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The Bigamist: A 1953 Film Noir
The Bigamist is a film noir released in 1953 and cited as the first film wherein its film star is the film director as well. Ida Lupino, the film director stars in the film with Joan Fontaine, Edmond O’Brien, and Edmund Gwenn.
The story written by Collier Young is simple but gives viewers some relevant lessons. It is the story of a man who found himself in a situation that he did not plan but little by little, one step at a time, he has allowed himself to get tangled in a destructive web that he has created for himself.
The movie begins with HARRY GRAHAM (Edmond O’Brien) and his wife, EVE GRAHAM (Joan Fontaine) applying for adoption since Eve cannot bear a child. Their adoption agent, MR. JORDAN (Edmund Gwenn) has to make a background investigation about the couple in order to ensure that they qualify as good adoptive parents.
Harry and Eve Graham live in San Francisco where they engage in business. While Eve handles their affairs in San Francisco, Harry makes frequent business trips to Los Angeles.
During his investigation in Los Angeles, Mr. Jordan discovers that Harry Graham has been living a double life. Mr. Jordan discovers that Harry is listed in the phone book as Harrison Graham, and he finds him in a house with a baby and another wife. As Mr. Jordan is about to call the police, Harry asks him to listen to his story before he reports to the authorities.
Harry Graham's Story
Harry Graham tells Mr. Jordan his story.
It started when Eve found out that she could not bear a child and she became despondent. To keep his wife’s mind off her misery, Harry got her into his business and made her a business partner. Eve was good at it, she was a natural. She was happy but their time together became less, both in quality and in quantity.
On his trips to Los Angeles, he felt so lonely but he made extra effort to connect with his wife. He would call her but she would talk of nothing but business. When he came home, she could hardly spend alone time with him due to the pressures of their business.
Harry never planned to cheat on Eve but on one occasion, he met PHYLLIS (Ida Lupino) who was another lonely soul. They spent time together, and to show that Harry did not want to cheat on Eve, he called her and told her that she met a woman. But she laughed it off, and talked about business. The same thing happened when he tried to talk to Eve when he came back to San Francisco. He wanted them to go away together and forget business for sometime but Eve dismissed the idea.
On his next trip to Los Angeles, Harry came to see Phyllis again. The time they spent together developed into something deeper. Phyllis had made it clear that she did not want to know anything about Harry. She did not know that Harry was married and they got involved romantically. On Harry’s birthday, they spent the night together.
When he was back to San Francisco, Harry made up his mind to dedicate himself to his marriage. He decided to hire somebody to handle business in Los Angeles so that he and Eve would have more time together. To his surprise, Eve agreed to his plans and even apologized for not being emotionally present for him. She surprised Harry even more when she welcomed the idea of adoption which she rejected for several years.
Everything was going well until Eve’s father became ill and she was needed to help her mother out in Florida.
Harry stayed in San Francisco and started the process of adoption. After three months, Eve was still away and the business in Los Angeles needed Harry’s personal attention, so he had to go and there he found out that Phyllis was pregnant with his baby. She did not want anything from him but Harry insisted that he would take care of her and the baby.
His plan was to call Eve to confess his infidelity and ask for a divorce. But before he could say anything, Eve told him that her father died. She was distraught and he could not bear to give her another bad news. Instead, he went back to Phyllis and proposed to her.
He married Phyllis in Los Angeles and started his double life. He reasoned that he was going to divorce Eve after the adoption would be finalized so that Eve would at least have the child that she longed for when he left her.
Mr. Jordan tells Harry before he leaves his house, “I can’t figure out my feelings towards you. I despise you but I pity you. I don’t even want to shake your hand and yet I almost wish you luck.”
After Mr. Jordan leaves, Harry checks on his baby and the sleeping Phyllis. He writes a letter and leaves the house. In San Francisco, he was taken by the police. He could not even give an explanation to Eve.
Court Room Drama
Harry’s lawyer argued that it was such an irony, “If Harry Graham should have taken Phyllis as his mistress, some people would have winked an eye and turned their heads but because he gave her and the child she bore him an honorable place in the community, he must be utterly destroyed.”The judge tells the court:
“As the counsel for the defense has brought out, there’s irony in this case, tragic irony.
“I suspect that the defendant may have even loved both these women. Perhaps he even needed them both. I also suspect that he may now have lost them. When he’s once more a free man, it won’t be a question of which woman he’ll go back to but rather which woman will take him back.
“When a man even with the best intentions breaks the moral laws we live by, we really don’t need man-made laws to punish him. He’ll find out that the penalty of the court is always the smallest punishment.”
The movie ended with Phyllis and Eve leaving the court room and Harry was taken away to wait for his sentence hearing.
What is a Film Noir?
Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations.
No man plans to destroy his marriage. No man wants to hurt the woman he loves. No man deliberately destroys his life. But when a man starts to justify a wrong to make it right, then he is on the road to destruction.
Like most cheating husbands, he pointed some blame to Eve for not giving him the priority he needed.
Harry did not want to cheat on his wife. He did not plan to fall for Phyllis but he allowed himself to get closer to her, and he could not stop.
In one part of the movie, after a fight, he did try to leave Phyllis and planned to divorce her, promising to support her and the baby but when Phyllis apologized and asked him not to leave, he succumbed.
One scene particularly left a bad taste in my mouth. How could a husband be so callous as to propose to another woman right after talking to his distraught wife whose father just died?
He reasoned that he could not tell Eve about Phyllis because Eve’s father just died. Then he thought that he would leave Eve only after the adoption was finalized, at least she still had the child when he was gone. That’s the most unfair thing he could do to Eve who must have expected to raise the child with him.
The judge was right, perhaps Harry loved both women, perhaps he needed them both, but perhaps the truth was that he wanted to have it all.
He did not want to hurt Eve, he did not want to hurt Phyllis but he ended up hurting both of them and himself.
If you like “old” black and white films, and if you run out of current block busters to watch, this is a good substitute. You might pick up a lesson or two from this film.