Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On Screen -- Rage in Heaven (1941)

A car passes through large iron gates and a visitor arrives at a Paris insane asylum.  An inmate, under an assumed name, who was being treated there makes his escape disguised as the visitor.  This is the first scene and our introduction to "Rage in Heaven."  So if first impressions mean anything to you when watching a film, then you know you're in for a good one.  It's a taut thriller with a top notch cast.

The escapee "Philip Monrell", a great performance by Robert Montgomery, returns home to his mother and somewhat prominent family in England, but on route there he runs into his friend "Ward Andrews", played by George Sanders, whose identity he's been impersonating.  He invites the friend to go home with him and when they arrive there he finds that his mother has hired a beautiful caretaker/companion named "Stella Bergen", a radiant and enchanting Ingrid Bergman.  All the characters in the deadly love triangle are now in place.  Philip loves Stella and marries her after a very short time.  Stella is married to Philip but secretly loves Ward and never admits it to anyone.  And last but not least, Ward is in love with Stella and can't say anything because she is married to his friend, Philip.  Watch the film, it's not as bad as it sounds.  When Philip tells Stella "I would die for you ... I would even kill for you", you know he really means it.

As I started watching the film I first thought Montgomery was a little stiff in playing the part of Philip.  But as the story continued I noticed that it was just the nervous tension in the part of the character that he was portraying.  And he does portray the part very well, every jealous, manipulative, paranoid, cold, and calculating bit (I don't think I left anything out).  The extremes that this twisted, disturbed and delusional character goes to to try and entrap his wife and friend are amazing.  I'm definitely sensing a "Hitchcock" type of influence in some of the scenes whether it be from the storyline or just from the cinematography and set decoration in general.  Also watch for Oscar Homolka in a smaller but very crucial role as "Dr. Rameau."  A nail-biting and satisfying ending wrap things up very nicely and overall this is a really, really good film.  It's strange that this film isn't mentioned more often when people speak of great drama and suspense films, it is without doubt, absolutely good enough.

The film is directed by W.S. Van Dyke who also brought us favorites like most of the films in the "Thin Man" series.  I would say that this film is suspenseful enough to satisfy even the most hardcore Hitchcock fan and definitely worth spending some time with.  Enjoy ...

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