Despite the fact that The Two Mrs. Carrolls made motion picture history as the first and only onscreen collaboration between Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck, even the A-level stars couldn’t elevate WB’s awkwardly clunky B-movie hybrid of Film Noir and Brontë tinged gothic romance with delusions of Hitchcockian grandeur.
And while the poor quality of the final cut could’ve certainly been a factor indeed, ultimately the real reason behind the studio’s undisclosed decision to shelve 1945’s The Two Mrs. Carrolls for two years before Warner Brothers released it theatrically in ’47 is anyone’s guess.
Obviously unlike fine wine, celluloid doesn’t ripen with time, particularly in the case of Carrolls since Warner Brothers didn’t use the two year bonus to their advantage to reshoot and reshape director Peter Godfrey’s work.
Yet even though the date change didn’t enhance or detract from the movie as a whole, in retrospect when you consider the timing of the project and the timeline of Bogie’s life, it’s safe to say that the scheduling delay was a wise PR move all around.
While it wasn’t the first or the last time that Bogie would portray not just a villain but a real bona fide lady killer in a strange role as a Bluebeard-esque painter who seduces and marries beautiful muses before he lavishes them with poisoned milk and repeats the process of tracking down a younger, lovelier new Mrs. Carroll, to say that the timing in ’45 would’ve been unfortunate is a gross understatement.
Namely, because the production coincided with Bogart’s highly publicized divorce of his third wife in order to wed the much younger woman who would become the love of his life in the form of Lauren Bacall, it only takes a second to understand why audiences wouldn’t have exactly lined up around the block to see Bogart poison his old wife to death to marry a new one.
Still as macabre as it is, it was one of three crime fueled Bogie-centric B-movies served up by the Brothers Warner in ’47 alongside Dead Reckoning and the film that is perhaps his least well-known pairing with Bacall – Dark Passage – that finds him ironically playing the flipside to his guilty Carrolls killer as an innocent man convicted of his wife’s murder.
Lacking the visual style and rat-a-tat gunfire battle of other ’40s Noirs, the watered-down Mrs. Carrolls is likewise far too transparent and predictable to be considered gothic given the way that it reveals the true nature of Bogart far too early on and squanders ample opportunities for character misdirects and mood-setting plot evolutions in screenwriter Thomas Job’s workmanlike adaptation of Martin Vale’s stage play.
As visibly bored as Bogart looks, he fortunately gets the opportunity to spring to life in a requisite horror movie style conclusion that makes the most out of Hitchcock Rebecca, Rear Window and Suspicion composer Franz Waxman’s score as both actor and musician try to hide the script’s shortcomings with their artistic enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, as the film’s would-be victim, talented Double Indemnity double-crossing Ball of Fire Barbara Stanwyck is completely underutilized in her role as Bogart’s maddeningly clueless, virginal wife to the point that reliable supporting player Alexis Smith easily upstages her as the sexually aggressive flirt out to become the third Mrs. Carroll.
Aside from an impressively eye-catching digital restoration for the forgotten flick’s straight-from-the-vault entry into the studio’s pot of film buff gold Warner Archive Collection, it’s a disappointing film overall.
Nonetheless, as the sole showcase for Bogart and Stanwyck working side-by-side in an undeniably less than idealized endeavor, Carrolls is sure to attract devotees of the Hollywood icons.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.