Tyrannical but ailing tycoon Charles Richmond becomes very fond of his attractive Italian nurse, Maria. The nurse, in turn, falls in love with Charles' ne'er-do-well nephew Anthony, who plots ways to gain control of his uncle's fortune.
Thrillers can be either the best movie to have to review or the absolute worst. On one hand when you have a truly awful, laughably wonderful movie like 'The Boy Next Door' that my poor colleague Bryan Kluger had to waste 91 minutes of his life on, you get a movie that is so terrible it's entertaining for all of the wrong reasons. Then you have a movie like 'Woman of Straw' a sexy suspense thriller from 1964 featuring Sean Connery and 'Solomon and Sheba' star Gina Lollobrigida. 'Woman of Straw' is one of those unfortunate movies that is so good, where so much of the suspense and surprise hinges on the tiny details, that it effectively cripples my ability to talk about it at length - and I desperately want to!
Millionaire industrialist tycoon Charles Richmond (Ralph Richardson) is regulated to living out his last few remaining days confined to a wheel chair - but that isn't going to slow down his tyrannical rampage to push his business dealing through. One could forgive the man's tendencies as being ambitious if it wasn't for how diabolical he treats the people under his employ and his family. By his side is his nephew Anthony (Sean Connery), who endures hours of verbal abuse working for his uncle just so he can ensure he receives a small pittance of an inheritance. Anthony is in fact not all too different than anyone else under his uncle's employ. They're less like employees working for a living then they are indentured servants who owe Charles in some form or another.
While Charles wields his fortune like a scythe, Anthony plays the ever loyal nephew and right hand man while in the background he puts things in motion that will allow him to take over a larger piece of his uncle's fortune. The perfect opportunity for Anthony arrives when his uncle requires the hiring of a new live-in nurse after the previous one quit under the abusive hand of Charles wrath. Young, beautiful and innocent Maria, Gina Lollobrigida arrives to take the position. Anthony quickly sets his plan into motion twisting Maria's emotions and seducing her into his schemes.
As Maria reluctantly plays out her role in the plan, she begins to earn the fondness and even the love of the beastly Charles. With his softer side now fully exposed, Maria learns that there is more man than monster sitting in the wheelchair and she begins to doubt her ability to carry out her role in Anthony's plan. Only Anthony is beyond dissuasion from the goal he's dreamed about and plotted for years - the results of which could be lethal.
Like I said at the outset, this is an extremely difficult movie to not talk about at length or in any great detail. I loathe spoilers of any kind, so if you're wondering how much plot is left of the movie, you should know my summation only covers about the first 45 minutes of the film. There are a lot more twists, turns, and genuine suspense to come! Eagle-eyed viewers and rabid mystery readers shouldn't have too difficult a time seeing some of the twists coming. While some things may be a tad predicable, it's how 'Woman of Straw' reaches its plot beats that makes it such a fun and thrilling little movie.
1964 turned out to be quite a year for Sean Connery. Hot off the successes of 'Dr. No' and 'From Russia With Love,' Sean starred in this film, Alfred Hitchcock's 'Marnie' and 'Goldfinger' all in the same year. In 'Woman of Straw' he brings that suave James Bond swagger to the role, but with a much more sinister sentimentality. This is one of those movies where he plays a manipulative son of a bitch through and through - and he's perfect at it. Basically he's Betty Davis in this movie. Then you have Gina Lollobrigida who brings an innocent sexuality to her role as a dying man's nurse. She wears her heart on her sleeve in this role bringing a genuine sense of conflicting emotions. Then you have Ralph Richardson who plays the Beast to Gina Lollobrigida's Belle - a man at one moment can be excited and thrilled by the sight of one of his employees potentially drowning, and then bare his soul the next. He may be in a wheelchair, but that doesn't keep the man from dominating every scene he's in.
'Woman of Straw' may not be widely known in the annals of cinema, and that is a true shame. I can only wager that it was the larger successes of 'Marnie' and 'Goldfinger' that kept this Sean Connery vehicle out of the spotlight. To my understanding, this simultaneous Blu-ray and DVD release from Kino Lorber's Studio Classic's line marks the first time 'Woman of Straw' has been available on home video since VHS in the United States. I can't find any evidence that it even made it to Laserdisc so having it on disc, let alone Blu-ray is a real treat. This is one of those movies I wanted to start over imediately after finishing to see if there were any fun little plot details I might have missed.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Woman of Straw' arrives on Blu-ray for the first time thanks to Kino Lorber's Studio Classics release line. Pressed on a Region A Locked BD25 disc and housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the disc opens directly to the main menu.
Considering this is the first time 'Woman of Straw' is making an appearance on any disc format in the United States, expectations for this release should be marked and remain in check for this 50 year old title. This is yet another instance where barring a full and thorough restoration, this 1.66:1 1080p presentation is probably the best this movie will ever look, and that's a shame since it could look incredibly beautiful. Print damage is the most troublesome problem here as numerous nicks and scratches pepper the film throughout the run time. Some scenes are in better shape than others, but this print appears to be an assembly of different archive prints. Shot to shot, color stability is a bit wonky at times. While stable much of the time - in one shot characters will look pale and lifeless, the next everything will have a warmer tone and people will maintain a natural look to them. This could be by intention, but most of a time the scattered color imbalances are indicative of the condition of the source elements. All in all, this movie is a real beauty letting colors have a lively pop to them in many scenes especially somber moody browns and crimson reds. Detail is strong as film grain has been retrained - even during the darkest of scenes grain never becomes too overpowering. Black levels are equally strong and impressive, especially in the latter half of the film. There is some slight, occasional crush, but over all the image retains a respectable dimensional pop. I would love to rate this film's video score higher, I really would, but I fear that it would set expectations too high when this movie will probably never look any better than it does now.
'Woman of Straw' thankfully has a robust and lively DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track to work in its favor. Don't let the strong hiss during the opening credits usage of Beethoven worry you - that is actually a piece of the plot, believe it or not. The rest of the film is perfectly free of any and all age wear and tear. Since much of this film is dialogue driven, voices, sound effects, and even minimal music use keep to the midranges. Imaging is also rather impressive as well. Much of the film takes place indoors, but there is a second act sequence on a yacht that makes great use of the sound design putting a fantastic amount of power into the sounds of crashing waves and even some cries for help! A wonderful track that complements the movie perfectly.
No supplemental materail present.
I've always had a love of movies and a need to discover films I'd never seen before, but I have to tip my hat to my wife for getting me into classics and older films. Much of my time is spent digesting newly released content to a point that a truly great movie like 'Woman of Straw' would normally have gotten lost in the shuffle. Thanks to Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics line, 'Woman of Straw' gets to see the light of day again on Blu-ray. While far from a perfect transfer, this is a beauty of a movie that is now over 50 years old. The sound quality is spot on and the film itself should please mystery and thriller fans from start to finish. It may seem a little slow in places, but let it play out, the payoff is worth the patience. Without any extra features to speak of, I am left to say that 'Woman of Straw is well worth the look.