, but little more. We feel cold calculation in him, but what's lacking is the sense of malignancy and danger he needs to go with it and really scare us. The closest he comes is in the scenes where his callous physical abuse of the momentarily wavering nurse and accomplice surfaces. If Connery's name sold the tickets, and Lollobrigida kept the movie warm, Richardson is the one who steals it. Starting with a scene ironically encapsulating the film's theme, as one of his dogs bites the hand that feeds him, he's an industrial-strength Scrooge, without Marley's ghost and a Tiny Tim to help him get over himself.

Nobody could quite put a mad gleam in his eye the way Richardson did, and he's almost giddy with crazed sadism as he power-trips everybody and shamelessly bullies in the most humiliating ways the white-jacketed servants he yanked out of one of his African copper mines. Blasting Beethoven, Berlioz, Mozart and Rimsky-Korsakoff through the state-of-the-art sound system he has installed in his manor house and on his yacht – and which you know will figure in the outcome -- he's so full of vicious gusto that we hate to see him go. We even forgive his receding to a human plane when bluster gives way to something approaching tender feeling. The twist ending is clever. Alexander Knox executes the role of the inevitably raincoated investigating cop with aplomb. But when Richardson dies, the survivors have all they can do to make the film not seem to die with him.

Producer: Michael Relph
Director: Basil Dearden
Screenplay: Robert Muller, Stanley Mann, Catherine Arley (novel)
Cinematography: Otto Heller
Film Editing: John D. Guthridge
Art Direction: Peter Murton
Music: Muir Mathieson
Cast: Gina Lollobrigida (Maria Marcello), Sean Connery (Anthony Richmond), Ralph Richardson (Charles Richmond), Alexander Knox (Lomer), Johnny Sekka (Thomas), Laurence Hardy (Baynes).
C-118m. Letterboxed.

