So shocking she could only be spoken about in whispers!
Edgar G. Ulmer and The Strange Woman. A presumably forgotten film by a forgotten director. Ulmer’s been so forgotten, that most of his movies have fallen into the public domain. So too is the case with The Strange Woman. The difference here, however, is that Ulmer had a bit of star power and a budget behind him; as opposed to the usual “B” movie material he was usually besotted with.
Here he is given Hedy Lamarr in the lead role of Jenny Hager, a conflicted woman to say the least, but more on that later. In support George Sanders, though to be honest he just pops in periodically and didn’t make much of an impression. Also here is Louis Hayward, as Lamarr’s much older husband Ephraim Poster.
What star power, you say? Well, if you haven’t seen The Strange Woman I suggest you do as it is perhaps Hedy Lamarr’s finest work, here in a role you’d more easily see a Bette Davis type in. You see, Hedy Lamarr portrays here a woman who, somewhat on the run from an abusive and drunken father, runs to her beau’s home. Unfortunately, he isn’t home- being abroad, but his father (Gene Lockhart) is. In an effort to provide a safe haven for Jenny (Lamarr), it is decided in a meeting of the town elders for Hayward to marry the much younger Lamarr. In retrospect, Lamarr may have had this in mind the entire time.
You see, as a result of the abuse from her father Jenny seeks to completely dominate the men in her world and in turn the world which, at least to this point in her life, has dominated her. She marries the father but lures his son back to Bangor and torturingly teases him to the point of his own demise- all along playing his affections off against his somewhat dimwitted father. She also chases after the beau (George Sanders) of one of her childhood friends, who has since become a prostitute. Not through any love, mind you, but just to control yet another man.
Yet, in spite of this Jenny truly isn’t entirely evil, and there are more than a few parallels to Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Take a good look at Lamarr’s wardrobe, especially the hats. Even some of the shots look like outtakes from GWTW. There is a good side to Jenny, as she donates generously to the Church and seems to truly care about those who’ve been through similar experiences and try to help them to boot.
And no, The Strange Woman isn’t Mildred Pierce, but it shows what Hedy Lamarr could do when given good material that required her to stretch a bit and do more than just look good. (She also produced it.) It is sad that ultimately her lack of good roles and general dissatisfaction led her to an early retirement. Sadder still that most today remember her as an obscure (to some) reference in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles.
Yes, there are flaws here. Most notably, accents seem to come and go with no pattern and there are a few somewhat incongruous lapses in the story. Lamarr, even with some sporadic lapses carries the cast, as even George Sanders seems a non-entity, though granted in his defense he is in one of his admittedly lesser roles. The character of the prostitute really goes nowhere and the audience could really care less that she loses her beau, though Lamarr’s claim that the weather made her do it is priceless even if hokey.
The Strange Woman is, as noted above, available in the public domain but isn’t as readily available as you’d think given that status- but there are still several DVD versions available and it comes through the old TCM on rare instances.
Check it out. The Strange Woman is a well done, if not perfect, melodrama. Atmospheric and with good ambiance, especially given what the uninitiated would view as second rate talent. And yes, that view would be incorrect, at least in this instance.