Cast & Crew
As a child in Bangor, Maine in 1824, Jenny Hager, daughter of the town drunk Tim, has as her sole playmate Ephraim Poster, the son of Isaiah, the storekeeper. Jenny, whose mother abandoned her as a baby, is a difficult girl, with a high opinion of herself. Several years later, she has grown into a beautiful woman and Ephraim has gone away to school in England. When a boatload of sailors docks, Jenny sets her sights on the captain, and Isaiah, a widower who is attracted to Jenny, tells Tim that his daughter is consorting with sailors. Accusing Jenny of behaving like her mother, Tim beats her, then collapses and dies. Jenny runs to Isaiah's house for help, and while his housekeeper bathes her wounds, the town elders decide to marry her to the wealthy Isaiah. Jenny agrees to the marriage, but soon after the marriage writes Ephraim a seductive letter persuading him to come home. Jenny then asks proper Meg Saladine to teach her to act like a lady. When the minister asks his wealthy congregation for money to enlarge the church, none will give until Jenny offers $1,000 of her husband's money and the other wives follow suit, ensuring Jenny's reputation as a devout woman. After Ephraim returns, Isaiah jealously tries to drive him away, but Jenny persuades her husband to let him stay. She then carefully makes sure that Ephraim falls in love with her. When Isaiah falls ill, Jenny devotedly cares for him, but after he recovers, she becomes hysterical because she had secretly planned to marry Ephraim and live on Isaiah's money. When trouble breaks out in town among the lumberjacks, John Evered, Isaiah's foreman and Meg's fiancé, helps quell the fighting. Jenny is immediately infatuated with John and invites him and Meg to dinner that evening. Soon, however, John returns to the woods, and Isaiah decides to visit his holdings there. He insists that Ephraim accompany him on the canoe trip, even though Ephraim is terrified of the water. Before they leave, Jenny suggests that Ephraim arrange for his father's death on the trip. After Ephraim accidentally upsets the canoe and Isaiah drowns, Jenny forbids him to enter the house and drives him to drink. She then takes over the management of her dead husband's properties and promotes John to a job in town. A drunken Ephraim tries to tell the townspeople the truth about Jenny, but they are now convinced that she is a respectable woman and do not believe him. John questions Ephraim carefully about his accusations and then suggests that Jenny confront Ephraim and prove her innocence. When John and Jenny arrive at Ephraim's cabin, however, he has hanged himself. While John cuts down the body, Jenny scares away their horses, and they are forced to stay all night together in the cabin. Soon Jenny and John are married. The marriage is happy, although Jenny discovers that she is unable to have children. When Lincoln Pittridge, a revivalist preacher, proclaims that an evil woman cannot reproduce, Jenny believes that he can see into her soul and tells John that Ephraim's stories about her were true. This is too much for John, and he leaves her. The next morning Jenny finds him in the country with Meg. Although John has told Meg that he intends to return to Jenny because he loves her, Jenny tries to run them over in a jealous fit and is thrown over a cliff to her death.
John M. Foley
Lester D. Guthrie
James E. Newcom
Richard G. Wray
The Strange Woman
The driving force behind The Strange Woman was Lamarr herself, who sought to escape from the control of the major Hollywood studios and show her creative and financial independence. Lamarr sought a more serious role... something dark and mysterious to enhance her image. She recalled in her autobiography, Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman, "I had the producers...and I had the money. Plus which I had several releasing companies eager to distribute."
Producer Jack Chertok had worked primarily in studio-sponsored short films, such as MGM's Crime Does Not Pay series (which he originated in 1935). Executive producer Hunt Stromberg was also an MGM alumnus, best known for producing the Thin Man series of films. Even though these producers carried a fair amount of clout, the budget for The Strange Woman was limited. It required a director capable of squeezing the most production value from limited resources. For this task, Ulmer was highly qualified. Although the budget was small in comparison with the typical MGM film, it was extravagant for Ulmer, who had directed a series of films at the "Poverty Row" studio P.R.C. (Producers Releasing Corporation). The Strange Woman is Ulmer's most lavish production and the economic constraints under which it was made are barely apparent.
