One cold, dampy 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. But the fugitive slowly realizes that Janet is harboring a dark secret …
Reaction & Thoughts:
Stagey, high-pitched British melodrama made palatable thanks to some fine performances and the juicy repartee between the characters. Directed by 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 essentially a B-movie infused with a heavy dose of star power — Davis’s titanic energy often makes you forget the fact that the whole thing makes little sense.
Frankly, I found the movie preposterous and far-fetched. I just didn’t buy into the premise of the film. And some scenes are unintentionally funny. This kind of stuff was done much better in films like Joseph L. Mankewicz’s Sleuth and Sidney Lumet’s Deathtrap. But Davis and Merrill make a fine pair of sociopaths and their cat-and-mouse mind games are fun to watch. Emlyn Williams, a playwright and sometimes actor, 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.
Another Man’s Poison was originally offered to Gloria Swanson (she chose to do a play instead) and Barbara Stanwyck (marital problems prevented her from accepting the film). Neither Davis nor Merrill thought much of the script. In Merill’s biography Bette, Rita and the Rest of My Life, the actor insists that one of the producers, Daniel M. Angel (Davis’s old co-star Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was the other producer), offered Davis “near the whole world.” Although she didn’t like the script, Davis was finally persuaded to do the film when her then husband Merrill was offered the male lead.
Director Rapper, who was imported from Hollywood to England at Davis’s request, didn’t like the script either. Davis and Williams rewrote most of the script, but Davis would later admit that it was a hopeless situation. There ARE some good pieces of dialogue and I’m inclined to believe that those 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 not a bad movie; it’s just a bit too hysterical for my taste. I enjoyed the performances, but the movie intermittently slips into camp territory. The film was shot by Oscar-wining cinematographer Robert Krasker’s (The Third Man). With Anthony Steel (Malta Story) and Barbara Murray (Passport to Pimlico). B&W, 90 minutes, Not Rated.