Charles Richmond (Ralph Richardson) is a very wealthy man, but he is also a very cruel and obnoxious one, alienating himself from everyone as he lives out his final years on his estate with nobody but his staff for company. Well, almost, as his nephew who also happens to be his stepson, Anthony (Sean Connery), is duty bound to live with him in his country house to see about his business deals with the copper mine that made his fortune, but it’s clear Anthony only tolerates him knowing he will get a substantial inheritance soon. Today, Charles has been out with his dogs, sitting in his wheelchair as they grow more excited around him until one bites him, needing medical attention. Which is where the nurse Maria Marcello (Gina Lollobrigida) enters the story…
In between James Bond movies and filming Marnie for Alfred Hitchcock, Sean Connery found time to make this crime drama which reportedly he was none too pleased with. Whether that was a dissatisfaction with the end result or not getting along with his co-star, he never disclosed, but Woman of Straw has tended to slip from the popular consciousness down the years to the extent that many would have never heard of it, even if they had caught it on television some time ago. However, it did gather a following of those who enjoyed its transition from cruel melodrama to suspense thriller in its second hour, and the chance to see Connery in a role not quite what he was used to.
Or the contemporary audience, for that matter, though a problem with the film was the expectation that there was some subterfuge or other happening, so that it was only a matter of time from the point Maria was hired that trouble was brewing for someone among the characters. That it turned into a straightfaced prototype of Weekend at Bernie's was perhaps the most notable aspect of a plot that contained very few surprises, even the ones that were intended to have the audiences reeling when the twists arrived. For the first hour, it was all build up as we were introduced to the three main players in this simmering cooking pot of treachery, with Richardson enlivening proceedings considerably.
His Charles was extremely hard to like, and that was all by design as we had to suspect someone would want him dead before the end, so to illustrate his lack of social pleasantries we had scenes of him treating everyone around him like dirt. His staff mostly consisted of Africans from his copper mines who he claims are happy to be ordered about because they know their place, which is subservient to the white man – the civil rights struggle has passed Charles by entirely – and they are forced into humiliating displays such as jumping over one another like his dogs, all for his petty pleasure. But when Maria sees the insane glee Charles takes from watching one of the servants washed overboard from the deck of his yacht, she witnesses precisely how evil the old bastard can be.
It was almost as if he wanted the servant to be washed over, and he’s disappointed he did not witness a drowning, which puts us very much on the side of Maria and to some extent Anthony who is trying to persuade her to marry Charles so he can sort out the will and leave his riches to them both, though Anthony claims he simply has benevolence and good works in mind as to how he will spend it. But of course, should Maria wed Charles the fact remains she will be waiting day by day for the twisted geezer to die, so could there be a factor involved that hurries that process along? You will not be too shocked at the outcome, and that was a drawback, that and the deliberate pace that invited the viewer to take their time and drink in the Majorcan locations and ponder the schemes that would have been better represented at a snappier delivery. All that said, Woman of Straw was a perfectly adequate time passer, and for star spotters the novelty of watching these three interact, even if there was little chemistry between Connery and Lollobrigida, offered entertainment. The music consists of the Beethoven Charles insists on playing as much as possible.