For Lamarr, the multi-dimensional role of Jenny Hager provided the opportunity to demonstrate her range as an actress. "Now that I was making a picture for myself I decided to open up the role the way I always wanted to -- to go out and research this type of girl in the flesh, in her native habitat, and then play her the way she is, with real-life motivations."
Lamarr prepared for the role by traveling incognito to the harbors of Boston. "I disguised myself as best I could with a blonde wig and conservative clothes, and I travelled alone...I wandered down to the white-sailed ships, curious about the girls in the dock area. I talked to several of them -- they seemed too refined, too normal. Then I roamed to another section of the bay, listening to stories of the poor fishing girls. Three days of this and I was researched in depth when I got back to Hollywood."
For the scenes of Jenny's childhood, Ulmer employed his daughter, Arianne Ulmer Cipes as a Hedy Lamarr look-alike. In an interview published in 1997, Cipes recalls that Lamarr herself had chosen Ulmer for the job of director. "When Hunt Stromberg wanted to do The Strange Woman, she was the one who demanded Dad." Cipes explains that Lamarr knew Ulmer from their youth in Vienna, then later in Berlin, in the social circle surrounding the theatre group of Max Reinhardt. The actress and director's paths crossed again during the production of The Wife of Monte Cristo (1946), which starred Lamarr's husband, John Loder.
Writer Tom Weaver asked Cipes if it was true Ulmer inflicted minor physical pain in order to coax a more convincing performance from Lamarr, reportedly pinching her ankle at key moments. "He wanted to get her emotional," Cipes replied, "and the only way that he really could do it was by physically 'breaking into her.' Sometimes people talk about my father as temperamental -- and he was. But a lot of it was premeditated. When he couldn't get an actor to break down and open up, one of his methods was to get them angry. Get them aggravated. Get them furious. And somehow their defenses would drop. Later he would kiss and make up and you'd have a big emotional thing. He had that nature; he was able to play people that way. This is one of the things that somebody who has real charm can do."
Lamarr, in her autobiography, recalls Ulmer's directorial style differently, suggesting that -- having toiled for so long at the low-end studios -- he was intimidated by A-list actors. "Edgar was just a bit afraid of me," Lamarr remembered. "I would walk through a scene, step by step, and know there was something wrong with it. Yet the director was timid about suggesting changes."
Eventually, a channel of communication opened between them, sparked by the filming of a seduction scene. "I said to Edgar, 'I feel like it's a seduction by Hedy Lamarr instead of by Jenny Hager.'"
"'Right,' he said, 'Jenny is immoral...Your approach, Hedy, is too delicate and subtle. Jenny wouldn't be subtle. She goes after what she wants directly and quickly. Let's try it. Don't be Hedy Lamarr -- be a tigress.'" But however much Lamarr tried, she simply wasn't a sexual predator. "We did the bedroom scene over and over so often I could do it now, twenty years later, in one 'take.' Anyway, it didn't work. I just wasn't a tigress. All the talent at my disposal couldn't make me one. Feeling we were heading in the wrong direction, in the middle of production we brought in fresh writers and I spent hours with them trying to rewrite Jenny's character, personality and morals. But when the budget started to hurt, we decided to do our best with what we had."
Rather than rely upon delicate characterizations, the filmmakers opted for melodrama. The Strange Woman's climactic seduction scene occurs in the midst of a violent thunderstorm. Jenny slowly approaches John. As she does, lightning strikes a nearby tree. By the time she reaches him, the tree is ablaze and she embraces him against a backdrop of thunder, lightning and flame.
Cipes remembers the gentlemanly behavior of Louis Hayward (who sent her her first roses), and the cool demeanor of George Sanders. "He was a very, very vain guy. My mother always says that he told her he would never live beyond 60, that he would commit suicide. And he did." Sanders died of a drug overdose in Spain at the age of 65. His suicide note is said to have read, "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck."
To help promote The Strange Woman, Lamarr embarked on a personal appearance tour. "There are always unpleasant experiences on these trips no matter how many press agents go with you to protect you," Lamarr wrote, "For example, in Chicago after a full day of publicity appointments, I came back to my hotel worn out. So I showered and stepped out of the bathroom to get a robe. I opened up the closet door and standing there was a teenage peeping Tom. He ran to the window and down the fire escape. They caught him and booked him. The papers were full of it. I didn't press charges because he was so young and frankly -- this was my secret until now -- he told the press that mine was the perfect body. ('I am in a position to know,' he winked brazenly.)"
