The artwork in The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)

October 09, 2018

I love artwork in movies -- from the portrait of Laura to the Portrait of Dorian Gray -- and my absolute favorite movie art is from the movie The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) starring Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck.

Bogart plays a married artist, Geoffrey Carroll, who begins imagining his wife as the Angel of Death after he meets and falls in love with Barbara Stanwyck's Sally. He feels compelled to paint the image that's seared into his brain, all the while making the deathly vision become a reality by slowly poisoning his wife so that he can marry Sally instead.

Here he is showing his daughter the portrait in progress, which illustrates her mother as the Angel of Death. The daughter is played by Ann Carter, who you might recognize (if you watch the movie, not just from the back of her head) as the little girl from The Curse of the Cat People. Here she is playing a very adult-like child, kind of like the kids from The Innocents, except I promise she isn't possessed. It adds just one more creepy layer to an already eerie movie.

Here is the finished portrait, displayed in the house that Geoffrey now shares with the second Mrs. Carroll, Sally (Stanwyck.) Standing next to him is Alexis Smith, playing a woman who would very much like to be the third Mrs. Carroll.

This is the first time that we see a portrait Geoffrey has painted of Sally. It has an ethereal quality, almost the complete opposite of the dark expressionist style he used to depict his dearly departed first wife as the Angel of Death.

But as he grows closer to Alexis Smith's Cecily, those dark visions come back again and we learn that he once again feels compelled to depict his wife as the Angel of Death. Only this time it's Barbara Stanwyck.

And here it is! My favorite classic movie painting of all time. According to the book The Dark Galleries (I highly recommend it if you're interested in classic film art. I only wish I had thought to write it first!) this piece was actually painted by Hollywood caricaturist, artist and set designer John Decker. If you liked the portrait of Joan Bennett in Scarlet Street, that was by Decker as well!

I can vividly remember the first time that I saw this movie, and the scene in which Barbara Stanwyck discovers this portrait gave me actual shivers. It is so sinister and unnerving, and the reflection of the rain in the window pouring down the painting is hair-raising. I love the outline of the skeleton peeking through the shorn clothing (I wonder, by the way, if this was partially the inspiration for Barbara Steele's look in Black Sunday?) and the few strands of hair that resemble wilted stems. I love how the painting almost looks as though it started out as a glamorous portrait and slowly, as Carroll's visions grew stronger, the portrait grew darker and darker, the scent of Duke of Wellington roses replaced with a reeking stench of decay.

Not many people seem to like this movie, which always puzzles me because I think it's such a gloriously macabre film with a peculiar vibe that is perfect for this time of year. Humphrey Bogart overacts a bit, but I LOVE IT. You can tell that he's having fun with the role (there's even a funny reference to Casablanca at one point!) but he is also so intense in some scenes that the sense of danger practically leaps off the screen. And of course Barbara Stanwyck is a delight. If you like her in Sorry, Wrong Number, this is a great one to check out next! Her "sick woman in danger" skills are on full display and she's excellent as always.

I love this painting so much that I printed out a copy and framed it as a Halloween decoration (but let's be real, I'm definitely leaving this up all year now.) If you want to print one too, I uploaded the image right here.