DR. CRIPPEN. 1963. DIRECTED BY ROBERT LYNN. STARRING DONALD PLEASENCE, CORAL BROWNE AND SAMANTHA EGGAR. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
Well, well, well. You learn something new every day. I always thought that Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen was on a par with Jack The Ripper or Ted Bundy for his misogynistically prolific woman-killing. Leastways, that’s the way he always seems to be talked about.
When I recently watched this deeply sympathetic treatment of Crippen’s crimes, I found out that it’s in fact only crime, singular, that we’re dealing with here. Not plural like I’d always thought, and certainly not multiple. Which is to say, he only killed one woman.
Yes, of course I know that even one is too many. It’s just that I thought he had a rap sheet as long as my arm. My arm is a normal length, by the way. It’s not some freaky-ass kind of weird extra-long super-limb. I’m just saying.
Anyway, the short-lived crime spree of Dr. Crippen is handled with kid gloves in this excellent black-and-white horror-drama from the early ‘Sixties. Crippen himself, played with understated brilliance by Donald Doctor-Loomis-from-HALLOWEEN Pleasence, seems to be a mild-mannered if rather colourless sort of chap who just basically wants a quiet life.
A quiet life is something that’s denied him, however. The one thorn in the good doctor’s side is his wife Belle, a loud-mouthed, overbearing woman who flaunts her affairs with younger men in Crippen’s face, thus humiliating him horribly. She complains that her husband won’t make love to her, but she emasculates the living daylights out of him with her cheating behaviour and the constant tongue-lashings to which she subjects him.
His balls, in all fairness, should have long disappeared back up inside his body in protest at her coarse, drunken obnoxiousness. The friend with whom I watched the film actually commented halfway through the movie: ‘Yeah, I want to kill her myself…!’
Mrs. Crippen is portrayed as an absolute nightmare throughout, the kind of woman whom a man might conceivably be forgiven for bumping off. That’s what I meant when I said that the film is weighed in favour of Dr. Crippen in terms of sympathy.
Coral Browne gives the performance of the film as the mouthy Mrs. Crippen. I recently had the privilege of hearing Vincent Price’s daughter Victoria (that’s right, I drop names now…!) talk about her dad’s life and work. She mentioned that she didn’t get on too well with her stepmother Coral Browne, the talented actress whom her dad met and courted in 1973 while they were both working on the set of the fantastic THEATRE OF BLOOD. Coral was unfortunately cast somewhat in the role of ‘wicked stepmother’ for a bit in her ready-made family.
Watching Ms. Browne browbeat the bejeesus out of poor old Hawley in DR. CRIPPEN, my friend and I kept shooting meaningful glances at each other as if to say: ‘Yep, I see it too!’ I hasten to add that Victoria Price made a point of telling us as well that Coral Browne was really good for her dad. Apparently he flourished in many different ways while he was married to her, so it’s not all bad, you see.
Beautiful actress Samantha Eggar does a solid job of portraying Ethel Le Neve, the softly feminine young mistress whom Crippen understandably preferred to Belle. (Quite why Ethel dug Crippen’s action will be a mystery to some. Having long been a woman who’s constantly drawn to the company of older men, however, I can see where she’s coming from.)
The Edwardian London-style sets, particularly of the interior of the Crippen domicile, are gorgeous, though I would have liked to see them in colour. Yes, I know the black-and-white gives the film a starkly classic feel, but some of those richly-decorated ladies’ hats are so gorgeous, they surely deserve to be seen in full Technicolor. Can you just imagine too the rich greens, reds and midnight-blues of their dresses…? Glorious, utterly glorious.
The courtroom and prison scenes probably work best in the black-and-white, though. They’re genuinely chilling as well. The words ‘It’s time’ used in that particular context in a film always give me the willies, as does the sight of a judge in an olden-days courtroom putting the little black square of cloth on his esteemed and highly-learned noggin.
This film is a great addition to the canon of true crime films. It’s not quite up there with Richard Attenborough in 10, RILLINGTON PLACE but it’s excellent, nonetheless. And although the film itself is kind to the murderous Crippen, the DVD box is not. If you want to remember your wife, it says, send flowers. If you want to DISmember her, see Dr. Crippen…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
1) ‘… BY A WOMAN WALKING HER DOG…’
2) A WRITER’S JOURNEY
3) ANNA MEETS COUNT DRACULA
4) ANOTHER FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
5) CANCER BALLS
6) CATCH OF THE DAY
7) FIFTY FILTHY-DIRTY SEX-POEMS YOU MUST READ BEFORE I DIE.
8) FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
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10) VISITING DAY