My wife reads a lot of mystery novels, so she’s very good at figuring out what’s going to happen in a story before she finishes reading it. When we watch movies together, she is often predicting the outcome while I remain clueless. I can predict the ending of stuff like “Titanic.” The ship sinks, that’s easy enough for me…but usually I’m clueless. However, I’m proud to say that I was way ahead of the 1964 film “Woman of Straw,” a forgotten British thriller starring Sean Connery and Gina Lollobrigidia.
Connery plays Tony Richmond, who manages the affairs of his extremely wealthy uncle Charles (Ralph Richardson). Charles is perhaps one of the most vile human beings ever to appear on the screen. He’s mean, racist, sexist, and unfortunately for Tony, his will stipulates that his entire fortune go to charities he cares nothing about. Charles is also not a well man, spending almost all of his time in a wheelchair and requiring a live in nurse. Enter Maria Marcello (Lollobrigidia), Charles’ new nurse. She sees Charles for the evil person he is, and is not afraid to tell him so.
One day, Charles is trying to train his dogs to jump over each other. When the pooches don’t seem to get the gist of his shouting at them, he has his black servants get down on all fours and demonstrate. Maria is absolutely appalled. She’s just about to walk out when Tony lets her in on a plan to get Charles to marry her and change his will so that she gets the fortune. All he asks in return is one million pounds, she keeps the rest. Maria agrees to the plan.
Though she continues to tell Charles what a nasty old coot he is, Charles does begin to fall for Maria. The two are married and head off on a sea voyage. All the while, Tony puts on an act that he does not approve of the union, knowing that will just fuel his uncle to do the opposite. Shortly after the wedding, Charles decides to change the will and leave everything to Maria. Once again, Tony acts as if he does not approve. Now, with the new will in hand, Tony needs only to deliver it to the registry office when they return to shore. But, the next morning Maria finds Charles dead. In order to make the will valid, they must make it seem that he died after the will was filed. So, they pretend he is still alive as they wheel him from his yacht to his limo and back to his mansion. Think “Weekend at Bernie’s” but in a snooty British sort of way. Everything seems to work out fine, until the police start to get suspicious as to when and how Charles actually died.
As I said before, the movie is pretty predictable…but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. The three leads are very good, especially Richardson. In the opening scene, one of his own dogs bites him…Richardson’s performance is such that within just a few minutes you can’t help but feel that the dog was completely justified. His performance is the highlight of the film. Sean Connery is also good, if a little too Bond-ish. This was one of his first non-007 roles after “Dr. No.” The makers of this film may have been trying to capitalize on that success a bit too much. It’s only as the film reaches it’s conclusion that Connery’s performance veers a bit from the Bond mold. Likewise, Lollobrigida does a fine job…you even begin to feel like she may actually have some feelings for Richardson’s character. However, her role could’ve been a lot more juicy had she been allowed to vamp it up a bit.
Still, the predictable nature of this story may frustrate many viewers and make it hard to enjoy other aspects of the film. I found a New York Times review of this film from the time of it’s release that absolutely slams the film. The reviewer goes so far as to theorize that Lollobrigida got her role because “Sophia Loren was wise enough to read the script and send her regrets.” I actually found the script to be quite witty with a fair amount of tension in the last half of the film. But if you have trouble enjoying a film that you’ve figured out a half hour before it ends, then this may not be the movie for you.