The film starts with a visual representation of Edward “Teddy” Bare’s (played by Dirk Bogarde) mind. A stark, dark, confusing labyrinth, with the face of a screaming woman. The things in the labyrinth: a stuffed ape, a clown, would be mundane in the sunlight, in the sane world, but in this place they are representations of utter terror. Teddy’s eyes glimmer like a predator’s in the dark as he stares at his wife, the screaming woman, Moni (played by Mona Washbourne).
Teddy is a indeed a predator. An apex predator, who preys on old lonely women and those of his “own class”, as he says near the film’s end. His mind is a warped cavern of calculation and greed. After he murders Moni, in the belief that he will inherit her money, his mind begins to erode. It has been doing so for years, but now it has become completely unmoored. He talks to his dead wife’s favourite rocking chair, preserves the room in which she slept. His second wife, Frieda (played by Margaret Lockwood), says that it is like Bluebeard’s chamber.
Not only is the room that he preserves a manifestation of his homme fatale status, but so is his mind and physicality. Dirk Bogarde’s performance is exceptional on every level. His mannerisms, the expressiveness of his eyes and the way he carries himself are completely different to what I associate with his screen image. He’s no less beautiful, but his beauty has become something that is thin and rotten just beneath the surface. Like the classic mould of the femme fatale he is seductive, mysterious and capable of utter destruction of those around him. And like a femme fatale he will do anything that will guarantee that events reach the outcome of his desires.
But what are Teddy’s desires? He wants monetary gain, that is quite clear. And he ensures that he slowly addles Moni’s brain and kills her for this reason, and makes sure that he tricks the savvy Frieda into marrying him. But this is complicated by his one sided conversations with the dead Moni. Does he feel guilty about murdering her in such a calculated way, or does he want love, affection, the things that “normal” people crave? This never really becomes clear. He preserves a shrine to a woman he killed through a slow, careful plot. Maybe this is because he misunderstood her intentions and killed her before she left him her money, and he wants to remind himself not to make the same mistake again. But perhaps this is due to a twisted kind of love. Somehow it seems like a combination of both.
Bogarde and Lockwood’s interactions in the film are absolutely show stealing. They match each other beat for beat. Bogarde is the hunter looking for easy prey, he thinks he’s found it in Margaret’s seemingly “cheap” widow. But he’s mistaken. Frieda is no fool, though, she wants their marriage to be “pound for pound”, unlike Moni who wanted to entrust her entire fortune to Teddy. But even Frieda is fooled into loving Teddi, and at the film’s climax, when she has learned what a twisted, pathological creature she has married, she still loves him. This reminds me of Bart Tare in Gun Crazy. Even though Annie has led him to destruction, he cannot stop loving her. Frieda is in the same position. Margaret Lockwood’s expression shows the utter heartbreak she has undergone for the first time in her life, the sorrow at not only being made the fool, but losing the one man she allowed herself to love.
Much is made of Dirk Bogarde’s eyes in the film, which, to me, were always the most striking part of his face. He manages to make them look both sinister and childlike, like dark pools with strange shimmers in them. When he is confronted by his crimes towards Moni, his face and body are bathed in shadow, but his eyes are lit up in a curve of light, seemingly bottomless and rivetingly wide. There is nothing affected about his performance. While his mind constantly ticks over in a dangerously mechanical way, he touches his face like a child whilst in thought, and lies across the couch like a little boy. He acts out of spite towards Phillip (played by Robert Flemyng) the lawyer who is rightfully suspicious of his motives. But then he acts out extreme toxic masculinity by treating Moni like a little girl and threatening to beat an unimpressed and unafraid Frieda.
While Frieda and Teddy’s relationship is central to the film, especially in terms of the Bluebeard and Robber Bridegroom aspect, Teddy doesn’t only kill Moni but also seemingly attempts to consume everything about her, from her house to her fortune; as is whether or not he will kill Frieda and be found out for his coldblooded murdering of Moni, his mind’s workings are really what drive the film. This is best shown when he is confronted with his crimes by Phillip and Moni’s younger sister, Dora, he caves in on himself like a small boy, and asks Moni what he should do.
Moni seemingly steers him right to begin with, but then perhaps sweet Moni gets her revenge, because Teddy makes a fatal error. And Moni’s rocking chair slowly moves back and forth, alone in the darkness, seen between the gently billowing curtains of the door that Teddy entered through before killing Moni.
This is my contribution for the CMBA 2019 Spring Blogathon. Please visit their website for more information.