Montgomery plays Philip Monrell, whose surface wit and charm initially cover the fact that he’s a deeply disturbed individual. Philip marries Stella (Bergman), but is jealous of her friendship with his best friend, Ward (Sanders). Viewers are quickly tipped to the extent of Philip’s psychosis when he “disappears” the kitten Ward had given Stella.
Soon Philip is intentionally throwing Stella and Ward together in hopes he can catch them having an affair, and when that doesn’t work, his thoughts turn to murder, giving both Ward and Stella reason to fear for their lives. And then Philip creates an even more devious plan…
The film was based on a novel by James Hilton, the author of Lost Horizon, Random Harvest and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. It’s an interesting story but a bit haphazard at times; it comes off as well as it does in large part due to the trio of excellent lead actors.
Montgomery and Sanders are somewhat cast against type, though Montgomery had been Oscar-nominated as a murderer in Night Must Fall (1937) and Sanders occasionally played a charming good guy in films such as Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940).
Montgomery’s flat affect in this film works wonderfully well as the psychotic Philip — Kim Morgan recently wrote that Montgomery “might be a genius” — and it makes one rather wish Montgomery made a film with Hitchcock besides the comic Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), released the same year as Rage in Heaven. He might have been interesting, for instance, in parts along the lines of the Robert Walker role in Strangers on a Train (1951) or the Ray Milland part in Dial M for Murder (1954).
As an aside, it’s fun to note that as a director himself, Montgomery did later work with a longtime Hitchcock associate, producer Joan Harrison, on films such as Ride the Pink Horse (1947) and Eye Witness (1950).
Sanders is a charmer as the man who would have liked to marry Stella himself, with his warm, occasionally uncertain performance providing an effective contrast with Montogmery’s Philip. Sanders has moments of vulnerability which are a bit surprising coming from him, and thus all the more touching.
Bergman is enormously appealing in this, an angelic innocent caught in Philip’s dastardly web. Bit by bit her radiant love for her husband is crushed by his own doing, but when she realizes it’s a matter of life and death she’s got the spunk to get away, and she exhibits similar determination when she must embark on an eleventh-hour quest to save Ward at movie’s end.
I did have a feeling the development of Sanders’ and Bergman’s relationship in the last half hour was a bit truncated, which seems to be confirmed by a still which appears on the TCM website. Bergman’s wardrobe indicates this taxi scene takes place at a critical juncture, after Stella has fled to Ward for help and he then receives a fateful phone call from Philip.
The ending relies too heavily on a last-minute coincidence, a family secret, and related rushing around; though I generally like short films, an extra few minutes of plot and character development might have helped this 85-minute film flow a bit more smoothly.
Lucile Watson plays Montgomery’s mother, with Aubrey Mather as the devoted family butler. Philip Merivale plays one of Montgomery’s employees. Oscar Homolka is the doctor who treats Montgomery at an insane asylum; though his character is helpful, some restraint in the performance might have helped make the ending seem more plausible.
Laura G. is a proofreader and homeschooling parent who is a lifelong film enthusiast. Laura’s thoughts on classic films, Disney, and other topics can be found at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, established in 2005.