The Lying Liar who Lies

Tales of adultery and polyamory have never been my favorite way to while away the time; there is just a mental disjoint that occurs in me when I am confronted by this kind of plot line, an inability to understand this morality which is totally out of keeping with my usual pathologically strong ability to empathize. I should have approached Ida Lupino's straightforwardly titled film,"The Bigamist," with a thicker skin, perhaps, fully prepared for the sympathy it was going to demand for a protagonist who, gosh darn it, just loves two different women so much he has to marry them both. I suppose I was just so excited to see a film by a pioneering female director that I forgot my prejudicial sensitivities for a moment.

And my sympathies were aroused for the man's plight, I will admit (my skin crawling as I do so). As a lawyer asks late in the film, is it really so much worse to marry the woman you are carrying on with outside your marriage than to just keep her as your mistress? Perhaps not, but were these really the only two options? Kudos to Lupino for taking the complexities of her subject's situation seriously, avoiding the trap of making him into a lust-driven, mustache-twisting villain. But the film is still little more than a double-stuffed Oreo of a romantic melodrama (twice the wife).

I was drastically misguided if I was looking for Ida Lupino's film to present some kind of feminist rethinking of Hollywood conventions. Both wives are, in fact, types not often found in the other films I have watched from this period. Joan Fontaine plays a career woman ahead of her time, who revolutionizes her husband's business when she is brought on as a secretary. Ida Lupino (Wife #2) is insistent that our "hero" not marry her simply because she is pregnant - she can take care of herself (in fact, I was surprised at how honestly the film treated the subject of unwed pregnancy). Of course, these characteristics quickly prove to be flaws rather than strengths. Harry is driven to cheat on Wife #1 because she is so business-minded that she forgets what is really important: loving him. Wife #2's independence ends up being something of a lie: he is attracted to her because she DOES need him, and she is tormented by the idea that she has trapped him into marriage. Bah. BAH, I say.

"The Bigamist" (1953)
Dir. Ida Lupino

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