Yesterday we watched Dragonwyck (1946), starring Gene Tierney and Vincent Price. It’s one of those films that’s hard to pigeonhole. Is it a Gothic romance, or a psychological thriller? A historical story, or a mystery? It contains elements of them all.
Gene Tierney plays a Connecticut farm girl who, in 1844, goes to live with her distant cousin Nicholas (Price), a great patroon of the Hudson valley, in his ancient mansion, Dragonwyck. Nicholas is trying to hold on to a tradition of feudal privilege that is fast passing away; meanwhile, his wife and little daughter don’t seem quite the ticket. By and by the wife dies under puzzling circumstances, the little girl is sent abroad, and Nicholas, obsessed by the desire to have a son, sweeps his Connecticut cousin into marriage. And from that point on, things get very pear-shaped.
You’ll never guess who steals the show. She only has one major scene, in which she exhibits suppressed evil, subtle malice, and perhaps a hint of deep-seated madness. I mean, she really creeps you out! And it’s all the more effective for being underplayed.
Yup, you guessed it–Spring Byington, that’s who. You know her best from old TV sitcoms; she was the star of December Bride and popped up in countless other shows. You won’t believe what she does in her role as Nicholas’ housekeeper. Her performance alone is worth several viewings–although Vincent Price is well worth watching, too. (Come to think of it, there weren’t very many actors who could have inhabited the wide spectrum of characters played by Price in his career. He really was a unique artist.)
Dragonwyck is not an easy movie to get your hands on, but if you ever have a chance to see it, go for it. You’ll want to see it more than once, so perhaps it belongs in your film library.