Lizzie (1957)

This photo of Eleanor Parker is the current wallpaper on my laptop screen:

…and I’ve decided it’s time to change it, simply because it gets in the way of my work. Every now and then, while I’m working, I need to move to the desktop to open a folder or file that’s there. Invariably, I end up gaping at the gorgeous Ms Parker and forgetting all about why I’d arrived at the desktop in the first place.

More to the point: today, June 26, 2012, is the 90th birthday of this very beautiful actress, best-known for her role as the Baroness in The Sound of Music (I have reviewed a couple of other films of hers, including Scaramouche and The Naked Jungle). Eleanor Parker, however, was not just exquisitely lovely, but also a fine actress. And this film is a good showcase for her abilities as a thespian.

Lizzie begins in a museum. The day’s work is just starting, and two of the women employees walking in are discussing their schedule for the day—and wondering if Elizabeth will be coming in or not. Or will she have another of her perennial headaches?
But Elizabeth—Elizabeth Richmond (Eleanor Parker)—does come in soon after. She’s dressed very conservatively (even severely); her shoes are flat-heeled and practical, her hat and coat dowdy, and her face devoid of any makeup.

Her personality seems to be reflected in her appearance. Elizabeth is a quiet young woman, obviously an introvert who would rather be left to herself. She admits to her friend and colleague Ruth (Marion Ross) that she does have a headache, but goes off to her office despite that. From the way Elizabeth drags her feet and hauls herself up by the railing while Ruth trips lightly upstairs, it’s apparent that Elizabeth really isn’t well.

On the way, they run into the office Romeo, the irritating Johnny Valenzo (Ric Roman) who tries to hit on Ruth. He invites her to come with him to Rick’s Tavern that evening, and Ruth shrugs him off.

In her office, Elizabeth finds something on her desk that distresses her and sends her calling in a panic to Ruth. Ruth comes, and has a look. It’s a badly scrawled note from someone named Lizzie, threatening to kill Elizabeth.

It’s just someone trying to tease you,” Ruth says reassuringly, as she tries to comfort her friend. But Elizabeth cannot be consoled; she is certain that this unseen Lizzie is hell-bent on killing Elizabeth. But why? And who on earth is Lizzie?

Despite Ruth’s best attempts, Elizabeth remains very distressed, even when she’s back in her office and trying to get her work done. It turns out, also, that this seemingly dedicated employee is falling short when it comes to her work: her boss phones her to remind her of some work that is long overdue—and Elizabeth, stammering and nervous, reassures him that she thought she’d completed the task, but must have forgotten.
There is something obviously the matter with Elizabeth.

That evening, we are introduced to the person Elizabeth lives with: her Aunt Morgan (Joan Blondell), Elizabeth’s mother’s sister. Aunt Morgan is a die-hard bourbon drinker, and has already imbibed quite a bit by the time Elizabeth comes home. Elizabeth refuses bourbon; she doesn’t drink—she’d much rather have a cup of cocoa. Aunt Morgan scoffs. Cocoa! Pooh.

But Elizabeth has more important things to discuss with Aunt Morgan than the relative merits and demerits of cocoa and bourbon. “Have you ever thought you were losing your mind?” she asks timidly, when she’s finally managed to get Aunt Morgan to sit down and listen to her.
When Aunt Morgan asks Elizabeth what makes her think she is losing her mind, Elizabeth is confused, and admits that she doesn’t know.

…though she gives an illustration. Sometimes at night, when she can’t sleep, she gets up and goes to the mirror. “…and I stare at myself,” she says, “and—and something strange seems to happen. It’s as if somebody else was staring back at me!” She says she ends up wondering who she is.

Aunt Morgan dismisses it summarily, saying sometimes she wonders who she is. Elizabeth shouldn’t worry.

But Elizabeth does worry, and isn’t able to get to sleep again that night. She gets out of bed, goes to her dressing table, sits down and looks at herself in the mirror—and her expression, her demeanour, undergoes a sudden change. Instead of the timid, anxious-eyed Elizabeth, the woman in the mirror has sultry, excited eyes and an almost predatory smile.

