One night, a strange man, George Bates (Gary Merrill, All About Eve), appears on the doorsteps of a famous mystery writer, Janet Frobisher (Bette Davis), who lives alone in the English countryside. The stranger is on the run from the police after robbing a bank with the help of Janet’s estranged husband.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“The night air teems with unexpected guests.”
Despite its intriguing premise, this British thriller is a small disaster. Essentially a B-movie with delusions of grandeur, Another Man’s Poison is a sluggish and indecisive melodrama that relies mostly on star Bette Davis’s titanic energy to keep it from complete collapse — Davis almost makes you forget that the film makes no sense.
Stodgily directed by Hollywood director Irving Rapper (Now, Voyager) from a screenplay by Val Guest (The Quatermass Xperiment) based on Leslie Sands’s 1948 play Deadlock, Another Man’s Poison is preposterous and far-fetched. The acting feels forced on occasions, and some scenes are unintentionally funny.
Davis and then husband Gary Merrill make, however, a fine pair of sociopaths. I just thought the material was beneath their talents. They try hard (maybe too hard) to infuse life into a movie that isn’t deserving of such dedication. Emlyn Williams, an actor and dramatist better known for his plays Night Must Fall and The Corn is Green (Davis starred, of course, in the 1945 film adaptation), offers fine support as a nosey neighbor.
In his 1988 autobiography Bette, Rita and the Rest of My Life, actor Merrill insists that the film’s producers — Daniel M. Angel and actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (Sinbad the Sailor) — wanted Davis so badly for the film that they practically “offered her near the whole world.” Although she didn’t like the screenplay, Davis was (finally) persuaded to do the movie when husband Merrill was given the male lead in the movie.
Because Davis and Merrill were unhappy with the script, co-star Williams was asked to rewrite many scenes. Another Man’s Poison does have a few good moments, and I’m inclined to believe that these tidbits of excellence were the direct result of Williams’s last-minute work. Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, “there’s not nearly enough flour for a cake here” — Guest’s script was broken beyond repair.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Another Man’s Poison is too sloppy for me to recommended it. I enjoyed Bette Davis and Gary Merrill’s performances, but the movie intermittently slips into camp territory. Anyhow, this kind of stuff was done much better in films like Sleuth (1972) and Deathtrap (1982). The film was shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Krasker’s (Odd Man Out and The Third Man). B&W, 90 minutes, Not Rated.