For some reason Anne Baxter stays under my radar. Oh I know, the fault lies within me. I like my stars sparkly and bedazzled and volcanic most times. Well hopefully with TCM featuring Miss Baxter’s films for their Summer Under the Stars series, I can broaden my horizons with her work. My write-up today is part of a blogathon being hosted by Kristen Lopez of Journeys Into Classic Film. Here is where you’ll find other great entries for stars featured this August on TCM. Let me tell you about “GUEST IN THE HOUSE.” No, it’s not one of her films featured today, but perhaps I can pique your interest to seek it out.
You already know Anne Baxter’s Eve Harrington in “All About Eve.” Thank heavens I saw “All About Eve” before this film. If I hadn’t, I might never watch an Anne Baxter movie again. In “Guest In the House” she plays one of the most unsettling, infuriatingly galling characters I have EVER seen in a movie. She’s creepy and insidious and deadly. I despise her.
Anne Baxter plays Evelyn Heath, a recently discharged patient from a mental hospital.
( Pay no attention to the Red Flag here. ) She is the fiancee to young Dan Proctor ( actor Scott McKay ) the doctor at the institution Evelyn was in. This type of “meet-cute” no one needs. He introduces her to his family; the way she greets them is oddly unsettling. Her affect is kind of off; she’s dramatically breathless. Yo Evelyn! Relax. Sheesh! Evelyn is aware of what she is doing. She keeps a diary, which serves as a great device for letting us know what’s going on in that twisted little head of hers ( via a 1940’s voice-over, of course ). She willfully destroys the peace, tranquility and equilibrium in the household she’s been introduced to.
The Proctor family is a happy bunch, laughing, playful, kibbitzing with each other until this beautiful, wounded, damaged cancer infects them. The family consists of Ralph Bellamy as Douglas Proctor ~ the artist-husband, Ruth Warrick ( playing Ann Proctor ) his wife, and their two kids. Also part of the family is Aunt Martha, played by the indomitable Aline MacMahon. She’s the Matriarch of this whole brood. Mother Courage.
One by one, Evelyn picks off family members. Getting her fiancee out of the way first is a piece of cake. It’s wonderfully infuriating to watch her play him like a violin as you do with a man in love. She makes him jealous…gets mad at him becuz he’s jealous…then forgives his jealousy because it’s so cute how he loves her. ( ??!! ) She convinces him to go away so he can come back to her later. He buys the ruse and leaves her with his family. In fact, she sticks psychological pins in the entire family and revels in watching them twist. She always says something a little left/right of center, or drops an “unintended” innuendo here and there, and then retreats behind a wall to watch, or behind her illness. She makes my skin crawl.
For Evelyn’s next victim, we must look to Douglas’ model Miriam. She’s played by the statuesque Marie (“The Body”) McDonald. Evelyn visits his art studio and makes a couple of wisecracks to McDonald. “I would die before I’d pose like that.” The model is free and breezy because she has nothing to hide. Then this little snip of a mental patient comes in, tosses some veiled apsersions and makes McDonald annoyed and upset. It sort of pushes Douglas & her together. He takes Miriam down to the beach to calm her nerves and they go into town to relax and shake off the funk she’s now in, thanks to Evelyn.
But coming home late together and being slightly tipsy heightens all sorts of suspicions of impropriety. McDonald has to quit this gig and leave the house.
For me, Evelyn’s most insidious turn is with the young daughter. When the two meet for the first time on the staircase, the child is taken with Evelyn’s beauty, wants to touch her. But as the child reaches for her, Evelyn recoils as though she were faced with a hot poker. ( What the… ). It’s not fair, and downright hateful for Evelyn to twist a young mind like she does. She put thoughts into the child’s head that she hadn’t the maturity to process. Yeah, a perfect victim perhaps, but difficult to watch. Evelyn makes an ally of the child, wooing the little girl into her web. It’s discomfitting to watch her ‘groom’ this child. Later when the child adopts some of Evelyn’s neuroses, I’m in utter shock and it’s one of the last straws for Ann.
Evelyn’s last point of attack is wife Ann ( Ruth Warrick ). Warrick does not play her usual imperious self in this movie the way she was in “Daisy Kenyon” or “Citizen Kane.” She’s playful and easy-going at the beginning of the movie before Evelyn’s poison courses through her shoulder pads. As the plot progresses, Ann goes from her happy self to doubting suspicions she’ll harbor after little Miss Iago gets through with her. The playful-ness dries up and alcohol starts to flow. Evelyn plays them all so well she’s even driven Douglas into her arms as a Muse to replace Miriam. Ann seeing how chummy these two now are, leaves her home. Douglas’ new assignment is to paint a mural for the chapel, but the painting is causing him frustration. He can’t get a handle on it. He doesn’t realize it’s difficult to paint evil.
Evil. Too overblown a word? Naaaaah. She IS evil, and does a wonderful job at turns being coquettish, playing the victim, seductive, sadistic, frightened, manic…straight~up living in a fantasy crazy. I’m just thinking by 1944 have I seen a female be this psychologically destructive in a film? I can’t say as I have. I’ll say Anne Baxter does it first…and does it well. I’m checking out her filmography and noting the varied roles she played throughout her career. I think she was among the finer, younger leading lady / character actresses from the classic era. Today will be a great day for me to visit her work ~ and put her on my radar.
Click here for TCM’s complete listing of films this month. And now…have a very unsettling experience with “Guest in the House” but, don’t overstay your welcome:
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