It’s Eleanor Parker day on TCM today, and my recommendation is The Woman in White (1948). My love for this film simply can’t be overestimated. It airs at 2 am, which is the perfect time for a film as eerie as this one.
Based on the 1859 novel by Wilkie Collins, this mystery film also stars Alexis Smith, Sydney Greenstreet, and Gig Young. The plot is somewhat muddled but the performances shine through with brilliant clarity.
A young painter named Walter Hartright (Gig Young) is headed to Limmeridge House and meets a troubled young woman dressed all in white on the road. Immediately she vanishes and a coach arrives on the scene. Its occupant is hidden from Hartright. The driver asks if he’s seen a woman who recently escaped from the nearby asylum, but he denies seeing anyone.
When Hartright arrives at Limmeridge, he meets the Fairlie family. Marian (Alexis Smith) is a cousin; Frederick Fairlie is the stuffy and neurotic uncle expertly played by John Abbott. Laura Fairlie (Eleanor Parker) is Marian’s dearest friend, and she looks identical to the mysterious woman Hartright met on the road. Count Fosco (Sydney Greenstreet) was the man in the coach who was hidden from Hartright. Marian discovers Laura had an identical cousin named Anne who visited Limmeridge one summer. It soon becomes clear that Fosco has sinister designs, because he steals the letter that revealed this information.
Anne is the woman Hartright first met, and he meets her again. She wants to warn Laura about something, but Hartright never finds out what it is. Meanwhile, he and Marian fall in love. Laura marries Sir Percival Glyde, who is only interested in her fortune.
Fosco is up to no good but Hartright doesn’t have definitive proof. Family secrets, poison, and a case of mistaken identity all blend together in this taut and intriguing mystery film.
While I did find some of The Woman in White hard to follow, it has one element that sets it apart from most films of this era. Marian has a fierce devotion to Laura. The two women love each other more than anyone else. It’s one of the most beautiful depictions of female friendships in a Classic Hollywood film. It’s rare that I find myself talking about the chemistry between two women in a film. But it’s here in abundance between Eleanor Parker and Alexis Smith. I can’t recommend it enough.
Eleanor Parker resembles the Virgin Mary in the publicity stills, particularly the ones of the Blessed Mother weeping in great anguish. She was able to communicate Anne’s own troubled fate with her pleading eyes.
Playing the dual roles of Anne and Laura also proved just how skilled Parker was. One woman is an heiress with little to worry about while the other is tormented.
Parker was called the woman of a thousand faces because of her ability to play a vast array of roles and transform herself for each of them. Her real face was an exquisite one, yet never a distraction. Eleanor Parker may not have been a major star, but she was a damn good actress. No one could accuse her of getting by on her pretty face alone.
If you’d like to learn more about this incredible talent, do follow the Eleanor Parker Facebook and Instagram pages. My friend Amanda runs both and her passion for Miss Parker is truly inspiring. And she’s always sharing the most beautiful photos!
So set your DVR for The Woman in White and the rest of her films airing today and be sure to read the other posts highlighting Eleanor Parker for the Summer Under the Stars blogathon.