The Bigamist (1953 film)
The Bigamist is a 1953 American drama film noir directed by Ida Lupino starring Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino, Edmund Gwenn and Edmond O'Brien. Producer/Screenwriter Collier Young was married to Fontaine at the time and had previously been married to Lupino. The Bigamist has been cited as the first American feature film in which the female star of a film directed herself.
|Directed by||Ida Lupino|
|Screenplay by||Collier Young|
|Story by||Lawrence B. Marcus|
(as Larry Marcus)
|Produced by||Robert Eggenweiler|
|Cinematography||George E. Diskant|
|Edited by||Stanford Tischler|
|Music by||Leith Stevens|
|Distributed by||Filmakers Releasing Organization|
The film is in the public domain.
Harry (Edmond O'Brien) and Eve Graham (Joan Fontaine) want to adopt a child, as Eve is infertile. Adoption agent Mr. Jordan (Edmund Gwenn) warns the couple that he would need to investigate them thoroughly. Harry looks curiously at Jordan, something that worries Jordan.
Harry and Eve live in San Francisco and are co-owners of a business, with Harry traveling to Los Angeles frequently for work. Jordan arrives at Harry's Los Angeles office looking for information about Harry. The receptionist calls around to all the hotels, but none of them have a Harry Graham registered. One or two of the managers remembers Harry, but he hadn't been checked into their hotels in months. Jordan is very puzzled and even more adamant about investigating Harry. He finds a letter opener on Harry's desk with the name 'Harrison' Graham. Jordan visits the address listed for that name in the phone book and there finds Harry, with a wife and a baby. When Jordan is about to call the police, Harry tells him how he got into the situation.
Upon learning of Eve's infertility, Harry had suggested that she join him in his business as means of coping with her disappointment. Though she'd done well at work, she soon began to focus solely on the business, leaving Harry feeling lonely for an emotional spousal connection. His feelings of loneliness were most acute during the long stretches he spent away from her as he traveled. On a particular day, while staying in a hotel in L.A., Harry met an interesting woman named Phyllis (Ida Lupino), on a bus tour of Hollywood movie stars' homes, including that of Edmund Gwenn. They talked and spent time together but parted with Harry not expecting to see her again.
Talking on the phone with Eve that night, Harry tried to tell her everything about Phyllis and about his loneliness, but Eve was interested only in talking about business. Back home, he tried again, planning a vacation for the two of them; but she dismissed the idea, noting that she was pleased with the state of their marriage. On his next trip to L.A., Harry began seeing Phyllis again, platonically at first, but romantic feelings developed. Not wanting to fall in love, Phyllis had not allowed Harry to share with her anything about his background and thus remained ignorant of his marriage. On Harry's last night in town, his birthday, they spent the night together.
Upon returning home, Harry was resolved to rededicate himself to his marriage, starting with planning to hire someone else to handle the L.A. business so that Harry would no longer have to be away from Eve. He was overjoyed to find that this time Eve was fully receptive. She acknowledged and apologized for having been so emotionally distant. She embraced the idea of their adopting a child after having rejected it out of hand years before. The single piece of bad news was that her father had taken ill and she needed to go spend time with her family in Florida.
Harry stayed close to home and began the adoption process. Three months later, with Eve still away, Harry had no choice but to return to L.A. to tend to the business interests there. Once there, he found that Phyllis was pregnant. She told Harry that she didn't wish to trap him and that he was free to leave. However, Harry had no interest in turning his back on the responsibility he felt to her and to their child. He planned to call Eve, confess his infidelity, and ask for a divorce, but then came the news of her father's death. Hearing how distraught she was, he couldn't go through with his plan. But he couldn't bring himself to leave Phyllis either and instead proposed to her. With Eve pinning all of her hopes for happiness on becoming a mother, Harry had hoped to maintain his secret double life long enough for the adoption to be finalized and then divorce Eve, who would then at least still have her child.
Upon hearing the story, Jordan leaves without calling the police. Harry writes a farewell letter to the sleeping Phyllis and leaves the house. Eve returns to their home in San Francisco as Harry is about to meet the police who are waiting for him there. Harry ends up in court, where the two women finally meet. The judge notes that once Harry has served his sentence, he'll be legally obligated to support both women. And with regard to Harry's personal life, "it won't be a question of which woman he'll go back to, but rather which woman will take him back." The film ends with Harry awaiting his sentencing hearing.
The film fell into difficulty when RKO Pictures pulled out of the picture, leaving Filmakers to distribute it. The film received rave reviews at the time of release, with Howard Thompson of The New York Times calling it "Filmakers' best offering, to date". The plot cheekily mines aspects of Lupino’s own private life (sharing same scriptwriting husband with Fontaine; an extramarital pregnancy with Duff) and showcases the Hollywood homes of some of her friends on a see-the-stars bus-tour.
The film has since earned acclaim from critics and is included in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Chris Fujiwara calls it a "haunting film" which is "one of several out-of-nowhere masterpieces" to be directed by Lupino. He particularly praises the final courtroom scene, which he considers to be "shattering", with a "combination of ambiguity and intensity that recalls both Carl Dreyer and Nicholas Ray". When the two female leads exchange glances with each other in court they both knew what it meant to be married to the same man in real life - an inside joke not lost on Hollywood.
The Encyclopedia of Film Noir considers The Bigamist to be "unusually ambiguous" for the period. Ray Hagen and Laura Wagner remark that The Bigamist is "not a sensationalized rendering of a potentially sordid subject, but a very human story of a man (Edmond O'Brien) tangled between two women".
- Spicer, Andrew (19 March 2010). Historical Dictionary of Film Noir. Scarecrow Press. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-8108-7378-0.
- Wheeler Winston Dixon (2009). "Lupino, Ida". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 2019-08-17.
- H.H.T. (Henry Howard Thompson Jr.) (1953-12-26). "At the Astor". New York Times. Retrieved 2019-08-17.
- Schneider, Steven Jay (1 October 2012). 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die 2012. Octopus Publishing Group. p. 273. ISBN 978-1-84403-733-9.
- Mayer, Geoff; McDonnell, Brian (1 January 2007). Encyclopedia of Film Noir. ABC-CLIO. p. 269. ISBN 978-0-313-33306-4.
- Hagen, Ray; Wagner, Laura (17 September 2004). Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Film Dames. McFarland. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-7864-8073-9.