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November 2010

The Woman In Question

cast: Jean Kent, Dirk Bogarde Susan Shaw, John McCallum, and Hermione Baddely

director: Anthony Asquith

85 minutes (PG) 1950
Odeon DVD Region 2

RATING: 5/10
review by Ian Sales

The Woman In Question

There's a clever idea at the heart of The Woman In Question, one which turns a murder mystery into something a little different. Agnes (Jean Kent) is found murdered in her bedroom; and Superintendent Lodge (Duncan Macrae), ably assisted by Inspector Butler (Joe Linnane), must discover who the culprit is. Yet everyone they interview in connection with the crime gives an entirely different description of the character of the deceased.

According to Mrs Finch (Hermione Baddely), the woman who 'does' for Agnes, the victim was a lady of quality, only ever appearing in languid poses in soft focus and talking posh in a low solicitous voice. And those she associated with were clearly inferior; even the woman's sister, Catherine (Susan Shaw), who, according to Mrs Finch, was nasty spiteful piece of work. And Bob Baker (Dirk Bogarde), the American chancer who was rehearsing a mind-reading act with Agnes; he was no good either. Yet to Susan, Agnes was a slut and a harlot.

Agnes' husband had been mortally wounded during the war and was now in hospital, and not expected to last much longer. She earned her living as a fortune-teller in a seafront arcade, but likely supplemented her income with 'gentleman friends'. And Bob was not the odious American as painted by Mrs Finch, but Susan's charming fianc´┐Ż. To Bob, Agnes was the chancer, who agreed to play the mind-reader in his act but then turned nasty when he rebuffed her advances. Across from Agnes' house was Mr Pollard's (Charles Victor) bird shop. He ran errands for her and helped out with decorating the house. He thought she was a lovely woman, as did Irish seaman Michael Murray (John McCallum), who asked her to marry him, despite only seeing her for a week at a time every three months.

Lodge and Butler interview each of the suspects to determine who murdered Agnes. None has any real alibi, and most made threats of one sort or another against the victim. There's nothing in any of the testimonies which might lead Lodge to identify the murderer. So it's fortunate that Agnes owned a parrot, gifted to her by Mr Pollard, and it is the fact it was overheard on the night the crime took place which tells Lodge who killed the woman in question.

As murder mysteries go, The Woman In Question is not especially satisfying. It's no Morse or Poirot. There are no clues which allow the viewer to single out the murderer, and it's only that final squawk which leads to the solution. As a character study, The Woman In Question is a little more successful, but even then it feels as though it could have been so much more. Each member of the cast are shown in one of two lights: good, or bad.

Most prove to be good, but misunderstood. Bob, for example, is a nice bloke - and not American at all, but from Liverpool. He pretends to be from the US in order to make himself stand out - which at least explains Bogarde's strangely variable accent. The characterisations of Agnes are somewhat extreme, from slut to lady of quality, and only the Irish sailor's depiction of her seems like a real person - which is unexpected given that he loved her and was probably most least likely of all to see her faults. And Susan is initially depicted as a snipe but then morphs into the typical well-spoken young lady often found in UK films of the period.

The Woman In Question is one of those films you watch on a Sunday afternoon when there's nothing on the television and it's chucking it down outside. As, in fact, I think I might well have done - since as soon as I started watching this DVD I knew I'd seen the film before but couldn't think where or when. It's not a classic by any means, but nor is it so bad it deserves to be forgotten. Anthony Asquith made better films, both before and after this one, but his reputation remains safe.



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