Mrs. Winterbourne (1996)

The 1996 romantic comedy Mrs. Winterbourne is anything but a cinematic classic. However, it does serve as a reminder of Woolrich’s genius when it comes to scenario construction. As Renzi writes about She’s No Angel, yet another adaptation of I Married a Dead Man (1948), “Perhaps it proves that a good story, devised by a creative writer like Cornell Woolrich, deserves repeated retelling” (344). That statement rings true with Mrs. Winterbourne. The film, starring Ricki Lake, Shirley MacLane and Brendan Fraiser, takes a fair number of liberties with Woolrich’s novel, but the essential structure remains intact.

Ricki Lake is Connie Doyle, this film’s version of Helen Georgesson. She is impregnated by a petty criminal named Steve DeCunzo (Steve Georgesson). Connie is portrayed as low-class white trash, with manners and habits that separate her from the higher-class Winterbourne’s (Hazzard’s).

Brendan Fraiser plays Bill and Hugh Winterbourne. Hugh, who dies on the train, is the laid-back drifter that serves as a comedic foil to his twin’s seriousness. Shirley MacClane plays Mrs. Winterbourne, a wealthy widow who originally didn’t fit in to the family either. MacClane is the highlight of the film, and takes the role to a level beyond that found in either the novel or No Man of Her Own. 

The film is chock full of the various tropes that you would expect in a mid-nineties romantic comedy.  The film ends  with Bill and Connie’s wedding, at which she insists being married as “Connie Doyle.” The reclamation of her previous identity is unique, and seems to be sloppy storytelling. But this is a romantic comedy credits wedding, and no questions Connie’s identity, even after the police show up outside of the church. The officers seem unconcerned when Bill, Mrs. Winterbourne, and Connie all confess to murdering Steve DeCunzo. Rather than being taken in to custody  to straighten out this mess, they are free to go about their wedding.

The film itself is a bit of a lighthearted mess. That being said, the Woolrich’s plot is still intact. Connie is the shunned pregnant woman (though less socially-ruined in this modern time period.) She takes the role of Patricia Winterbourne, in part for her child (though she does make several early inept attempts to reveal herself). She falls in love with Bill, who learns her secret but then proposes to her anyway. Ultimately, she becomes a Winterbourne.

Clearly, I don’t recommend the film for its cinematic value, but I do think films like Mrs. Winterbourne and Original Sin show that Woolrich’s stories still have value in the modern era and are rich sources of inspiration for filmmakers.