The Strange Woman (1946)
I first learned of Hedy Lamarr in a lyric of "Feed Me" from Little Shop of Horrors, which frames her as a great beauty of the classic era. That's been my opinion of her presence vs. her talent, having seen her in 14 movies now. Last January, I watched H.M. Pulham, Esq. and remarked...
Lamarr has never been trusted to do so much beyond looking pretty. Her finest performance by miles.
Her commanding performance here surpasses it, both in making a lasting impact and showing what a breathtaking woman she can be. The performance reminded me of Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind, but with more personal agency and clever tactics to get men to do what she wants. (The Noir influence is here more than in the lighting.) She even borrows Leigh's raised eyebrow to let you know she has a plan. The rest of the acting is at Bette Davis' level.
The film never quite hits the heights, mainly because the men lack dimension. George Sanders is a fine actor, but terribly miscast as a lumberjack. (I had to include the image above because Sanders as a Brawny Man isn't easy to picture.) There's also a terrible late act religious ceremony to give Lamarr guilt. Ulmer stages scenes better when it's about visual emotion instead of thudding dialogue. A number of shots feature fire in the background, cutting through the darkness and waiting for Lamarr like visual Hellfire.Rating: ★ ★ ★ - Okay