Original Sin

2001, Movie, 116 mins


Recycled sin, more like it, but preposterously entertaining nonetheless: Pulp novelist Cornell Woolrich's 1947 Waltz into Darkness was already filmed more than 30 years ago by François Truffaut as MISSISSIPPI MERMAID (1969), in which a Madagascan tobacco farmer (Jean-Paul Belmondo) asks for a mail-order bride and gets a shady lady (Catherine Deneuve). Here, turn of the 19th-century Cuban bachelor Louis Vargas (Antonio Banderas) advertises in an American newspaper for a wife. The woman who introduces herself as Julia Russell (Angelina Jolie, who's surprisingly effective despite her aggressively modern looks — her lush lips and angular frame would have been considered ugly 100 years ago) in no way resembles the plain spinster whose photograph he received by mail. But she explains the discrepancy as a matter of personal trepidation — she didn't want to receive a proposal merely because of her pretty face. He in turn confesses he's not the lowly clerk he represented himself as: An aristocrat who owns a vast coffee plantation, Vargas wanted to attract serious women rather than gold diggers. Julia and Louis marry immediately, and for a few weeks things seem to be working out astonishingly well. Julia is passionate and vivacious, with an enticing hint of mystery about her. Louis is considerate, generous and, against all expectations, is growing to love his new bride. Then the seeds of suspicion are sown: Louis and Julia attend the theater, where an American troupe is playing; at intermission he thinks he sees her conversing intimately with one of the performers. Then a private detective (Thomas Jane) materializes, asking questions about Julia; Julia's frantic sister (Cordelia Richards) follows hard on his heels, swears that the letter she recently received from Julia is in a stranger's handwriting. Louis thunders home to find his wife gone and with her, all his cash reserves. He's hell-bent on tracking down his runaway bride; he wants to recover his money, of course, and find out who "Julia" really is, but more than that, Louis is still besotted. Originally called "Dancing in the Dark," this period erotic thriller was first scheduled for a November 2000 release, then moved to February 2001 and again to August, fueling rumors that it was a disaster. It's nothing of the sort: Ridiculous, yes, but in an eminently watchable way. Most of the plot twists work surprisingly well, and the frequently naked leads work up some genuine chemistry. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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P.D. James - Original Sin
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