Agreeable nothing...which isn't saying much. Sony Pictures' fun Choice Collection line of hard-to-find cult and library titles has released The Whole Truth, the 1958 murder mystery from Romulus Films (distributed by Columbia Pictures), directed by John Guillermin, scripted by Jonathan Latimer, and starring Stewart Granger, Donna Reed, George Sanders, and Gianna Maria Canale. Directed with Guillermin's usual impassive facility, The Whole Truth should have packed more of a punch than it does, what with that talented cast and crew. However...when all is said and done, it's a rather familiar exercise in suspense--not unwatchable, to be sure, but conceived and executed with little surprise or genuine style. No extras for this sharp, good-looking black and white widescreen transfer.
The south of France, 1958. Movie producer Max Poulton's (Stewart Granger) latest shoot is in trouble. Star Gina Bertini (Gianna Maria Canale) is throwing one temper tantrum after another, and only handsome Max can calm her down...the way he used to calm her down. Max, on the other hand, isn't going to stray again from his sweet American wife, Carol (Donna Reed); the secret affair he had with Gina, while separated from Carol, is going to remain a secret and in the past. Gina, however, has other ideas; namely: sleep with me, or I tell your wife what happened. Defeated, a thoroughly dejected Max suffers through the humiliation of repeatedly nailing insanely gorgeous Gina in a luxurious hotel room, only to return to his home where Carol is throwing a party. After a fast shower (natch), he meets his unexpected party guest, Inspector Carliss of Scotland Yard (George Sanders). You see, Carliss of the Yard, working with local man, Inspector Simon (Michael Shillo), on an international smuggling case, is at Max's house as a favor to the Inspector: he'd like to know if Max knows anything about the murder of Gina Bertini this evening? Floored, Max stonewalls and lies to the charming Carliss of the Yard before he hightails it out of the house and removes everything of his that he left at Gina's mountaintop villa. Returning to the party again, Max meets his next unexpected house guest: Gina herself, very much alive and ready to spill the beans on cheating Max. Doubly floored this time, Max manages to maneuver the loud, drunken Gina out of the house before she makes her embarrassing announcement. Driving her back to her villa, Max opens the door and turns on the lights, and returns to his Jag to find Gina. Dead.
With that crew and cast, why isn't The Whole Truth socko entertainment? Executive producers John and James Woolf had vaulted Romulus Films into one of the most successful international production units of the 1950s, with huge critical and commercial successes such as The African Queen, Moulin Rouge, and Richard III (one of their biggest successes, Room at the Top, was set to debut next year). Hands-on producer Jack Clayton was cutting his teeth at Romulus with fare like The Whole Truth before his break-out directorial effort for them, the above-mentioned Room at the Top, with critical hits The Innocents and The Pumpkin Eater soon to follow. Director John Guillermin, English born but early trained in Hollywood, had had his first big success in 1957's Town on Trial, with John Mills, and the same year as The Whole Truth, he'd have an international success with Mills again in I Was Monty's Double, with future big screen entertainments such as Tarzan's Greatest Adventure, The Blue Max, The Bridge at Remagen, The Towering Inferno, and Death on the Nile to follow. Screenwriter Jonathan Latimer, working from a Philip Mackie play here, was a respected American crime author (the William Crane mystery series) and Hollywood scripter (The Glass Key, The Big Clock, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes).
The three main leads, although no longer A-listers by 1958, were still big stars in the eyes of producers and the public, and certainly more than equipped for this sort of light entertainment. Handsome, well-spoken Granger, here ten years past his peak as a British matinee idol, had subsequently "gone Hollywood" to overall moderate success at M-G-M, scoring early big hits like King Solomon's Mines and Scaramouche, before tapering off into middling box office and critical efforts like Green Fire, The Last Hunt, Bhowani Junction and The Little Hut. Donna Reed, having failed to capitalize on her big Supporting Actress Oscar win for 1953's From Here to Eternity, was subsequently stuck in undistinguished roles in such unremarkable outings as Gun Fury, Three Hours to Kill, The Far Horizons, The Benny Goodman Story, and Beyond Mombasa (perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, The Whole Truth would be her last feature film effort before successfully segueing into television with her big sitcom hit, The Donna Reed Show). Sanders, a former Academy Award winner himself, never had either of Granger's or Reed's problem--carrying an A-list movie by himself--so supporting roles in movies like The Whole Truth were fairly routine by this point in his slowly, slowly less important career...if usually not very artistically rewarding for the notoriously mercurial actor, either.
So why with all that talent in front of and behind the camera, is The Whole Truth passably entertaining...but barely memorable? There's nothing wrong here with Guillermin's patented smooth, gliding camerawork style (courtesy of cinematographer and future Ray Harryhausen collaborator, Wilkie Cooper), with that jazzy, Pink Panther-ish opening promising the viewer a glossy, fun movie (I wonder if Blake Edwards saw this?). In this same vein, the production design is executed nicely, with the largely studio-bound evocation of the French Riviera, right down to intricate street sets, quite amusing (this is the kind of faux-glitter piece where one doesn't question at all the incongruous sight of handsome Granger, clad in a tux, nervously rifling a villa for his toiletries--in fact, that's part of the fun of this type of movie). Unfortunately, The Whole Truth is a pretty package indeed, and attractively wrapped...but with very little inside it. The movie's biggest problems seem to be a bad case of deja vu in terms of the mystery itself (if you can't tell what's going on the minute snide Sanders shows up, you need to turn in your Miss Marple Junior Sleuth Club membership card), coupled with a curiously enervated tone that's exactly wrong for this overly-familiar storyline: you want to go fast past those plot holes and silly coincidences, not linger over them.
Everyone and everything seems terribly tired and laid-back here, sleepily stunned, if you will, by the fore-knowledge that what they're working on isn't very important, nor particularly distinguished. It's a big casting mistake to have Reed here, who's far too wholesome and American and Midwestern to be so believably cosmopolitan about Granger's cheating (talented Reed, bland and calm and Americanly pert here, is an incongruous sight next to blocky Granger and slithery Sanders). Sanders, terminally bored as usual, could (and usually did) phone in this kind of performance, which he does here, until he's asked for a big scene where he reveals himself to be a psychotic, revengeful cuckold, a scene for which he does himself no favors (Sanders' casting is fine for the schemer aspect of his character, but we hardly believe that supremely egomaniacal uber-snot Sanders would snivel about a cheating spouse). As for Granger, well...he shows here exactly why he didn't make it as a top-flight Hollywood A-lister: technically proficient, handsome, moves well...but essentially unexciting at his core (an assessment that the observant Granger later would not have necessarily disagreed with). As a man, torn between two passionate women, running for his life, Granger is almost ridiculously blase and content in the face of such tension; even when he's scaling phony village walls and running down indoor studio streets, his expression is one of careful composure and an approximation of emotional involvement. His character isn't even given a chance to engage Sanders physically at the finale (neither one looks too particularly interested in fisticuffs, anyway); Granger just sort of...lets Sanders slide away and hang himself. Which, come to think of it, is as good a take on The Whole Truth, on the whole, as you're going to get.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.