Elizabeth hurriedly pulls out a drawer and quickly does up her eyes, dons lipstick, and pulls her hair up.

Later that night, she turns up in Rick’s Tavern. This is an Elizabeth nobody—not Aunt Morgan, not anybody at the museum—would recognise. She’s bold and brassy, swinging her cardigan over her shoulder and making eyes at the men in the tavern. Within moments of entering the tavern, she’s flirted with a man and got him to buy her a drink—a bourbon.

Further down the bar counter, Elizabeth sees her co-worker, Johnny Valenzo, sitting with a blonde. In a trice, Elizabeth’s sashayed over to him and begun flirting with him, much to his surprise. She gets him to buy her a drink, calls him Robin, and invites him to get comfortable with her at a corner table. Valenzo, of course, knows her as Elizabeth. But Elizabeth is brutal in her assertion that she is not Elizabeth; she is Lizzie.

In fact, Lizzie is so annoyed at the mere thought of Elizabeth that she gets all riled up. Snatching a pencil and tearing a menu card in half, she scribbles a note: telling Elizabeth that she, Lizzie, is having a ball—“while you, silly thing, are asleep!” She signs off with an ominous “I think I will kill you,” and signs as Lizzie, before popping the note into her handbag, maliciously saying that ‘that silly thing’ will find it the next day.

Valenzo is thoroughly confused, but Elizabeth/Lizzie rudely shakes him off when he tries to ask questions.

The next morning, at her office in the museum, quiet and tired-looking Lizzie (again with a headache) is shocked to find Valenzo trying to get fresh with her. He calls her Lizzie, tells her that they had a great time the previous night, and invites her out again on a date.
Elizabeth’s brisk and shocked reaction puzzles Valenzo. He does have an ace up his sleeve: he goes to her handbag, pulls out the nasty note ‘Lizzie’ had written the previous night in Rick’s Tavern, and brandishes it in front of Elizabeth, who can’t understand what this is all about.

Meanwhile, the scene’s shifted to Elizabeth and Aunt Morgan’s home. Aunt Morgan has been finding her bourbon bottles emptier than she ever made them, and has reached the obvious conclusion: Elizabeth—quiet, sweet, bourbon-hating Elizabeth—has been drinking on the sly.
While out throwing away the empty bottles, Aunt Morgan meets their old neighbour, a writer named Walter (Hugo Haas, who was also the director of Lizzie).

Walter has a soft corner for Aunt Morgan, and she confides in him, telling him all about Elizabeth’s odd behaviour—the usual timidity, the headaches and forgetfulness, and these completely unexpected occasions when, behind Aunt Morgan’s back, she empties bottle after bottle of bourbon. Walter listens carefully, then suggests Elizabeth see a psychiatrist. He even suggests someone he knows.

Aunt Morgan says there’s no chance; Elizabeth won’t even go to a doctor for her headaches, let alone going to a psychiatrist. Walter later tries, on his own, to suggest it to Elizabeth herself—when she’s setting out for work—but she refuses.

However, after that unsettling episode in which Johnny Valenzo reveals ‘Lizzie’ and the threatening note, Elizabeth decides to go and meet the doctor, after all.
Dr Wright (Richard Boone) is interested, gentle, and reassuring. He asks Elizabeth a few questions—about her headaches, her memory, and so on—and then asks her if she’d be willing to undergo a brief hypnosis.

Elizabeth is initially very reluctant, but finally agrees, after Dr Wright’s assured her that he will not, even while she is under hypnosis, be able to make her do anything she doesn’t really want to do.
So Elizabeth sits in a comfortable chair, and Dr Wright hypnotises her, quietly talking to her and putting her to sleep—and then beginning to ask questions.

Suddenly, the nervous Elizabeth’s face changes, and in front of Dr Wright, sitting in the chair with her eyes closed, is the malicious Lizzie, sneering at stupid Elizabeth, telling Dr Wright that she is not Elizabeth, she is Lizzie. Lizzie, who likes to have a wild time, who is getting “stronger and stronger”, and who will someday kill weak-kneed, spineless Elizabeth.

Elizabeth, when Dr Wright ends the session, has no idea what has happened. Her first words—“Did I say something embarrassing?”—are a good reflection on Elizabeth’s usual prim and proper demeanour. Lizzie is gone, and Elizabeth is back again. Dr Wright, later dictating his notes to himself, points out that this seems to be a case of a dual personality: the shy, timid Elizabeth and the boisterous, nasty Lizzie—with Lizzie a stronger personality, who may well subdue Elizabeth.

But there’s more to come. Because, a few weeks down the line, during one of their sessions, Dr Wright hypnotises Elizabeth… and the woman who speaks to him is neither the reticent Elizabeth nor the wild Lizzie, but a sweet, lovely young woman who calls herself Beth, and who (when Dr Wright asks her if she would like to help Elizabeth) agrees instantly.

Three personalities. One woman. How did this happen? What lies in this woman’s past that has made her the women she is?

Equally importantly, who will win? Will it be Elizabeth? Beth? Or Lizzie?

What I didn’t like about this film:

Although my usual style is to list what I liked first, I’ll begin by listing what I didn’t like.

Although multiple personality disorders have been made the subject of films over the years, Lizzie was one of the earliest (coincidentally enough, another similar film—The Three Faces of Eve—was made in the same year as this one).

As a basis for a plot Elizabeth’s multiple personality disorder is good, even intriguing; as the only element of the plot, it left me feeling a little short-changed. The first half of the film sets the scene for Elizabeth finally going to a psychiatrist; the rest is about what Dr Wright is able to unearth from her past to account for her behaviour—and that’s it. It’s a mite too straightforward.

What I’d have liked as an addition to the psychological basis of the film was something more: say, a suspense angle (as in High Wall, or Hitchcock’s superb Spellbound). Or, a more convoluted way of discovering what lies beneath Elizabeth’s split personality (as in Raat aur Din). What it is, is an engrossing film, but one which had me saying, “That’s it?” when it ended. I honestly thought there was more coming up; ‘The End’ came as a weak, unfulfilling, abrupt surprise.

What I liked about this film:

Eleanor Parker. I must admit I haven’t seen too many Eleanor Parker films, and the ones I have seen (with the exception of Home From the Hill) generally had her merely acting the beautiful heroine (or the heroine’s rival), with little to do except be coquettish and sometimes snide. Lizzie gives Ms Parker lots of scope to show off that she could act—and very well too.

The scenes in front of her bedroom mirror, or in Dr Wright’s consulting room, when we see (in front of our very eyes) the wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly Elizabeth turn into the catty Lizzie are especially amazing. Even when she’s wearing Elizabeth’s frumpy clothes and doesn’t have a speck of makeup on her face, Lizzie is easily recognisable as Lizzie: mean, catty, out to harm Elizabeth.

Eleanor Parker, in herself, is enough reason to watch Lizzie.

Happy birthday, Ms Parker!


32 thoughts on “Lizzie (1957)

  1. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I was so engrossed in reading your review, that I am really sad that it ended so soon!
    My first reaction was: Huh? Lizzie? Sounds like a chick flick!
    After the intro, the review caught my attention fully and was really into it.
    Make me want to see the film. But your warning of the tame ending makes me feel wary of it. But it is all theoretical since I don’t have much time at the moment.
    I am sure the your review is better than the film!
    Thanks for this wonderful review!


    • Harvey, just wondering, what’s a chick flick? o_o I was trying to get my uncle to sit down with me and watch Sangam (Now I regret that!), and he’s like – OH IT’S A LOVE TRIANGLE, SO IT’S A CHICK FLICK.

      Geez, he’s so… ugh. He made a mockery of everything possible (Like the scene before “Yeh Mera Prem Patra”, first the trees have no leaves, then they blossom, he called it ridiculous… I don’t know why. It’s called “time has passed”. Really. And then he says he doesn’t like Rafi’s singing. My goodness. I feel like strangling someone. Then on top of that all, after the song, Rajendra has this, uh, flower (Don’t ask me why), and it’s nice. He’s holding it, to give to Vvjayanthi, probably. THEN MY UNCLE GOES AND CALLS HIM GAY. WTF/!?!?!!!?!?@!?!?

