Joan Fontaine was married to Ida Lupino’s husband. That is both the plot of Ida Lupino’s melodrama The Bigamist and the truth of the two stars’ relationship in 1953. Of course, Lupino had already divorced her writing partner and co-producer Collier Young when he married Fontaine in 1952. All three remained friends, and Young maintained his professional relationship with Lupino, even writing The Bigamist for his ex-and-current wives to star in. Unfortunately for the gossip mongers, there’s very little drama in the behind-the-scenes story of The Bigamist, but that’s probably for the best, because the movie is practically drowning in drama.
The Bigamist is relatively straightforward story of how one man ends up with two wives. Though it preys on the possible unspoken fears of a stay-at-home wife – What if my husband sees another woman when he says he’s at work? What if his ‘business trips’ are to spend time with her? –The Bigamist does not qualify as a Women’s Picture. On the contrary, it’s told from the polygamist protagonist’s point of view.
The story is related mostly in flashback as traveling salesman Harry Graham (Edmund O’Brien again) explains to an adoption agency worker (Edmund Gwenn, aka Santa Claus!) how he was trapped into two marriages by his middle class morality and sense of duty. Poor Harry loves his career woman wife, Eve (Fontaine), though she is distant, and communicates only over breakfast tables or telephones. He finds comfort with a waitress named Phyllis (Lupino), and decides to do the honorable thing when she discovers she’s in the family way. As the judge explains at the end (melodramas use courtrooms so a judge can tell the audience the moral of the film), Harry is not a bad man. Just a confused one.
(Side note: It’s possible that I’ve been watching too much Empire, but I spent all movie waiting for Ida and Joan's characters to discover each other’s existence and claw each other’s eyes out. I was disappointed.)
Do bigamists have more fun? After the jump...