Lamarr wrote that the personal appearances did little to sweeten the reviews of The Strange Woman. She quotes the Variety review as saying, "Hedy, more beautiful than ever, bit off more than she could chew...So the chewing was done by the other members of the cast, and what was chewed was the scenery."
Curiously, that quote appears nowhere in the Variety review, which was actually quite complimentary. "Miss Lamarr scores as the scheming Jenny Hager. Two-sided character obtains plenty of realism in her hands. Her capacity of appearing as a tender, administering angel and of mirroring sadistic satisfaction in the midst of violence bespeaks wide talent range." Variety's scorn was reserved for Sanders, "Sanders is out of his depths as a shy, backwoods character who becomes Miss Lamarr's second husband. Portrayal is indifferent and makes for a weak link that holds film back from overall sock rating" ("sock" being another word for "boffo").
According to Lamarr (whose memoir does not always reflect the historic facts), fans were dismayed to see the actress playing such a hussy as Jenny. "You are so cool and lovely off screen. You are my idol. Why don't you play a beautiful princess instead of a drunken wharf rat?" Another is quoted as saying, "You should have been content to produce the picture and let some little starlet with no morals play Jenny. We like you too much to let you get a reputation like that."
The Strange Woman was a success, earning an estimated $2.8 million at the box-office. Lamarr decided to maintain her independence, and collaborated with Stromberg on Dishonored Lady (1947) which, like The Strange Woman, was distributed through United Artists.
In 1949, Lamarr relinquished her independence and returned to the studio system. The film was Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah, whose femme fatale was not unlike the sexually conniving heroine of The Strange Woman. It seems Lamarr's attempt to change her screen image had succeeded.
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Producer: Jack Chertok
Screenplay: Herb Meadow
Based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams
Cinematography: Lucien Andriot
Production Design: Nicolai Remisoff
Music: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Hedy Lamarr (Jenny Hager), George Sanders (John Evered), Louis Hayward (Ephraim Poster), Gene Lockhart (Isaiah Poster), Alan Napier (Judge Saladine).
by Bret Wood
The Strange Woman
Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive on DVD
The disc comes from the independent company Allday and its owner David Kalat has included a score of extras that offer teasing glimpses of Ulmer's unique genius. The lamentable condition of most of Ulmer's work makes appreciating him sometimes resemble a search for artifacts, and Kalat's presentations are better than can be seen anywhere else. The most impressive film in the group improves the quality of an earlier disc and comes with one of the disc producer's exemplary audio commentaries.
Starting chronologically, Moon over Harlem is one of Ulmer's adventures in ethnic filmmaking. Blackballed from studio work after filming his The Black Cat at Universal, Ulmer made all kinds of features and documentaries, eventually directing a number of Yiddish and Russian 'old country' musicals in New Jersey -- according to one source, the farm leased for the filming of one Fiddler on the Roof-style show about Russian Jews was right next door to property often used for meetings of the German Bund. This story of vice and virtue in the rackets and nightclubs of New York's Harlem was filmed in 16mm for almost nothing yet features a large cast. In an interview videotaped shortly before she passed away, Ulmer's wife and co-producer Shirley Ulmer recounts that she rewrote the entire script, and the lively, all-black cast creates some vivid characters.
In perhaps the first true representation of how rackets really worked, a gangster thinks he can outwit the white crime organization that runs vice in Harlem. He marries a woman to be near her beautiful daughter, who for her part wants to become a singer. The daughter is attracted to a political reformer and sparks fly. Much of the acting is stilted but the film has a general honesty missing in later Blaxploitation pix. Moon over Harlem comes with two added films, a 1940s public service short called Goodbye Mr. Germ and an unsold 1958 TV pilot filmed in color in Mexico, Swiss Family Robinson.
Bluebeard is one of Ulmer's best known pictures, a well-liked horror item that makes a sympathetic character of its mad killer, a talented painter and puppeteer in 19th century Paris. John Carradine has his best starring film role as Gaston Morrell, a civilized maniac compelled to strangle the models he paints. Jean Parker is the spirited girl he admires; he attempts to get free of his crimes but cannot erase the telltale paintings that chronicle his succession of victims.