      Sorry. I just… -facepalm- I guess it was stupid of me to ask him to watch it. I’m still so very very very angry about it.) and even insisted on calling it girly because there was no fighting – geez, there was a war, were you sleeping? By his standards ALL my favorite movies will be girly. He’s a complete idiot.

      Uh, sorry for the rant. :P


      • Ouch. I’d certainly not classify Sangam as a chick flick – more a romantic drama, I’d think.

        But, a lesson: don’t make people watch films they may not have expressed an interest in watching. There are several films I’ve been ‘made to watch’ by friends and family, because they thought those films were wonderful. And I ended up hating those films (I was too polite to say so, but still…) So I never make people watch films just because I like those films – it’ll only make me feel awful when someone criticises those elements of the film that I find most awesome!


        • Argh, to hell with chick flicks! He’ll be calling Tere Ghar Ke Samne a chick flick next, then what else? Is he going to insult Dev?!!?!?!?!?!? Oh my God, so angry with him, so angry.

          I am never, ever, ever (I swear to God) going to show him another Hindi movie! Never am I going to show him my favorites. He can go to hell with his apocaplytic (What? How is it spelled again?) movies that involve… ARGH. What kinda films did you have to watch though? :P


          • Another important thing: do you like everything – and praise everything – that other people recommend? These ‘apocalytpic movies’ that your uncle watches: can you sit through one without uttering a squeak of protest? Movie-watching is very subjective; what you adore, others may hate. And vice-versa. You’ll have to learn to accept that.

            As for me, the movies I’ve had to sit through included lots of rather gory sci-fi, one political thriller, and plenty of stuff based on literary works that were just too high-brow for me.


            • Well, he sits and turns on the TV, and bleh, BLEH, so gory, so gory! I think I’m lucky so far not to have lost my dinner! Geez, show a little consideration. R rated is not for me. I usually retreat to my room when he turns these on and resort to blasting my favorite songs to calm down. My idea of a perfect afternoon is settling down in my bed, no one at home (Trust me, all the nagging gets annoying, even though it’s for my own good, but it’s nice to have some time off), some chocolates, and a good comedy or romantic movie. :)

              Gory sci-fi?! Ewwwwww! -jumps up- I’m glad I didn’t have to sit through that!


      • @ sasha
        Urban Dictionary defines chick flick as:
        A film that indulges in the hopes and dreams of women and/or girls. A film that has a happy, fuzzy, ridiculously unrealistic ending.
        Though I think the last sentence need not be true always particularly the part “ridiculously unrealistic”, it is often only unrealistic. ;-)

        As for Sangam and your uncle, I agree with what Madhu has said. And tell your uncle that he should know better than to fill up his young niece’s brain with prejudices against gay men.


        • And tell your uncle that he should know better than to fill up his young niece’s brain with prejudices against gay men.

          I agree 100%. We have enough prejudices floating around the world without people trying to perpetuate them deliberately.


        • Hopes and dreams of women? What in the- I’ve never seen a single movie like that. And thank God I haven’t! I’m better off with Dev’s movies. :)


          I feel like… like… I FEEL LIKE EXPLODING.


          • Harvey, Madhu, well said.

            Sasha, jumping in to reiterate what Harvey and dustedoff says, with an extra emphasis on stereotyping gays. But for heavens’ sake, girl, if you do not stop with your over-reactions, you will find more and more people pushing your switches – just because they can. The easiest people to pick on are the ones who respond to that picking on by reactions such as yours.

            Please accept that everyone is not going to gush over your idols the way you do. For one, they are not thirteen-year-old-girls. Two, most people can hold more than one thought in their heads -i.e, we can like an actor/actress and still find them ridiculous in a particular role/movie.


