A Woman's Devotion
Kino // Unrated // $24.95 // April 24, 2018
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted April 29, 2018
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Graphical Version
A Woman's Devotion (1956), a barely-noir thriller with no thrills offers some gorgeous Trucolor cinematography of unspoiled Acapulco. That almost justifies sitting through it once. Competent but extraordinarily draggy, the story takes forever to get underway. Its two murders occur off-camera, and the climax is a colossal disappointment.

Paul Henreid, Ingrid Bergman's husband, Victor Laszlo, in Casablanca (1942), directed A Woman's Devotion and co-stars in this Republic Pictures release filmed in Mexico. Ralph Meeker, hot off Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and a very young Janice Rule star. Wikipedia cites an interview with Henreid saying it "was ‘absolutely ruined' by the studio. ‘It was a decent film, not a great film by any means... apparently they didn't understand the film at all and they cut essential parts.'" It's difficult to imagine just how an even longer edit could have somehow transformed A Woman's Devotion into a better movie. Judging by the finished film, the cut scenes probably added a bit more shading to Henreid's character, but that certainly wouldn't have rescued the picture from the dull mediocrity it is.

Meeker and Rule play recent marrieds Trevor and Stella Stevenson, he an artist of some talent, and she his devoted, blissfully happy wife. However, he's a World War II veteran still suffering from the aftereffects of shellshock and amnesia, apparently triggered by the bombing of his hospital where many children died.

As part of an extended, open-ended vacation they arrive in Acapulco, staying in a cottage owned by Senora Reidl (Fanny Schiller). One evening Trevor, wandering alone and nursing a migraine, stops at a cantina and sketches a waitress there, and when he asks her to pose for him, she assumes he's offering her money for sex and takes him home.

The next day she's found murdered, and her husband, boxer Amigo Herrera (Yerye Beirute), and his mistress, Maria (Rosenda Monteros), coincidentally the maid at Stevenson's cottage, attempt to blackmail the young couple with pencil sketches Trevor apparently left there.

Widower Police Capt. Henrique Monteros (Paul Henreid) questions the couple, he vaguely attracted to Stella and increasingly concerned that her husband might have committed the murder.

The story unfolds at a snail's pace, made worse by the fact that Trevor spends at least a third of the picture in bed asleep and another third feeling woozy, while Herrera spends most of his screentime sleeping in bed or lounging in a hammock. After awhile these constant siestas become comical, with Trevor getting out of bed when Stella turns in or vice versa, and she telling the police at least three times that they can't talk to her husband because he's asleep.

(Spoilers) The plot turns on the essential question: Did Trevor murder the waitress, and later Maria? If someone else did the deed - who? Toward the end it becomes clear that, though given a clean bill of health, Trevor's wartime experiences trigger something like flashbacks to those wartime bombings, where he witnessed the deaths of perhaps hundreds of innocent children. Okay, but then why would those flashbacks cause him to become a serial strangler of young attractive women? Not only does this make no sense, it exhibits a particularly unflattering and medically inaccurate dramatization of mental illness.

(More Spoilers) When Trevor finally snaps for good, in an airplane hanger with Stella, he mistakes the sounds of plane engines as wartime bombers, thinks his wife is a nurse, and throws her to the ground to protect her. Why doesn't he try to strangle her? Capt Monteros and another policeman show up, and though the captain orders his man not to shoot the obviously ill Trevor, the trigger-happy cop fires his gun anyway, killing the hapless vet who never understood what was happening to him. The End. Hardly a satisfying conclusion.

Meeker and Rule were real-life lovers at the time, they having appeared together in the Broadway version of Picnic, though they parted ways long before movie was released. Each worked steadily thereafter, though neither achieved the promise they deserved and both died relatively young.

Video & Audio

As a Blu-ray, the only real draw to A Woman's Devotion is the 4K restoration, taken from the original negative and black-and-white separations, and which looks splendiferous. The unspoiled Mexican locations are colorfully intoxicating, a real contrast to Mexico's overdeveloped tourist cities today. Henreid drives around in a police car painted fire engine red and it practically drives off the screen, the image pops so. And while there's a faintly detectable layer of film grain, the image is razor-sharp, almost like a title taken from a VistaVision negative. Damage is visible in a couple of places and the opening titles are faded, but visually this is an outstanding disc. The audio, featuring a Les Baxter score, is 2.0 HD Master Audio mono and sounds fine. No subtitle options on this Region "A" disc.

Extra Features

No supplements.

Parting Thoughts

Visually sumptuous but not a good movie by any measure, for die-hard noir and classic film fans this is Recommended, but for like me probably one viewing will more than suffice.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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