Life imitates art—the woman who has been accused of sabotaging her fiancé’s kayak before a trip down the Hudson River and then pushing his paddle away from him as he struggled to stay afloat was re-creating one of the classic moments in film noir.
No TCM addict (you know who you are) can forget the lake scene in “Leave Her to Heaven”, where screen goddess Gene Tierney is the incarnation of sang froid as she observes the drowning of the teenage cripple who is the brother of her husband and, ignoring his cries for help, rows her boat just out of reach.
On Tuesday, prosecutors in Orange County alleged Angelika Graswald, a 35-year-old native of Latvia, set out to kill Vincent Viafore, 46, for his $250,000 life insurance policy. She removed a plug from his kayak, they said, so that it would fill with water. She also tampered with his paddle. She coolly observed his flailing in the frigid and choppy waters, then waited 25 minutes before summoning help. They charged her with 2nd-degree murder.
The motive of Miss Tierney’s character is less mercenary. She is obsessively in love with her husband, a famous novelist played by Cornel Wilde, and insanely jealous of the time and attention he gives to his younger brother Danny. So she rows the boy out on a lake in Maine, challenges him to swim as far as he can with his paralyzed legs, then watches with total detachment as he sputters and sinks. Oh, and she gets away with it.
The expression on Miss Tierney’s chiseled face, or rather the lack of one, is an immortal image in the history of cinema. She was nominated for Best Actress of 1945, and the film was Fox’s highest grosser of that decade.
It is to be hoped that Ms. Graswald’s histrionic performance at trial will be equally impressive.