The Old Testament in 19th-century Maine, mayhem and incest and all. ("Squeamish?" the old merchant asks his son, like Edgar G. Ulmer with his audience.) The waterfront boomtown is a church community that can light up like Gomorrah once invaded by roistering lumberjacks; the shopkeeper (Gene Lockhart) chases the town drunk (Dennis Hoey) out of his establishment and sighs, "it’s his little girl I feel sorry for." Dissolve to said little girl by the river, learning about the power she exerts over boys by holding her sweetheart’s head underwater with her dainty foot. Once grown into a thrift-store Scarlett O’Hara (and blessed with the unearthly beauty of Hedy Lamarr), she marries Lockhart, seduces his weakling son (Louis Hayward) into patricide, then takes up with her friend’s fiancé (George Sanders). Accusations swirl, she’s "a wanton" and a succubus and "not even a human being," at a tent revival the buckskin-clad preacher singles her out with a fire-breathing sermon. And yet there she is in the final close-up, her raven gaze as frank as Coleridge’s Geraldine or Pabst’s Lulu. Despite its higher budget and starrier cast, the tale is no less mad than Ulmer’s Skid Row hallucinations -- one character’s scarred back inflames another’s libido, water engulfs people like quicksand, fires and tempests materialize as pure manifestations of a world run by contradictory impulses. The camera follows Lamarr from the dinner table up the stairs to Hayward’s room as a single candle illuminates the chiaroscuro composition, and suddenly it’s like a lost moment from Day of Wrath. Above all, here is a vindication of the noir femme fatale, investigating the heroine’s manipulative, generous, predatory and vulnerable sides as the complicated "strangeness" which threatens to expose the town’s stability as nothing but a crust. Vidor and Davis in Beyond the Forest pick up the thread and floor the gas pedal. With Hillary Brooke, Rhys Williams, Moroni Olsen, June Storey, and Alan Napier. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce