My Forbidden Past (1951)

Barbara wants to run away with her beau, but cousin Paul isn’t going to let that happen so easily. (Image via ebay.com)

New Orleans in the late 1800s may seem like an exciting place, but it’s more complicated than exciting for the Beaurevel family. Barbara Beaurevel (Ava Gardner) is a young and beautiful girl, living with her cousin Paul (Melvyn Douglas) and his mother (Lucile Watson).

Barbara’s aunt and cousin refuse to acknowledge her grandmother, who had a sketchy past but was only trying to provide for her family. They refuse to let any such connection tarnish their reputation within the upper crust of New Orleans society. As a result, family relations are strained. Barbara feels the need to hide things, including her relationship with Mark (Robert Mitchum).

Things become even further complicated when Mark leaves town and returns to a research position at Tulane University — with a pretty new wife in tow. Soon after Mark’s return, Barbara discovers that she has inherited nearly a million dollars from her shunned grandmother’s estate and attempts to use that money to win Mark’s affections with the help of the very greedy Paul.

Needless to say, a whole lot of drama ensues in 1951’s My Forbidden Past.

Clocking in at little more than an hour long, it’s surprising just how many little shocks the writers and filmmakers were able to pack into this film. As a result, the pace is quite fast, with one big event after the other, leading up to a few progressively shocking twists near the end of the film. While the film may have benefited from a slightly longer running time and a bit more development, this constant stream of action certainly keeps the viewer interested.

The film’s tagline: “SHE’s the kind of woman that made NEW ORLEANS famous!” (Image via lewiswaynegallery.com)
Ava Gardner plays a very sneaky lady who plots to steal Robert Mitchum’s doctor character from his new wife. (Image via doctormacro.com)

The performances of My Forbidden Past aren’t career bests for anyone involved. However, there are still a number of interesting elements at work in terms of performance. The dynamics between the characters are interesting, and they do play well off of each other despite the fact that none of the actors really stand out. The tension is nearly palpable during some of the scenes between Ava Gardner and Janis Carter, who portrays the new wife of Mitchum’s character. For one scene in particular, when Gardner visits Carter to give her a party invitation, their banter is very snarky and competitive. Douglas and Mitchum are, in their few scenes together, also full of tension.

Melvyn Douglas’ character of Paul is a bit perplexing. It is hard to distinguish whether he’s that creepy relative we all dread seeing at family get-togethers (and poor Barbara has to live with him full-time) or if he’s just an odd jokester. Either way, Paul is a very interesting character, adding both a twisted comedic relief and quite a bit of emotion to the film.

My Forbidden Past is nothing stellar, but fans of melodrama and strong supporting roles will get enjoyment from it. There are a few good twists and very interesting character interactions, which keep the film interesting throughout its short duration. During the middle of the film I would have planned on giving it a solid 3 score, but I’ll bump it up by half a point because it picked up so much with the biggest twist near the end. The score: 3.5/5

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