Movie Review: The Unholy Wife (1957)
Synopsis: Unhappy in her marriage to a wine merchant and involved in an affair with a local rodeo rider, Phyllis Hochen decides to murder her husband and make it look like a prowler did it. When she accidentally kills her husband's best friend instead, she convinces her husband to take the blame for an accidental shooting then frames him for murder.
Review: When I first came across this movie, I wasn't really sure if it would be a film I would enjoy. However, I decided to add it to my library and did wind up watching it this morning. It ended up being an interesting film.
There are a couple things, in particular, that really stood out for me when it came to this movie. One of the main ones was the way it told the story from Phyllis' (Dors) perspective, giving us a glimpse of what was going through her head as she originally planned to kill her husband (Steiger) then worked to frame him for murder. A lot of movies don't do that and first-person perspective did make it a little more interesting.
I also found I liked how the movie didn't turn her into as bad of a person as the title might suggest. I'm not saying her actions were justified but it was kind of easy to understand why she felt the way she did. There were times when her husband seemed to treat her more as an employee, showing more affection to her son (Hunley) than her. I get the 1950s were different as far as views toward marriage are concerned and maybe him treating her like his property wasn't unusual at the time but, by today's standards, I got why she might feel trapped (especially since her son was the result of another loveless relationship).
The plot itself proved to be intriguing as well. I loved how she manipulated her husband into taking the blame for her actions then sealed his conviction while looking like she was trying to help him. It made the outcome of the movie a lot less predictable than it could have been (especially since the story is being told by her in a prison confession).
I did have a couple complaints about the film. One of the big ones is I wish the movie would have told us more about her secret relationship with San Sanders (Tryon), including how it got started. Without the background information, the affair really didn't seem to work for me. They seemed more like business partners than lovers whenever they were together and I wasn't sure if she was just manipulating him (or the other way around).
In fact, I almost feel like the affair was only added to make her look more "unholy." It ultimately didn't have that much of an impact on the overall storyline and could have just as easily been left out of the film.
My other complaint is the movie doesn't tell us what happens with her son. The last thing we hear about him is he was sent back to a boarding school because her husband was in jail and she never liked the child and I feel like the movie left that unresolved. OK, to be fair, I actually don't care all that much because, much like her secret lover, he seemed like an add-on that wasn't really needed but, if you are going to go through all the effort to introduce that character and make him part of the relationship, you really shouldn't leave the viewers hanging at the end.
Final Opinion: As I said, I wasn't sure if I would enjoy this movie but, after watching it, did think it was better than I was expecting. There are a few things that maybe could use some cleaning up but, overall, it is a film that is enjoyable.
My Grade: B+