After a whirlwind romance, Sally (Barbara Stanwyck) agrees to marry enigmatic artist, Geoffrey Carroll (Humphrey Bogart), and becomes stepmother to his young daughter, Bea (Ann Carter). Soon though, she begins to notice that Geoffrey's attention has been caught by haughty heiress, Cecily (Alexis Smith). This coincides with a strange illness that seems to have overtaken Sally, and when she learns of the strange demise of Geoffrey's first wife, she starts to fear for her life. And just what is the mysterious painting that Geoffrey has hidden away in his studio?
While it's not the most memorable film that Bogart or Stanwyck starred in, it also doesn't deserve the critical drubbing it's received over the decades. Acting as a kind of modern retelling of Bluebeard, the movie is an endlessly interesting aside, especially when it comes to Bogart.
While he hardly strays from his trademark, naturalistic persona on-screen, he is decidedly evil in the film, if not a little deranged. He also has some great dialogue, especially with the supercilious Alexis Smith, with whom he spends half the movie sparring, and the other half making love.
The central conceit, that of a psychopathic artist who paints his wives as The Angel Of Death before murdering them, is a fascinating one. Parallels can easily be drawn with Bluebeard, Dorian Gray, or even Jane Eyre's Mr Rochester. Indeed, when Bogart's secret in the attic is discovered, it's a truly chilling moment.
The film follows the diabolical Mr Carroll for the first half, before settling into a paranoia-fest on Stanwyck's part, kind of a sub-Hitchcock's 'Suspicion', although not handled quite as tightly. It even mimics the infamous glass of milk from the former, albeit to lesser effect.
The climax is delivered in an overblown horror finale, as Bogart's writhing maniac bursts through a window with murder on his mind, but apart from the closing histrionics, it's light on action, and heavy on mood. The relationships in the movie are actually fascinating to watch. We're never sure how much Sally actually knows about the relationship between Cecily and Carroll. Carroll himself finds himself blackmailed by a snivelling chemist who has come to realise the truth. Even Nigel Bruce pops up as the alcoholic busybody doctor, bereft of tact, to throw the cat amongst the pigeons.
It's certainly not the best suspense thriller ever made, but despite it's shortcomings, 'The Two Mrs Carrolls' is a remarkably easy film to enjoy. Whilst the strictly set-bound sequences don't always provide variety in the way of setting, it's more than adequately made up for by the spectacle of Bogart as a crazed, murdering psychopath.