The Bigamist (1953 film)

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The Bigamist
The Bigamist 1953.jpg
Directed byIda Lupino
Screenplay byCollier Young
Story byLawrence B. Marcus
(as Larry Marcus)
Lou Schor
Produced byRobert Eggenweiler
Collier Young
StarringJoan Fontaine
Edmond O'Brien
Ida Lupino
Edmund Gwenn
CinematographyGeorge E. Diskant
Edited byStanford Tischler
Music byLeith Stevens
The Filmakers
Distributed byFilmakers Releasing Organization
Release date
  • December 3, 1953 (1953-12-03) (United States)
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Bigamist is a 1953 American drama film noir directed by Ida Lupino starring Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino, Edmund Gwenn and Edmond O'Brien. Producer/Screenwriter Collier Young was married to Fontaine at the time and had previously been married to Lupino. The Bigamist has been cited as the first American feature film in which the female star of a film directed herself.[1]


Harry (Edmond O'Brien) and Eve Graham (Joan Fontaine) want to adopt a child, as Eve is infertile. Adoption agent Mr. Jordan (Edmund Gwenn) warns the couple that he would need to investigate them thoroughly. Harry looks worriedly at Jordan, something that concerns Jordan.

Harry and Eve live in San Francisco and are co-owners of a business, with Harry traveling to Los Angeles frequently for work. Jordan arrives at Harry's Los Angeles office looking for information about Harry. The receptionist calls around to all the hotels, but none of them have a Harry Graham registered. One or two of the managers remember Harry, but he hadn't been checked into their hotels in months. Jordan is puzzled and even more adamant about investigating Harry. He visits the address listed in the phone book for a "Harrison Graham" and there finds Harry, with a different wife—and a baby. When Jordan is about to call the police, Harry tells him how he got into the situation, in a lengthy flashback.

Upon learning of Eve's infertility, Harry suggested that she join him in his business as a means of coping with her disappointment. Though she'd done well at work, she soon began to focus solely on the business, leaving Harry feeling lonely. While staying in a hotel in L.A., Harry met an interesting woman named Phyllis (Ida Lupino), on a bus tour of Hollywood movie stars' homes. They spent time together but parted with Harry not expecting to see her again.

Talking on the phone with Eve that night, Harry tried to tell her about Phyllis and his loneliness, but Eve was interested only in talking about business. Back home, he tried again, planning a vacation for the two of them; but she dismissed the idea, saying she was pleased with the state of their marriage. In L.A., Harry began seeing Phyllis again, platonically at first, but romantic feelings developed. Not wanting to fall in love, Phyllis had not allowed Harry to share with her anything about his background and thus remained ignorant of his marriage. On Harry's last night in town, they spent the night together.

Back home, Harry resolved to rededicate himself to his marriage, and planned for someone else to handle the L.A. business. Eve was fully receptive, and she apologized for having been so emotionally distant. She embraced the idea of their adopting a child after having rejected it years before. However, her father was then taken ill and she had to spend time with her family in Florida.

Harry stayed at home and began the adoption process. Three months later, with Eve still away, Harry had to return to L.A. to tend to business interests there. He discovered Phyllis was pregnant. She told Harry that she didn't wish to trap him and that he was free to leave. However, Harry would not turn his back on the responsibility he felt to her and to their child. He planned to call Eve, confess his infidelity, and ask for a divorce, but then came news of her father's death. Hearing how distraught she was he couldn't go through with his plan, but also couldn't abandon Phyllis, and instead married her bigamously. With Eve pinning all of her hopes for happiness on becoming a mother, Harry had hoped to maintain his secret double life long enough for the adoption to be finalized and then divorce Eve, who would then at least still have her child.

In the present, upon hearing the story, Jordan leaves without calling the police. Harry writes a farewell letter to the sleeping Phyllis and leaves the house. Eve returns to San Francisco as Harry is about to meet the police who are waiting for him there. Harry is tried for bigamy, and his two wives finally meet in court. The judge notes that once Harry has served his sentence, he'll be legally obligated to support both women. With regard to Harry's personal life, "it won't be a question of which woman he'll go back to, but rather which woman will take him back." The film ends with Harry awaiting his sentencing hearing.



The film fell into difficulty when RKO Pictures pulled out of the picture, leaving Filmakers to distribute it.[2] The film received rave reviews at the time of release, with Howard Thompson of The New York Times calling it "Filmakers' best offering, to date".[3] The plot cheekily mines aspects of Lupino’s own private life (sharing same scriptwriting husband with Fontaine; an extramarital pregnancy with Duff) and showcases the Hollywood homes of some of her friends on a see-the-stars bus-tour.

The film has since earned acclaim from critics and is included in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Chris Fujiwara calls it a "haunting film" which is "one of several out-of-nowhere masterpieces" to be directed by Lupino. He particularly praises the final courtroom scene, which he considers to be "shattering", with a "combination of ambiguity and intensity that recalls both Carl Dreyer and Nicholas Ray".[4] When the two female leads exchange glances with each other in court they both knew what it meant to be married to the same man in real life - an inside joke not lost on Hollywood.

The Encyclopedia of Film Noir considers The Bigamist to be "unusually ambiguous" for the period.[5] Ray Hagen and Laura Wagner remark that The Bigamist is "not a sensationalized rendering of a potentially sordid subject, but a very human story of a man (Edmond O'Brien) tangled between two women".[6]

Leonard Maltin gave it a three-star rating, calling it "one of Lupino's best directorial efforts".[7]


  1. ^ Spicer, Andrew (19 March 2010). Historical Dictionary of Film Noir. Scarecrow Press. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-8108-7378-0.
  2. ^ Wheeler Winston Dixon (2009). "Lupino, Ida". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 2019-08-17.
  3. ^ H.H.T. (Henry Howard Thompson Jr.) (1953-12-26). "At the Astor". New York Times. Retrieved 2019-08-17.
  4. ^ Schneider, Steven Jay (1 October 2012). 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die 2012. Octopus Publishing Group. p. 273. ISBN 978-1-84403-733-9.
  5. ^ Mayer, Geoff; McDonnell, Brian (1 January 2007). Encyclopedia of Film Noir. ABC-CLIO. p. 269. ISBN 978-0-313-33306-4.
  6. ^ Hagen, Ray; Wagner, Laura (17 September 2004). Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Film Dames. McFarland. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-7864-8073-9.
  7. ^

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