by Jay Carr
Woman Of Straw

Woman of Straw

One reason Sean Connery made the transition from sexy movie icon to beloved movie icon is that he almost always played the good guy. But there are exceptions. In Woman of Straw (1964), playing the calculating nephew of Ralph Richardson's rich old wheelchair-bound monster, he schemes with Gina Lollobrigida to murder the old boy. Connery filmed it just after the first two Bond films – Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963). But not for his oft-stated wish to avoid being typecast as Bond. It was for a simpler reason. Connery smarted at being paid only $6000 for the first Bond film, which neither he nor many others foresaw would become the franchise and cash cow it remains to this day. He remained bitter over his meager Bond payoffs for decades. But Bond did catapult Connery into international sexy tough guy stardom, and Woman of Straw earned him his first million-dollar paycheck. Taken from Catherine Arley's French novel, La Femme de Paille, it's very post-Agatha Christie, with a scorpion's-tail twist. Watching it today is like time travel to a microcosm that exists as its own hermetically-sealed universe, much like those well-made but thoroughly musty stage constructs that one could almost always depend on encountering in the playhouses of London's West End. It's thinly populated by stock characters, yet enjoyable all the same, partly for its sense of sturdy, knowing craftsmanship, partly for the ways the actors inhabit their stereotypes. There also are entertaining bonuses in the interactions. Never for a moment do we believe in the sexual byplay between Connery's villain and Lollobrigida's nurse, hired, as she later learns, to facilitate the nephew's murder plot. Far from projecting sexual chemistry, the two leads seem matter and anti-matter. Connery, known for his disciplined, detailed approach, resented Lollobrigida's temperament, her late arrivals on the set and her insistence on shaping the production. The National Enquirer reveled in relating on-set clashes soon after the obligatory publicity photo sessions ended and work began, citing a Connery eruption after Lollobrigida took to second-guessing director Basil Dearden. It quoted Connery thusly: "Either he's directing the picture or you are. If it's you, I may not be in it." The tabloid added that a slap in the face the script had Connery deliver to Lollobrigida was harder than it had to be. Connery's will prevailed. Yet Lollobrigida may have enjoyed the last laugh. Far from the malleable character she was in the story, Lollobrigida – who displaced Silvana Mangano as Italy's sexy glamour icon, only to be displaced a few years later by Sophia Loren -- was intelligent, with a mind of her own. The strong will she projected alongside the curves in the obligatory cheesecake poses of the day was a constant. Revisionist criticism has correctly tabbed her a feminist forerunner who refused to play pushover characters, even in the script she had to work with here. True, she stands up to the old bully she's hired to nurse, but wilts when Connery slaps her around. Yet Lollobrigida was not one to be cowed by strong men. She walked away intact at the end of a seven-year contract with Howard Hughes early in her career, and after her film reign waned, she ran for public office, published several books of photographs, as a photojournalist interviewed Henry Kissinger and Neil Armstrong, scooped the world with a TV documentary on Fidel Castro, and later served as spokeswoman for UN and other charities. Here, she found positive aspects of what could have seemed indecisiveness and weakness of will on the part of the nurse bedded by Connery and later wed under his influence to his rich uncle, and channeled them into a character who retained points of sympathetic contact with the audience. It isn't just a desire to share the inheritance that makes her go along with the vengeful nephew whose greed is stoked by the bitter memory of his uncle stealing his mother away from his father, then discarding her after her cuckolded husband committed suicide. She almost persuades us she's partly motivated by falling for the suave killer-to-be. And after she manipulates the old man into marrying her after storming off in response to one of his tirades, only to have him come wheeling after her, she softens toward him when she sees how all he really needed was a bit of TLC to make him almost human. During those few scenes when she angrily starts packing her things to leave, we believe she's at least capable of enough independence to walk away, even if the contrived plot won't let her. The emotional ambivalence she displays adds to the film. She has feelings. The problem with the film is that Connery's character projects none. Displaying almost nothing but hard-edged disdain, he's smooth and more than slightly sinister, but little more. We feel cold calculation in him, but what's lacking is the sense of malignancy and danger he needs to go with it and really scare us. The closest he comes is in the scenes where his callous physical abuse of the momentarily wavering nurse and accomplice surfaces. If Connery's name sold the tickets, and Lollobrigida kept the movie warm, Richardson is the one who steals it. Starting with a scene ironically encapsulating the film's theme, as one of his dogs bites the hand that feeds him, he's an industrial-strength Scrooge, without Marley's ghost and a Tiny Tim to help him get over himself. Nobody could quite put a mad gleam in his eye the way Richardson did, and he's almost giddy with crazed sadism as he power-trips everybody and shamelessly bullies in the most humiliating ways the white-jacketed servants he yanked out of one of his African copper mines. Blasting Beethoven, Berlioz, Mozart and Rimsky-Korsakoff through the state-of-the-art sound system he has installed in his manor house and on his yacht – and which you know will figure in the outcome -- he's so full of vicious gusto that we hate to see him go. We even forgive his receding to a human plane when bluster gives way to something approaching tender feeling. The twist ending is clever. Alexander Knox executes the role of the inevitably raincoated investigating cop with aplomb. But when Richardson dies, the survivors have all they can do to make the film not seem to die with him. Producer: Michael Relph Director: Basil Dearden Screenplay: Robert Muller, Stanley Mann, Catherine Arley (novel) Cinematography: Otto Heller Film Editing: John D. Guthridge Art Direction: Peter Murton Music: Muir Mathieson Cast: Gina Lollobrigida (Maria Marcello), Sean Connery (Anthony Richmond), Ralph Richardson (Charles Richmond), Alexander Knox (Lomer), Johnny Sekka (Thomas), Laurence Hardy (Baynes). C-118m. Letterboxed. by Jay Carr

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Location scenes filmed in England and Majorca. Opened in London in April 1964.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall September 9, 1964

Released in United States Fall September 9, 1964