The Unholy Wife

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The Unholy Wife
The Unholy Wife.JPG
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Farrow
Produced byJohn Farrow
Screenplay byJonathan Latimer
Based onthe teleplay The Prowlers on Climax!
by William Durkee
Music byDaniele Amfitheatrof
CinematographyLucien Ballard
Edited byEda Warren
RKO Radio Pictures
John Farrow Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • October 1957 (1957-10) (United States)
  • March 6, 1958 (1958-03-06) (New York City)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Unholy Wife is a 1957 Technicolor film noir crime film produced and directed by John Farrow at RKO Radio Pictures, but released by Universal Pictures as RKO was in the process of ceasing its film activities. The film features Diana Dors, Rod Steiger, Tom Tryon and Beulah Bondi.[1][2] The screenplay was written by William Durkee and Jonathan Latimer

The plot concerns a femme fatale named Phyllis (Diana Dors) who tells her sordid story from her prison cell in flashback.


The film begins with Phyllis (Diana Dors) telling her story in flashbacks. It begins how she meets rich vintner Paul Hochen (Rod Steiger) from Napa Valley in a bar and marries him soon after.

Not long after the marriage, Phyllis begins having an affair with a local rodeo rider, San Sanford (Tom Tryon), seeing him every time her husband is away, which is frequently. One night, her elderly mother-in-law (Beulah Bondi) thinks a burglar is breaking into the house, so she calls the police. Phyllis sees this as an opportunity to kill her husband and blame the burglar for the crime. The plan backfires a day later when she instead kills her husband's best friend. Not wanting to go to jail, she convinces her husband to confess to the killing and they concoct a story that would set him free after the trial.

Phyllis lies at the trial and Paul is put away for murder. The "unholy" wife finally gets the punishment she deserves when her mother-in-law dies of poisoning and the blame goes to Phyllis, who is sent to prison for a crime she did not commit. Later, she faces her execution in the gas chamber. The film ends with Paul showing their son Michael (Gary Hunley) the vineyard that will someday be his.


The Prowler[edit]

The film was based on a TV play, "The Prowler" which was presented on the TV show Climax! starring Claire Trevor, Pat O'Brien and Cameron Mitchell.

There was some talk this play was based on the Woodward case but the host of the show, William Lundigan, denied this in the press, saying the script had been bought six months previously, and was held until Claire Trevor was available to star in it.[3]

The script had been purchased by CBS by William Dozier. When Dozier became head of RKO he purchased the film rights for RKO.[4] Dozier bought two other Climax scripts for filming by RKO - Public Pigeon Number 1 to star Red Skelton and Deal a Blow written by Dozier's son Robert.[5] However these two films would not be made.


RKO were attempting to re-establish itself as a leading filmmaking studio at the time and had numerous projects in development.[6]

The movie was made by John Farrow as the second in a three-film contract he had with RKO. The first was Back from Eternity (1956); there ended up being no third film.[4]

Rod Steiger signed to star in April.[7] Shelley Winters was a leading contender for the female lead.[8] However in July 1956 the role was given to Diana Dors as part of a long-term contract with RKO; it was her second film in the USA (and for RKO) the first being I Married a Woman (1956).[9]

Ethel Barrymore signed to play Dors' mother-in-law, Barrymore's first film in two years. However, she changed her mind, fearing the heat of a location shoot in the Napa Valley, and dropped out.[10] Beulah Bondi replaced her.

Filming started in September 1956 on location in the Napa Valley under the title The Lady and the Prowler.[11]


The New York Times panned the film when it was released, writing, "Indeed, this might be an excellent time for the actress to take inventory or choose a comedy (her real forte). For the new R. K. O. production and Universal-International release, teaming her with Rod Steiger, is a dull, unholy mess, and an absolute waste of anyone's time. Including, we might add, that of the two principals. Pretentiously tinted in garish color, and staged with coronation pomp by director-producer John Farrow, the picture is a hollow, tawdry little drama of frustration, violence and a loveless marriage in California's Napa Valley."[12]

Dors made no more films for RKO. She later sued RKO for defamation of character claiming $1,275,000.[13] She settled out of court for $200,000.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harrison's Reports review; August 31, 1957, page 138.
  2. ^ Variety film review, September 4, 1957, page 6.
  3. ^ By, L. L. (1956, Jan 05). Remember there's no connection between this and that murder. The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959)
  4. ^ a b By THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New,York Times. (1956, Jan 07). R.K.O. BUYS RIGHTS TO 'CLIMAX!' PLAY. New York Times (1923-Current File)
  5. ^ Schallert, E. (1956, Jan 17). Drama. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File)
  6. ^ By, T. M. (1956, Mar 04). HOLLYWOOD DOSSIER. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  7. ^ Drama. (1956, Apr 23). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  8. ^ Hopper, H. (1956, Jul 02). Looking at hollywood. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) Retrieved from
  9. ^ By OSCAR GODBOUT Special to The New,York Times. (1956, Jul 19). DIANA DORS SIGNS PACT WITH R.K.O. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  10. ^ By THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New,York Times. (1956, Aug 25). JOHN WAYNE'S SON SIGNS 7-YEAR PACT. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  11. ^ By THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New,York Times. (1956, Aug 14). FILM ATTENDANCE HIT PEAK IN JULY. New York Times (1923-Current File)
  12. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, March 7, 1958. Accessed: August 5, 2013.
  13. ^ By THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New,York Times. (1956, Aug 25). JOHN WAYNE'S SON SIGNS 7-YEAR PACT. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  14. ^ Diana dors to get $200,000 in studio suit. (1960, Jul 11). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from

External links[edit]