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. The screenplay was written by William Durkee and Jonathan Latimer
|The Unholy Wife|
|Directed by||John Farrow|
|Screenplay by||Jonathan Latimer|
|Based on||the teleplay The Prowler on Climax!|
by William Durkee
|Produced by||John Farrow|
|Edited by||Eda Warren|
|Music by||Daniele Amfitheatrof|
RKO Radio Pictures
John Farrow Productions
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
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.
Finally, Paul shows their son Michael (Gary Hunley) the vineyard that will someday be his.
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.
The script had been purchased by CBS by William Dozier. When Dozier became head of RKO he purchased the film rights for RKO. 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. However these two films would not be made.
RKO was attempting to re-establish itself as a leading filmmaking studio at the time and had numerous projects in development.
Rod Steiger signed to star in April. Shelley Winters was a leading contender for the female lead. 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).
Ethel Barrymore signed to play Dors' mother-in-law, her first film in two years. However, she changed her mind, fearing the heat of a location shoot in the Napa Valley, and dropped out. Beulah Bondi replaced her.
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."