STAR OF THE MONTH: BARBARA STANWYCK
FILM: THE TWO MRS. CARROLL’S ( 1947 )
Barbara Stanwyck is the most versatile actress to ever grace the silver screen, so when it was announced that Barbara was to be the star of the month for June, it was hard to choose which film to write about, as during the annals of her illustrious career, Stanwyck has starred in an array of spectacular productions that each hold a special place in my heart, and when it came down to selecting just one, the task proved to be difficult, but with Mum’s suggestion, I decided to go with “The Two Mrs. Carroll’s”, the only onscreen pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Humphrey Bogart.
Considering the fact that the film was largely panned at the box office, many people may not believe it, but as with the case of a myriad of other motion pictures, “The Two Mrs. Carroll’s” was based on a stage play by Marguerite Vale Veiller, the wife of the notable writer, Bayard Veille. After Marguerite’s show of the same title opened in London in 1935, it was changed around completely and was later rewritten before moving to Broadway in 1943, where it received critical acclaim, most notably for Elizabeth Bergner, the actress who delivered an electrifying portrayal of Sally Morton Carroll to an extent that her performance overshadowed the play by garnering wide encomium for the star, instead of the production.
Bergner’s success transformed her into a sensation of the stage and earned her many followers that would imitate her, dress like her, especially one young fan, who would show up at the stage door night after night trying to catch a glimpse of Elizabeth. When she noticed the girls constant presence, she agreed to meet with her, and eventually became her mentor by sponsoring her career in the theater. This would lead to her attaining the role as Bergner’s understudy, and causing chaos in the life of Elizabeth Bergner, so much that the story was delectable enough to be turned into a short story in 1946, titled “The Wisdom Of Eve”, which was adapted into the 1950 masterpiece “All About Eve”, starring Bette Davis and Anne Baxter.
Elizabeth Bergner’s triumphant performance also attracted the attention of Warner Brothers, who were interested in making the stage play into a movie that would star Bette Davis in the role as Sally with Jesse L. Lasky as producer. However no screenwriter had been assigned and Warners would have to pay for film rights, which they did along with purchasing the rights to the Ayn Rand novel “The Fountainhead”. Once everything was in place, they decided that Barbara Stanwyck should play Sally Carroll Morton, and Mervyn LeRoy to serve as director, although before they were officially cast, the film went through several alterations with the cast and script, but on February 9th, 1945, it was announced that Humphrey Bogart would star alongside Stanwyck, and Stanwyck’s close friend, Peter Godfrey would direct.
There are many reasons why Barbara Stanwyck opted to do the film. At the time shooting was to commence, Stanwyck’s husband, Robert Taylor was serving in the U.S. military in World War II, and it was obvious that he wouldn’t return to his home soil for a long period of time. With Robert away, Barbara wanted to elude boredom by going to work. She was also eager to be in another picture in which Peter Godfrey placed his directorial efforts. Ever since meeting Godfrey on the set of “Christmas In Connecticut”, Stanwyck became close friends with him and his wife, and would spend every Friday night dining with them. When Peter and his wife died, Barbara came a mother figure to their three young daughters.
Filming for “The Two Mrs. Carroll’s” commenced in April 1945, and considering the many delays in the shooting period, they were finished in June. In the middle of the production, on May 21st, Humphrey Bogart married Lauren Bacall, and with their honeymoon already planned, there was a brief hiatus during the filming to accommodate them.
Once the film was complete, there was a delay with the release date. Even though the production wrapped up in June of 1945, the picture wasn’t released until March 4th, 1947. The reason for the delay is varied with conflicting stories, one of them being that “The Two Mrs. Carroll’s” had strong similarities with the 1944 Film Noir, “Gaslight” starring Ingrid Bergman. Though other historians deny that claim and insists that it was feared that Bogart’s performance in the picture would affect his rising popularity in Hollywood.
When the film was finally released in 1947, it opened to negativity with the picture being very poorly received at the box office, and critics being highly calumnious of the film. The British press weren’t too conciliatory either, claiming that the movie’s “quaint old English” atmosphere was too over the top and amusing to be honestly depicting of London’s real mood and ambience. Luckily for Stanwyck and Bogart, their performances were mainly overlooked, with the only inimical response being that the two leads were miscast, however legions of fans and historians worldwide tend to disagree with that statement by retorting that Barbara Stanwyck and Humphrey Bogart were both suited and accustomed to the Film Noir genre.
