The Woman in Question (1950)

September 14, 2009

You have to go out of your way a little to see this film -- it's available on VHS here and on DVD here. But it's well worth it, trust me!

The Woman in Question begins with a little boy finding a dead body in an apartment. This triggers a series of interviews and flashbacks in which each of the suspects in the murder are interviewed and give their own account of what REALLY happened. It reminded me a lot of Rashomon, which also came out in 1950.

But this movie was so darn clever, I think it even out-does Rashomon. In each flashback, the deceased woman, Jean Kent, is portrayed in whatever light the suspect saw her. Subsequently, this film has her playing a darling devoted wife with an upper crust British accent, a loose, scruffy fortune teller with a heavy cockney accent, and the most lovely, beautiful, gentle woman in the universe. All seen through the eyes of the people who might have killed her.

SUSPECT #1: Mrs. Finch (Hermione Baddeley)

Relation to the deceased: House maid and mother of the little boy who finds the body
Opinion of the deceased: Glamorous, giving and kind
Motive: I'm not actually sure she has one. Though they sort of treat her as a suspect in the film, I think her purpose is more to advance the story.
I LOVED this character. Hermione Baddeley has to be one of the best British character actors ever. In the beginning, the police are trying to question her son, who found the body. She's hilarious as a doting mother who answers every question before her son gets the chance. She's also a typical busybody who has an opinion about everything and everyone.

SUSPECT #2: Catherine Taylor (Susan Shaw)

Relation to the deceased: Sister, and potentially the lover of the dead woman's husband!
Opinion of the deceased: a wench with no respect for her sick husband
Motive: Her sister has tried to prevent her marriage to Bob Baker (aka. Suspect #3!)
Susan Shaw had two characters to play: the catty, overly-made-up slutty sister in Mrs. Finch's account, and the beautiful, delicate lady in Bob Baker's account.

SUSPECT #3: Bob Baker (Dirk Bogarde)

Relation to the deceased: Possibly a former flame, definitely a former vaudeville partner and Catherine's fiance
Opinion of the deceased: Nice at first, but then she becomes a meddling horror!
Motive: The deceased was trying to prevent his marriage to Catherine.
When Dirk Bogarde first entered the film (quite a way in, unfortunately) he had the strangest accent... I couldn't actually tell what he was trying to do until someone mentioned that he was an American! (Hence that all-American name Bob Baker, right?) It must be a hard accent to master because poor Dirk definitely didn't sound American. He'd get a word right every once in a while but the British accent just kept slipping back in. I'm not sure if this was just written into the script to account for his trouble with our dialect, but he confesses to his fiance that he was actually born in Liverpool and just made up the whole American thing for his stage act.

Despite my initial confusion about his accent, he played the part brilliantly as always. His character shows up in four of the different accounts and so he also had to play four different versions of one character. My favorite was Mrs. Finch's account, in which he is a cowboy-hat-wearing American (ha!) cad.

SUSPECT #4: Albert Pollard (Charles Victor)

Relation to the deceased: A friend who owns the pet shop where she gets her parrot and fixes up anything that needs fixing around the house.
Opinion of the deceased: The most lovely, beautiful creature that ever walked on this earth.
Motive: Perhaps she didn't love him back...
Mr. Pollard was such a sweet little man. In one scene, Mrs. Finch gets flustered when Catherine and Bob angrily come busting into the house to see Jean Kent. She runs over to Mr. Pollard to get him to kick them out, and he just stands there, sheepishly, until they leave. No courage at all. But! In Mr. Pollards account, he storms into the house and demands that Catherine and Bob leave PRONTO! It was so cute.

SUSPECT #5: Michael Murray (John McCallum)

Relation to the deceased: Boyfriend/Fiance
Opinion of the deceased: a loving, devoted fiance... until he finds her with another man!!
Motive: He found her with another man!!
This is the only character that is one dimensional -- he is portrayed only in his own recollections, nobody elses. He does a splendid job, though, and is cute as a burly Irish sailor.


The Deceased Woman

Jean Kent is brilliant in this film. She plays five different versions of one single woman, each of them completely unique. It's amazing how she played the same character from five totally different perspectives- and each incredibly convincing. The most amazing thing about this is that her appearance changes in each flashback as well.

in Mrs. Finch's account, as the saintly tenant

in Catherine's account, as the scummy wench

in Bob Baker's account, as the seductive business partner

in Mr. Pollard's account, a vision of loveliness

in Michael Murray's account, perhaps the most
normal, down-to-earth version of the bunch.


vivienne strauss said...

wow! it sounds fantastic!!! Makes me worry though, how 5 random people would see or describe me!

Terence Towles Canote said...

I remember seeing this film years and years ago. You are right, it is a really special movie. I just wish it was out on DVD!

Unknown said...

Vivienne- oh gosh I never even thought of that!!

Mercurie- It hasn't been commercially released yet, but you can get it here

Millie said...


Now you've got me so curious! Darn it!

Raquel Stecher said...

I love how you laid out this review of the film. The different suspects in the murder, pictures, who they are, their motivations, etc. Very clever!

Now I want to see this film.

And you are really into Dirk Bogarde aren't you? I keep reading about him in this Judy Garland-related book. It sounds like they almost had a romance, but Garland was too much of a headcase for him.

Nicole Newcomb said...

Sounds very intriguing and I love the thought of seeing the different views on the deceased from each of the suspects. How very clever!

Andi B. Goode said...

Oh, gosh, this sounds like it'd be great! And something I'd love.
You know, I have to tell you that you are responsible for re-starting the mini-obsession I had with Dirk about three or four months ago. Which is all fine by me ;]
-Andi x

Unknown said...

Millie- I wish I could make a copy for you! It wouldn't let me copy to DVD though :(

Raquelle- Thanks! YES, I am VERY into Dirk Bogarde right now. I'm rationing his movies right now so I don't run out too quick :)

Nicole- It's really clever, I wish it was more readily available so everyone could see it!

Andi- He's easy to get obsessed with isn't he?! He's just so darn handsome :)