Driven in accidental part by watching Eleanor Parker in an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, and Sydney Greenstreet in The Mask of Dimitrios, we came to a Hollywood adaptation of Wilkie Collins‘s The Woman in White.
Now, Collins’s novel, which was published in 1859 by Charles Dickens immediately after the conclusion of the latter’s serialization of A Tale of Two Cities, caused a sensation, being a new kind of work of fiction, a mystery novel with elements of the grotesque and cruel, and made him, and, one would expect, Dickens, rather a lot of money. Collins was a bachelor bigamist, so wrote by the side (or sides) of a Victorian context that produced both exhaustion and, one would speculate, pleasure at its making.
The film’s script takes some liberties with the plot of the novel, the most entrancing perhaps being Greenstreet’s the Count Fosco, morbidly obese both in novel and on screen, engaging in hypnotic alterations of mind and personality, rather than restraining himself to an array of evil and morally questionable doings. The lady Marian becomes a cousin rather than devoted half-sister, and assumes a central role in the film that the novel had not entirely bequeathed the character. Max Steiner, the composer, smooths over a lot of this by night-time chordal progressions on the harp aided by occasional interjections from wonderfully lamenting bassoons.
It is all quite enjoyable to take in.