            • I guess you’re kinda right, but calling Rajendra *THAT* is not… NOT FUNNY AT ALL. And I was kinda hurt cos I didn’t expect my Uncle out of all people to say that. My God, it’s probably the first time I… -sigh-

              Maybe they’ll want to pick on me. But my Uncle could’ve been a tad bit nicer and kept the nasty comment to himself, right? Darn this chick flick thing. I only know that I like romantic movies and I don’t want to be made fun of.

              You’re right, not everyone will think Dev is so awesome or Rajendra is cute or stuff like that, but that remark was just… I should just get over it. And that is why I have my Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi DVD to save the day. :D -takes off to go watch it-


            • Anu, even though your comment wasn’t addressed to me, and even though I haven’t anything to add to what you’ve said: oh, well said! :-)

              (As an example of us liking an actor/actress and still not liking them in a particular film: just about everybody who’s spent some time on this blog knows that Shammi Kapoor is one of my all-time favourites. But I’m the first to admit that I cringe at the very thought of him in films like Sachcha Jhootha or Pritam or Jawaan Mohabbat).


    • Thank you, harvey! Glad you liked the review.

      Yes, Lizzie does sound like a chick flick, doesn’t it? I would probably never have taken the trouble to go looking for this film if it hadn’t be Jai Arjun Singh who’d recommended it – and his taste I bow to, especially in certain genres. And somehow, I don’t think a chick flick would be up Jai’s street! ;-)


  2. Okay, you have me hooked. :) Haven’t watched it, though I have picked it up and put it back a couple of times in my local library. The blurb didn’t make me interested enough to actually check it out. Ab dekhna hi padega.


    • If it’s there in your local library, it might be worth checking out sometime – Eleanor Parker’s acting is superb, though (as I mentioned) the end is a little abrupt and sudden. Some complexity would’ve been more than welcome, as far as I’m concerned!


  3. I guessed from the first note that it would be a split-personality film, and I’m pleased that I read your review, because it sounds like there’s just not quite enough in it to make me want to track this one down and add it to my pile of unwatched films.It’s a fine public service you do, writing such excellent reviews, thanks!


    • Thank you!

      You’re right, Stuart. There’s not quite enough there to make one want to take the trouble of finding the film… for that, a film like Marnie or Raat aur Din may be more satisfying (I found myself remembering both these films while watching Lizzie). For me, the main draw was Eleanor Parker – I find her a fascinating actress, and when I like an actor, I am inclined to go watch everything they’ve done, if I can lay my hands on it…


  4. Even in the screencaps, it is easy to see the amazing transformation that Eleanor Parker made from Elizabeth to Lizzie. Quite frightening, really.


    • You’ve hit the nail on the head, Banno. It is frightening, especially when she’s dressed and made up exactly the same – only her expression changes, and it gave me gooseflesh.


  5. I guess Raat Aur Din was inspired from this one, your review was interesting but what put me off was that bit about the abrupt end, I have been similarly disappointed by quite a number of films, these films begin by you getting totally involved and then everything sort of fizzles out.


    • Yes, I think Raat aur Din may have been inspired by this, or even by Marnie (both Lizzie and Marnie have similar reasons for the protagonists’ psychological problems). I liked the fact that Raat aur Din took its time unravelling the heroine’s story. Lizzie is only about an hour and a quarter in length; too short to be really fulfilling, as far as I’m concerned.


  6. Like Sharmi I left reading after a while because it seemed like a great film, and I wanted to watch it first, but I did read what you didn’t like, and I ended up concluding what the others have.

    Great screencaps. Very telling and well chosen.
    She’s really pretty. I was surprised that this is the baronness of sound of music.

    Happy Birthday Eleanor Parker – 90 years is a great blessing.
    This reminds me. Dilip Kumar too is turning 90 this year in December.


    • Yes, Eleanor Parker’s really lovely. And when she played the Baroness, she was 43. Didn’t look it, I thought.

      (By the way, Eleanor Parker is part of my blog header right now. Even though you can’t see her face, she’s the woman standing in the middle, with her skirt billowing around her).

      Thank you for telling me about Dilip Kumar turning 90 this December! I must keep that in mind… :-)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.