To be finally able to see the outstanding 1956 film noir shocker A WOMAN’S DEVOTION would be in and of itself a wonderful treat. To see the pic in such a stunning new 4K HD widescreen master (thanks to the groovy folks at Kino Lorber Studio Classics and Paramount Home Entertainment) is movie-lover nirvana.
To say that most movie fans of the noir genre have probably never heard of A WOMAN’S DEVOTION would likely be an understatement. Its rarity and obscurity seem to not only have become legend, but amazingly was aided and abetted by its studio, Republic Pictures, which made the Mexican-shot nightmarish thriller (more on that later).
First off, A WOMAN’S DEVOTION is one of those noir subgenres I love, the contradictory film noir in color. To the purists and naysayers of color noir, I say “Piffle!” In my mind, those swirling, hypnotic picture-postcard visuals lend themselves to the WTF hopelessness that plague the key players in this and other rainbow pigmented noir entrees. Indeed, A WOMAN’S DEVOTION is like a FitzPatrick Travelogue, coproduced by Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy and the Manson Family. It is expertly directed by Paul Henreid – yep, that Paul Henreid. Viktor Laszlo and Jerry Durrance, that romantic Now Voyager dude, who simultaneously lights two cigarettes for himself Bette Davis (who could probably smoke two cigarettes simultaneously). Truth be told, that aside from being a terrific thesp, Henreid was an excellent director, and one who was especially lured to dark places (he did over two dozen spine-tingling Alfred Hitchcock Presents). And places don’t get much darker than A WOMAN’S DEVOTION.
Trevor and Stella Stevenson are a young, super-gorgeous honeymooning couple who descend upon a picturesque suburb of Acapulco. Trevor is finally enjoying the good life, after being through hell in Korea. Trauma couldn’t have a better cure than spending it with the beautiful woman of your dreams, and in a spectacular fantasy vacation spot like this lazy, sunny beach haven. But The Stevensons carry some baggage that can’t be alleviated by porters. Stella is helping Trevor recover from a breakdown due to the severe mental anguish experienced while under fire. Prior to arriving in Mexico, he had blacked out and disappeared for varying periods of time. He seems to be getting better, but then the blackouts begin again. As do a series of murders.
Captain Henrique Monterors, a wily Maigret-esque police inspector with an eye for the ladies (third lead Henreid, wearing the second of many hats; again, more on that later), increasingly delves into his “beat’s” newest tourists, and is alarmed at what he discovers (more unsolved murders). As all the loose ends become hangman’s knot-tight, the story spider-web-weaves into a spine-tingling airstrip hangar climax. It isn’t a satisfying one, veering toward gut-wrenching, but, hey, it’s film noir, baby!
The story for A WOMAN’S DEVOTION particularly intrigued Henreid. It was one of the first scripts and movies (if not THE first) to deal with PTSD. This makes AWD a landmark 1950s hunk of celluloid. The character of Trevor Stevenson isn’t played as a monster (although he is occasionally frightening), but as a victim – a victim with victims. The casting couldn’t be better. Stevenson is portrayed by Ralph Meeker, a year after his brilliant interpretation of Mike Hammer in Aldrich’s Kiss Me, Deadly. The sympathetic, suspicious and strong supporting wife is perfectly enacted by Janice Rule. The chemistry between the two stars is undeniable. They really seem to be into each other, a masterful stroke of casting by Henreid (the pair had made Broadway history as Hal and Madge in the original production of Picnic). Henreid himself is coy, sophisticated and charming as an Austrian-accented Mexican official. His womanizing is contrasted by his devotion (a word that hits many notes in this freakish concerto of violence) to his daughter (he’s a single parent). A nifty roster of supporting players include Jose Torvay as a creepy blackmailer, who may be on to Stevenson, and intends to milk this cash cow for all its parasitic juice, and, most startlingly Rosenda Monteros as a sensuous skank, working with Torvay. Monteros is an actress known for her innocence (she’s the village girl Horst Buchholz hooks up with in The Magnificent Seven). To see her as such an evil user is quite jaw-dropping.
