Probably the worst thing about The Bigamist is its title, because it wastes what could have been a pretty startling reveal at a crucial plot point in the picture. The film opens with a model couple being interviewed at an adoption agency. All seems to be going well – they are more or less a lock – until Edmund Gwenn, who plays the agency head asks them to give permission to perform a ‘complete background check’. The wife signs with an air of insouciance but the husband hesitates and starts to break a sweat. No poker player he.
Naturally the agency guy smells a rat and with some tenacious detecting skills tracks the title character, Edmond O’Brien all the way to his second home and by extension reveals his secret second life. Gwenn makes to call the cops but O’Brien begs forgiveness and in a series of flashbacks tells his story. Sure, it’s a great moment but it could have been so much more gripping. Because O’Brien had been so cagey in the office, the audience could have been kept guessing as to just what the hell this guy had to hide right up to the sound of the crying baby that gives the game away.
The flashbacks reveal the start of the affair and we are immediately thrust into 1950s suburban bliss: the well paid job with promotion prospects; the lovely home; the even lovelier wife. So what on earth has gone wrong, what has convinced him to even contemplate seeking solace away from the sumptuous Joan Fontaine ? It starts with O’Brien stuck (again) away from home, this time on a Sunday in Los Angeles with nothing to do. Almost absentmindedly he hops on a bus tour and finds himself chatting up ice queen Ida Lupino. Excited in spite of himself he sticks at it and before long they are dining out at the local Chinese, a date of sorts.
Ashamed of his mild indiscretion he resolves to be the ever loving husband when next he sees his wife, but when he returns home the fall from grace is played out. Plans for a quiet weekend together evaporate when Fontaine invites potential clients to dinner, closes the sale that has eluded him for years then, to top it off, says she’s too tired for post pitch nookie. Abandoned and gelded, the inevitable happens when he next returns to LA.
A very good film overall, with the melodrama pitched just right but what adds to the thrill is the extraordinary story behind it. The film was directed by Ida Lupino and written by her husband Collier Young who a year before filming had divorced Lupino, who plays one of the wives in order to marry Joan Fontaine who plays the other. Perhaps someone should film that story.
The Bigamist – directed by Ida Lupino (1953)
Very tightly directed and believable melodrama, with the on-screen love triangle reflecting the equally weird one off-screen.
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