Using fog, bits of sets and a cooperative cast, Ulmer creates a convincing period picture out of almost nothing, while moving the horror film closer to a more psychologically valid assessment of murderous evil. It's one of his more artistically successful efforts.
Allday's extras include a featurette about the Barlow and Baker marionettes that star as Morrell's puppet actors. Some striking Kodachrome movies of the marionettes in action are included that show that Bluebeard could have looked terrific as a color movie.
Strange Illusion is an awkward but artistically adventurous contemporary mystery lifted almost entirely from Hamlet. Jimmy Lydon is discouraged from investigating his father's death and is suspicious of the new man in his mother's life; he eventually becomes the victim of a conspiracy and is committed to an asylum. Weird dream sequences work their way through this Ulmer fan favorite. This disc comes with several Ulmer trailers including the elusive Beyond the Time Barrier, an MGM title for which 35mm printing elements are currently missing.
Daughter of Dr. Jekyll is a late-50s Allied Artists film made on the cheap in Los Angeles but set on a foggy moor. Gloria Talbott is afraid to marry John Agar afer being advised that she may have inherited her father's curse of lycanthropy. Several slow-motion dream sequences later, Gloria finds out she's being set up by a relative, the true guilty party.
Known almost exclusively as a joke title in Andrew Sarris' auteurist book The American Film, this tame monster romp does wonders with minimal sets but flubs a key interior when 1957 auto traffic peeks through the blinds during a breakfast scene. Of all the pictures in the collection, this is the sloppiest.
This disc has an interview with Ulmer's Daughter Arrianné explaining her non-profit foundation to preserve her father's films, many of which have fallen into the limbo of unresolved legal rights. She apparently recovered the original elements for Daughter of Dr. Jekyll at the last possible moment, by asking the original producer to reassign her the rights only a few weeks before he died.
The final title in the disc, not in chronological order, is 1946's The Strange Woman, a mini-masterpiece done on a reasonable budget that almost raised Edgar Ulmer out of poverty row. Instead, its success made him impatient with his deal at Producer's Releasing Corporation and he left to do even wilder independent projects in Europe.
The movie is an intelligent drama about a headstrong woman who eventually falls victim to her own negative karma. Hedy Lamarr plays the ambitious Jenny and the story is set in Maine in the early 1800s when land swindles were cornering the lumber market. The daughter of the town drunk, Jenny uses her beauty to maneuver herself into a marriage with the richest man in town and then has trouble getting his handsome son (Louis Hayward) to do the old man in. The irony builds as Jenny establishes a reputation of charity and personal integrity - only she knows what a fraud she is. When jealousy over the handsome George Sanders comes into the picture, her conscience gets the better of her.
This Ulmer film has no need of excuses or explanations; it's just plain superior and is easily Lamarr's best vehicle. The Ill-fated Jenny is as complicated as Scarlett O'Hara (whom Lamarr resembles in the role) and much more believable than Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven.
To top it off, David Kalat provides one of his highly entertaining commentaries, packed with fact, analysis and intelligent conclusions about Ulmer, Lamarr and the entire moviemaking process. It's a great listen.
The quality of Ulmer DVDs is always an issue as few decent prints of the movies survive. Many PRC pictures now lack anything but worn 16mm television negatives, and Ulmer's entire 40s output exists in spotty condition. Happily, The Strange Woman has been improved with new elements from French archives. Allday's encoding and digitizing improved over the years but some of the transfers are not as good looking as they might be. Dr. Jekyll and Strange Illusion suffer from strange pincushion graininess in their frequent dark foggy scenes.
Still, the Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive three-disc collection is a bargain and a great introduction to Ulmer's prodigious output. With extras included it adds up to over six hours of entertainment.
For more information about Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive, visit Image Entertainment. To order Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive on DVD
The Hollywood Reporter review notes that Hedy Lamarr and Jack Chertok formed a partnership to produce this film. Production on the film shut down between December 13, 1945 and January 3, 1946 due to Hedy Lamarr's bout with the flu.