This Gothic drama is set primarily in the upper Hudson valley in the castle-like manor house of Dragonwyck, beginning in the year 1844. It's based on the novel of the same name. It seems evident that this estate is modeled after the huge estate which was derived from the Dutch feudal-like estate Rensselaerswijck. Dragonwyck suggests to me its late medieval origins, with perhaps an ominous master or wife. Clearly, that master: Nicholas van Ryn(Vincent Price), still thought of himself as a feudal lord, and the maintenance of that status for himself and a hopeful successor seemed to be his chief purpose in life. Thus, he is the natural villain of the story. The hero is Dr. Jeff Turner(Glenn Langan), who is the self-appointed leader of rebellion by the many tenant farmers. He also saves the heroine: Miranda Wells(Gene Tierney), from an untimely death by poisoning by her husband, Nicholas. Initially, Miranda had been chosen to be the new governess for the daughter(Katrine) of Nicholas and his wife Johanna(Vivienne Osborne). But, after Nicholas secretly poisoned Johanna, he soon asked Miranda to marry him. He was desperate to have a son so that his estate could be passed on to his heirs. Johanna had provided him with a daughter, instead of a son, and was constitutionally unable to have further children. Besides, the two had never been happy together. Thus, it was time to replace her with a younger, prettier, woman who could bare him a son. But, Miranda, her successor, also failed, initially. She bore a son, but with a defective heart, who soon died. Apparently, Nicholas decided she must be cursed, thus must be done away with, for another replacement. Besides being cruel to his wives and child, and to his tenants, he complained that the new maid that Miranda had chosen was unworthy because she had a bad limp. Miranda pointed out that this was how God planned her to be, not being her own fault. When he lost his son, and a new law was passed giving his tenants the right to buy the land they had been tilling, he saw his main purpose in life going down the drain. Thus, he shut himself up in a remote room in the manor and soothed his worries with opium, which made his behavior more bizarre. Inevitably, he would clash again with Dr. Turner in a final confrontation which would end his misery.
I have several questions or comments about the screenplay:
1)It seems odd that Nicholas should request that a distant small farmer relative he has never met, in rather distant Greenwich, Conn., should send him one of his daughters(how did he know he had daughters)to be governess to his daughter. He must have been planning even then that this girl would be his replacement wife. As it turned out, Nicholas seemed to be exactly what Miranda wanted in a husband and vice versa.
2)Why was Oleander chosen as the mode of poisoning? The fact that Johanna dies soon after the plant was brought into her room suggests that a volatile component was involved. But the poisons are not volatile. They must be ingested. And it's not just of matter that the person succumbs within a few hours with no preliminary distressing symptoms. Thus, she probably should have made a commotion about her symptoms before dying.
3)After Nicholas is shot dead, who inherits Dragonwyck? Doesn't Miranda, as his wife. Or weren't women allowed to own property in this circumstance? Or perhaps his daughter, if he so willed it? In any case, Miranda clearly has had enough of Dragonwyck, and returns to her native Greenwich. By the way, why did daughter Katrine disappear from the story not long after she was introduced? Was she sent to a boarding school?
With these caveats, I can recommend this film for those interested in Gothic stories and history. See it at YouTube.