I recently streamed a movie through Kentucky Libraries Unbound. It was a classic movie called The Bigamist (1953). The movie stars Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino, and Edmond O’Brien. Edmond O’Brien is the leading man, whose wife is played by Joan Fontaine (also seen in Rebecca, Jayne Ere, and The Women). They are trying to adopt a baby, and the adoption agency begins an investigation into the couple, during which Edmond O’Brien’s character draws suspicion and he becomes the focus of the investigation.
Brace yourselves, spoilers are coming!
During the investigation we begin to see what Edmond O’Brien is hiding. As the title suggests, his character, Harry/Harrison Graham is living a double life. The film explores, through the investigation and Mr. Graham’s (very subtly played) inner struggle, Harry/Harrison Graham’s double life came about.
The story unfolds as Mr. Jordan (played by none other than Edmund Gwenn, Kris Kringle from the original Miracle on 34th Street), from the agency, follows Graham’s work as a travelling salesman. Ultimately he catches up to Graham at his second home with Ida Lupino’s character, his second wife. As Mr. Jordan insists on coming in to talk, we hear a baby crying and the metaphorical levy is broken and Graham can no longer hold back. He admits his second wife, the mother of the child, their child together, is sick in bed as he stands in the living room and recalls the story of their meeting and marrying. We see their story play out as it happened, and when it is over, of course, the case goes to court. It ultimately ends basically unsure of the outcome. This movie is more the journey and less the destination. You end with the same conflicted feelings the characters experience during the film.
Personally, I feel much like Mr. Jordan feels. I’m disgusted by the lies and secrecy of Graham, but also feel a little pang of pity for him and the years of dysfunctional marriage between he and his first wife and the grasping and superficial relationship between he and his second wife. Although we can see that she seems to genuinely love him, much to her misfortune, he is never fully open to her and she seems always to have known she’d never scratch the surface with him.
I wouldn’t say there is any favorite character or line or scene to be had in this movie. It’s intriguing and it’s very true to life in its matter of fact presentation of the ugly and weaker aspects of human nature. It isn’t even that Harrison Graham doesn’t understand that what he’s doing is wrong or that he doesn’t feel remorse. It’s simply that he puts his needs above right and wrong, both his wives, his child, and the adoption of a second child. His second wife, Phylllis, must have known she couldn’t have a real marriage with him, but would rather cling to what she does have of him than let go. His first wife is disappointed by their inability to conceive such that she throws herself into her work with him to the detriment of all else in her life, including their marriage.
Overall, I would say there’s something for everyone to relate to in this movie if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, though you’ll hate yourself for recognizing any of it within your own character. This is not a feel good movie, but it is interesting and thought provoking. I liked it. If you have the chance to watch it, I recommend giving it a try if that’s something you like.