The plot revolves around the story of Geoffrey Carroll ( Humphrey Bogart ),a struggling painter, who meets Sally Morton ( Barbara Stanwyck ) during a vacation in the country. The two immediately fall in love, but Sally soon discovers that Geoffrey is hiding a dark secret from her, and is astounded when she reveals that he is already married with a daughter.
Two years later, after the death of the first Mrs. Carroll, Geoffrey is married to Sally and living in the cathedral town of Ashton. At first everything is peaceful, until a repeat of the events leading up to the death of the first Mrs. Carroll occurs, and Sally starts to fear that Geoffrey murdered his first wife, and that she maybe his next victim. When she distinguishes that he is also painting her as the “Angel Of Death”, she elicits the truth, and now she must elude herself from being Geoffrey’s next casualty from milk poisoning.
“The Two Mrs. Carroll’s” is not actually a bad movie, it’s only made out to be erroneous because it was degraded on it’s release. The film was partly insignificant because of Peter Godfrey’s shortcomings as a director, though being close friends with Peter, Barbara Stanwyck dismissed that the pictures main fault was with the director. That being said, Peter Godfrey was not totally inexperienced in his work. Prior to this, Godfrey had a few notable productions on his credit, including “Christmas In Connecticut”, where he and Stanwyck became close friends.
The critics response to the film couldn’t be more false. “The Two Mrs. Carroll’s” is everything a Noir should be. It contains many elements of suspense, mystery and English humor, that keeps you enthralled from beginning to end. Another reason why the film is so appealing, is the solid support from the two main stars. Both Barbara Stanwyck and Humphrey Bogart delivered commendable performances, but because of the lack of appreciation for the movie, their thunderous portrayals has been overlooked. I know many say they were miscast. I disagree with that statement. Barbara Stanwyck was adept at the Film Noir genre, and with such versatility in her range as an actress, she could play anything. As for Bogart, and the claims that he was out of character. At the time filming took place, he was in the midst of marrying Lauren Bacall, and with Lauren, Bogart had finally found true love and happiness, so with his mind fully occupied on marriage and their relationship, it’s only natural that he may have appeared out of sync.
Another desirable feature in the movie are the costumes. For a film that is premeditated as a B grade production, you wouldn’t be able to guess. Some of Hollywood’s most eminent costume designers were hired for the wardrobe aspect of the film. Barbara Stanwyck’s gowns in “The Two Mrs. Carroll’s” were designed by Edith Head, who has been crowned as the most prolific costume designer of the day, creating garments for innumerable masterpieces , as well as an array of other productions, and her efforts in this are just as exquisite as her myriad of lavish clothing she has designed for motion pictures. To add to Edith Head’s fastidious exhibition is the wardrobe supervision by Milo Anderson, who provided the wardrobe accompaniment in a lot of Stanwyck’s films. Like Edith Head, Milo Anderson achieved superior results for his meticulous detail in clothing and fashion accessories.
“The Two Mrs. Carroll’s” is the perfect example of why you should never take other people’s judgment to heart. After several viewings of this great classic, I would definitely recommend it to anyone, especially fans of Humphrey Bogart, as his role of Geoffrey Carroll, is unlike anything else he’s ever done. It’s not often you see Bogart playing a psychotic villain, and needless to say he really executed his part as the antagonist right down to a tee.
Bogart and Stanwyck had a friendly relationship on set. Producer Mark Hellinger, whom Bogart liked very much, announced that Bogart would not be seen in any painter’s wardrobe which would appear unmasculine. When a painter’s smock and beret with a tassle showed up on his wardrobe clothes rack one day, the actor was furious. The smock and beret were a joke perpetrated by Stanwyck, and the two performers had a good laugh afterward.
Geoffrey Carroll: “I have a feeling this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful hatred.”
Barbara Stanwyck: Born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16th, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. Died: January 20th, 1990 in Santa Monica, California. Aged 82.
Humphrey Bogart: Born Humphrey DeForest Bogart on December 25th, 1899 in New York. Died: January 14th, 1957 in Westwood, California. Aged 57.