One of the first things that struck me about Whirlpool is how good an actress Gene Tierney actually was. She does such a terrific job of portraying both the vulnerability and desperation of her character.
Set in Los Angeles, Whirlpool is an unassuming and unpretentious thriller that sort of fits the mold of noir. The movie certainly isn't the best example of the genre, but it does have many fine elements that, combined with Ms. Tierney's performance, make it eminently watchable.
Gene Tierney stars as Ann Sutton. Ann is the wealthy and respectable wife of successful psychiatrist Dr. William Sutton (a marvelous Richard Conte). The film opens as Ann is caught shoplifting a jeweled broach from a ritzy department store. The police and the store manager are determined to prosecute, but she gets off the hook thanks to David Korvo (Jose Ferrer), a mysterious hypnotist whom Ann employs to help her sleep.
Ann initially thinks that Korvo is out to blackmail her, and she offers him a large some of money to keep him quiet. Korvo, however, has another, far more furtive agenda. As he gradually builds Ann's trust, it soon is revealed that he has been having an affair with Sutton's former patient Theresa Randolph (Barbara O'Neil).
Shortly thereafter, Theresa turns up dead, and Ann is implicated as the murderer since she was found at the scene of the crime. Ann is arrested and charged with murder, but bitterly denies involvement telling her kindly husband that she just can't remember anything. So, who is the murderer? Surely it can't have been Korvo, as he was in the hospital during the time of Theresa's death.
It is left up to Lt. Colton (Charles Bickford) to use his detective skills and Dr. Sutton as the committed psychiatrist to break the hold that Korvo has on Ann and finally learn the truth behind the Theresa's murder.
Ferrer is terrific as the enigmatic Korvo. From the beginning it's plainly obvious that he's a sleazy, amoral confidence trickster, who is probably out to milk the Ann of her money and nothing happens to compromise his position. Richard Conte is also very good as Ann's concerned husband; he knows that his wife is not guilty but he's frustrated at the lack of inaction on behalf the local police to prove her innocence.
The issues of hypnotherapy, especially with the idea that hypnosis can make people do stuff they don't want to, is also interesting. Although, by today's standards it perhaps doesn't carry the kind of psychological weight and dramatic punch that it did back when the film was made.
Perhaps influenced by the wave of films during the period that utilized the growing field of hypnotherapy the picture might have seemed a bit fresher when it was first released. However, the Whirlpool is still fun to watch, especially for the lovely Gene Tierney who apparently used Whirlpool as a comeback after a two-year absence. Mike Leonard September 05.