The screenplay to A WOMAN’S DEVOTION is by Robert Hill. Henreid, himself, contributed to the writing, and while pleased with the final draft, was angered by what Republic did in post-production. They chopped out several sequences, which obviously wreaked havoc with the editorial flow and continuity of the narrative. To quote Henreid, “Apparently [Republic] didn’t understand the film at all and cut essential parts.” This is very noticeably evident when major characters vanish for long period of time (kinda like Meeker’s blackouts). The resulting 88-minute duration is still unusual and worthy enough to warrant not only a peek, but a purchase.
What Republic did on top of their butchery was even worse. They changed the title of the movie, depending upon where the picture was exhibited and/or if it wasn’t performing up to their expectations. Not once, but TWICE. At various times, it went out as A WOMAN’S DEVOTION, BATTLE SHOCK, and ACAPULCO. Audiences weren’t sure if this actually wasn’t three movies made back-to-back or what. They played it safe, and stayed away from all of them.
Monika Henreid recently shared some of her memories of the shooting of A WOMAN’S DEVOTION with me. “It was like a vacation for me. Not long ago I went through reels and reels of home movies we took while my father was filming the movie. He was extremely disappointed by what Republic did with it, as he had worked quite hard on the script, albeit uncredited. The title changes only made it worse.
“Republic was certainly a go-to studio for actors wanting to show their directing chops. The deal they made with my father, who had also directed some very successful movies, was that he could do it provided he also appeared in the picture. This was basically covering all the bases – a name in front of the camera could balance any problems that he/she might have behind the scenes. Of course, that wasn’t the case with my father [or other star/directors; the studio made the same arrangement with Ray Milland, who did a pair of great Republics, A Man Alone and Lisbon and Mark Stevens, who directed the fascinating noir Cry Vengeance]. Personally, I like the movie, but I don’t love it. It certainly is a landmark motion picture, as it seriously and intelligently handles the subject of PTSD. My problem with the movie is the color. I’m old school. Film noir should be in black and white. For instance, I love Hitchcock, but am not a fan of Vertigo or those later pictures [grrrrrrr, Monika, Vertigo is my favorite movie of all-time!]. For me, it’s The 39 Steps, Notorious, Strangers on a Train…
“That said, the movie does look beautiful and the acting is just fantastic. I should mention that both Janice Rule and Ralph Meeker were so nice to me, just great people. For years afterward, too. When I was pursuing an acting career in New York, Ralph was my protector. He offered sound advice on acting and the extracurricular activities that often go with it. I’d call Ralph, and tell him I was invited to so-and-so’s…’Don’t go,’ he’d warn me. He was my surrogate father. Just a sweet man. I also remember going to Janice’s home with my parents for parties and dinners, during the period when she was married to Ben Gazzara. So for me, memories of A WOMAN’S DEVOTION are happy ones.”
Monochrome purist or not, the Blu-Ray platter of A WOMAN’S DEVOTION should make Monika and all collectors even happier. It’s one of those great, new 1080p High Def restorations of the faded, dull TrueColor elements that will floor you. The colors look like Technicolor at its best, absolutely popping out of the screen (and doing justice to d.p. Jorge Stahl, Jr.’s magnificent cinematography). There’s no doubt in my mind that these Kino-Paramount-Republic restorations look better than they did in their original release. This could be one of their best. The mono audio is crisp, clear and features a score by Les Baxter. NOTE: while the Kino jacket indicates that the movie is presented in 2.35:1, A WOMAN’S DEVOTION is not a scope picture; the 1080p widescreen is in the proper, original aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
A suspenseful thriller worth rediscovering, A WOMAN’S DEVOTION will leave viewers startled and stranded in that OMG/WTF universe that only film noir can transport you to.
A WOMAN’S DEVOTION. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Paramount Home Entertainment. CAT # K22668. SRP: $24.95.