A woman too beautiful, too ideal and too good to be true
For some reason, Merle Oberon is always sensational on the screen, always outshining anyone in beauty, wit and splendour, and remarkably consistent in her dazzling beauty through the decades - she actually seemed never to age. In this film particular attention should be paid to her dresses, in the beginning her husband says that she is the most striking beauty of Egypt since Cleopatra, and you almost have to admit he is right. George Brent plays her husband, a hopeless bore of an archaeologist only interested in mummies, and in exotic Egypt she naturally must get bored and happen to the first best lover, who happens to be a scoundrel having deceived many women and lost all fortunes, so he chases women just for their money. She falls for him, and he persuades her to poison her husband to enable them to continue as partners with all her inherited money, and so the case goes from bad to worse. The film begins by a visit from a police officer, who imparts his suspicion of her, she has to visit his office the next day to answer some questions, so she turns to her husband's old friend and doctor, Paul Lukas, to confide in him and confess the full story. He as a doctor is in no position to judge anyone, so he just has to reluctantly listen to her. Most of the film is then flashbacks.
But it is an amazingly good and well written story, Merle Oberon sparkles throughout in her magnificent toilettes and with a constantly very intelligent dialog, so this is a real treat for the intellectual cineast. Much of this intrigue reminds you of Mankiewicz' rendering of the Cicero case in "Five Fingers", an authentic story, while this is all theatre but on a very advanced stage. The film is worth watching if even only for Merle Oberon's dresses.
Reviewed by brogmiller7 / 10
The old theatrical war horse 'Bella Donna', first performed on stage by Alla Nazimova is here re-titled 'Temptation' with Merle Oberon following in the footsteps of Pola Negri and Mary Ellis on film. Classy Miss Oberon with her air of mystery and subdued sensuality is ideally cast as Ruby, is further enhanced by the fabulous costumes of master designer Orry-Kelly and is of course flattered by the 'Obie' light created by her then husband, cinematographer Lucien Ballard. In the thankless part of her good-natured, cuckolded husband, George Brent does the best he can whilst Charles Korvin as the beastly Baroudi and Miss Oberon have a powerful chemistry. As the voice of Ruby's conscience the immaculate Paul Lukas as usual quietly steals all of his scenes. The only weak link is Suzanne Cloutier as Yvonne but happily she has little screen time. She went on of course to play Desdemona, yet another of Orson Welles' bizarre casting choices. There is an intriguing appearance by the brilliant and ill-fated photojournalist Robert Capa who visited his friend Charles Korvin on the set and ended up playing his servant.
Although slowly paced and clearly showing its theatrical roots, this tale of infidelity, blackmail, poisonings and an Egyptian mummy's curse keeps one watching thanks to its leading players and Irving Pichel's capable if somewhat uninspired direction.
Reviewed by JohnHowardReid9 / 10
A real treat!
For those of us who love superlative black-and-white photography, shimmeringly artistic sets and gorgeously adorned costumes, Temptation is a real treat. The story of this Bella Donna is in itself sufficiently strong to sustain interest, but its suspense is further heightened here not only by an additional dressing of pungent dialogue, but by inspired acting from the entire roster of players from principals down to the smallest bits.
It's not every actor who'd be willing to undertake the thankless role of a husband so deadly dull as to drive his wife into a blackmailer's arms. But George Brent makes his Nigel so stodgily lacklustre as to make any woman scream. Miss Oberon plays the adventuress with a heart of stone. Her composure is admirable. Charles Korvin gives his villain a requisite edge of charm. As his victim, Suzanne Cloutier (later to play Desdemona to Welles' Othello) makes quite an impression. Good to see Aubrey Mather in a role that suits his considerable talents. Arnold Moss as usual contrives to make his very presence inauspicious.
Pichel has directed in a measured, yet unusually fluid style that illuminates not only the more subtle nuances of the dialogue, but the extraordinary beauty of sets and costumes.
The conclusion is somewhat abrupt, but that is the only strike against this engrossing, strikingly picturesque, period piece.