Another Man’s Poison (1951)


Another Man’s Poison (1951) starring Bette Davis, is a movie that I’ve been curious about and wanted to see for a lot of reasons: it was Davis’s first film with Gary Merrill after they were married, it was her follow-up to All About Eve (1950), her fourth and last picture with Now, Voyager (1942) director Irving Rapper, was co-produced by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and featured actor-playwright Emlyn Williams, who had written the play upon which Davis’ film The Corn is Green (1945) was based.

After we’re introduced to Janet Frobisher (Davis), a mystery writer capable of devising fictional puzzles that stump even the most avid genre fans, she’s sucked into a real thriller partly of her own making. Her husband returned after a long absence, most unwelcome because he’s an abusive ex-con and murderer, and also because Davis is in love with her secretary’s fiancé (Barbara Murray and Anthony Steel play this younger couple). Janet manages to eliminate her husband with a chemical “compound” prescribed for her horse, but then the fugitive George (Merrill) arrives to complicate things. George was her husband’s partner in crime, and after some blackmail, threats and inconvenient visitors, Janet and George end up pretending to be husband and wife to cover up the murder of her husband, and to give him a safe refuge and new identity. Neither of them count on the intelligence and persistence of the nosy mystery fan and veterinarian living next door, Dr. Henderson (Williams, excellent), who inevitably pieces together the clues about the couple’s shady activities.

Another Man’s Poison has a stage-bound feel and a puzzle plot much like Sleuth (1972) or Deathtrap (1982), where a writer is caught up in a twisty, darkly comic duel of wits with an adversary, and it mostly happens in one location, here an isolated old house (there are horseback rides where Merrill encounters the ever-present Williams, and where Davis romances Steel). The plot turns and reverses often, and depends on some implausible details, which can be forgiven because of the entertaining performances. The colourful characters surprise and bludgeon each other with what they know but don’t tell, the lies they buy about who was dead when, and the realities of how implicated and co-dependent they’ve become. All the deception leads to the big surprise ending which hinges on someone knocking on the wrong door in the misty moors, and some mixed drinks. The finale leaves Davis laughing bitterly at her choices and her cosmic bad luck; it’s a nice cap to her feisty performance. She and Merrill, well-matched nasties, are locked in an escalating battle, and she makes the most of every display of scheming, storming in and out of rooms, making heart-eyes at her young lover, staring daggers at rivals and enemies, frantically hiding evidence, and threatening death to anyone who would even think of harming her beloved horse Fury, the only thing she really cares for.

Another Man’s Poison was based on the play Deadlock by Leslie Sands, and was adapted for the screen by Val Guest.

This post is part of the Bette Davis blogathon hosted by Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. 



17 thoughts on “Another Man’s Poison (1951)”

  1. Whoa, what an interesting plot! Okay, only your description of the movie convinced me to look after it. Sounds exactly like my cup of tea!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂

    1. Be careful with this movie WHICH cup of tea you drink, hint hint. Fun Bette role and worth a look for sure. Thanks, and will do!

  2. This is one I’ve never seen, but I think I would like it despite any flaws. I love plot twists, even if they aren’t entirely plausible, but I agree with you re: performances. You can forgive a film a lot of things if the actors make it worth your while.

    Thanks for the recommendation! 🙂

    1. Yup, and if you are a Bette fan it’s worth seeing it just for her chewing the scenery, even if the plot doesn’t please you. Got to love those nosy neighbours who go solving the mysteries.

  3. I’ve only seen this once and wasn’t the biggest fan – Davis’ performance felt a bit overblown and melodramatic, but perhaps I need to give it a second chance. It’s interesting to watch from the context of her life though – I think I remember reading somewhere that Davis and Merrill used the production as an opportunity for an all-expenses paid honeymoon to the UK – that kind of behaviour I can get on board with 😉

    1. I can understand that, it is a bit hammy I agree, but a lot of fun. You’re right, I read that too, and it was also kind of a troubled production, Emlyn Williams was initially brought in for rewrites or script doctoring, I think, and the Bette wanted him in the movie.

  4. I haven’t seen Another Man’s Poison yet which is crazy since it was produced by one of my favorites, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. I do know of the film though and after reading this am really looking forward to watching it! These types of films are definitely super entertaining.

    1. You and me both are DF jr fans 🙂 That’s a big reason I was always so curious to see this. I think it’s a fun movie, especially for Bette completists. Thanks!

  5. I haven’t seen this, but I really like this genre as well as the stars, so am very keen to do so! Enjoyed your piece a lot.

  6. Hi Kristina. I don’t own this movie on DVD, but I watched it over Youtube some time ago and highly enjoyed it. I showed it to my Mum and she loved it too. Thanks so much for covering it for the blogathon, as I feel that it’s quite underrated. Loved your entry on it. Great post.

    Oh by the way, I don’t know if you saw my announcement post the other week about my next blogathon, but here’s the link if you want to join in.

    1. My pleasure, love to join in blogathons whenever I’m able to, so thanks for this invite and the next one, I’ll see if I can do it!

  7. I haven’t heard of this one!! I’ll definitely have to look it up! I love seeing real life husband and wife teams. By the way, I’m hosting a Hollywood couples blogathon starting next Saturday and no one has picked Davis and Merrill – hint, hint 😉

    1. Ok, I’ll have to look into that and see! thanks! Me too (about seeing couples in movies), sometimes they have natural chemistry and for some it just doesn’t translate to screen.

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