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Film / The Bigamist

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The Bigamist is a 1953 Film Noir directed by Ida Lupino, who also stars in it along with Joan Fontaine, Edmond O’Brien, and Edmund Gwenn.

San Francisco-based traveling salesman Harry Graham (O’Brien) and his business partner/wife Eve (Fontaine) want to adopt a child. They are all set to go for the adoption and only need the adoption agent, Mr. Jordan (Gwenn), to conduct a thorough investigation into their backgrounds. Although Eve is completely untroubled about this, Harry starts acting increasingly suspicious.

Jordan snoops around, turning up information about Harry's office and work colleagues in Los Angeles, where he eventually discovers Harry living in a house with a second wife (and their child) in tow. When the shocked Jordan demands an explanation, Harry tells him the story of how he met Phyllis (Lupino).

This film is in the Public Domain.

Shows the following tropes:

  • Actor Allusion: When Harry first meets Phyllis, he mentions watching a lot of films over the years as a traveling salesman; he names Miracle on 34th Street as one of his favorites, and states that he loves the actor who played Kris Kringle – i.e., Edmund Gwenn, who plays Mr. Jordan in this movie. Earlier, Eve compares Mr. Jordan to Santa Claus for his generosity and polite demeanor.
  • Betty and Veronica: Eve is the cold blonde who’s all business while Phyllis is a lonely brunette who needs Harry. However, Eve is later shown that she was angry about her infertility and dedicated herself to her work, not realizing that she was pushing Harry away. When she goes to visit her sick father, she promises that she will change when she gets back. When Phyllis becomes pregnant, she doesn’t want to force marriage on Harry, but he tells her that he will marry her because he loves her.
  • Business Trip Adultery: Harry frequently travels from San Francisco to Los Angeles for work and on one of his trips, he meets Phyllis, whom he starts seeing regularly afterwards. Then problems arise when Phyllis gets pregnant...
  • Celebrity Paradox: The tour of Hollywood stars' homes points out the home of Edmund Gwenn – who appears in this film as Mr. Jordan.
  • Dark Secret: Harry is a bigamist, as made plain by the title.
  • Door-Closes Ending: Ends with Harry, after having pled guilty to bigamy, being escorted out a back door of the courtroom, back to jail, as Eve watches from the courtroom entrance. The door closes behind Harry, freeze frame, The End.
  • Downer Ending: Harry has broken the hearts of both women, who he clearly loves for different reasons. And the film leaves it rather ambiguous as to who will wait for him, if any.
  • Fatal Flaw: Harry's a good guy and everybody likes him, but he's weak-willed. His lack of assertiveness is why he lets his wife take a big role in their business despite how much it irritates him. This flaw along with general horniness is why he goes out with Phyllis. And this flaw is why he makes the disastrous decision to enter into a bigamous marriage to Phyllis—he doesn't have the nerve to ask Eve for a divorce, and he doesn't have the guts to enter into a more logical financial support arrangement for Phyllis.
  • Framing Device: The film begins with Mr. Jordan’s investigation into Harry’s past. When Mr. Jordan discovers the truth, Harry tells his story through a series of flashbacks.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Phyllis explains not telling Harry she's pregnant by saying "I guess I was afraid you wouldn't want me to have it." Of course, if Phyllis has an abortion there's no movie, as her being pregnant is why Harry marries her despite being already married.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Eve is infertile, and bitter about it, and it's driven a wedge into her marriage with Harry. Meanwhile, Phyllis gets knocked up by a one-night-stand with Harry.
  • Love Triangle: Eve and Phyllis love Harry, and Harry loves them both.
  • Married to the Job: Eve talks only business, and it’s one of the reasons why Harry begins to stray.
  • Marry Them All: With Eve, he’s a successful businessman with a smart wife who adores him, and with Phyllis, he has a son and a wife who need him: so, he keeps both.
  • No Romantic Resolution: Now off to jail, the film leaves it ambiguous as to which one of his wives will wait for him when Harry’s out of jail. We don't even find out how long he's going to be in prison.
  • Oh, Crap!: Harry has almost managed to get the persistent Mr. Jordan off his doorstep when the cry of a baby gives him away.
  • Secret Other Family: Phyllis and her son are Harry’s secret family which he does a terrible job of hiding.
  • Sleeping Single: Maybe there's a reason why Harry cheated on his wife! Although this was an Enforced Trope at the time due to The Hays Code, it's thematically appropriate in this film to demonstrate that Harry and Eve's marriage has gone stale. In one scene he actually gets up and sits on her bed in what is implied to be a desire for sex, but she blows him off.
  • Slip into Something More Comfortable: Inverted, and gender-flipped. Harry has changed into pajamas and has tucked in for the night in his hotel room when Phyllis shows up wanting to go out. Harry agrees, and says "I'll get into something more uncomfortable."
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Harry’s point of view is that he didn’t set out to have an affair and marry someone else, but he was just lonely and sought the companionship that he lacked with Eve.