The transition of Aldous Huxley's short story, "The Gioconda Smile," into a motion picture, "A Woman's Vengeance," was effected only with a loss in subtle force equal to that suffered in the change of titles. But all of Huxley could not be distilled out fortunately, and that which remains raises the film far above the usual "psychodrama." His writing of the scenario produced dialogue more profound than that, ordinarily heard in film.
"The Gioconda Smile" used a murder incident merely as vehicle to carry the usual Huxleyan theme that lives not lived on both the sensual and rational level fall short of fulfillment. As a result the characters were not rounded, but rather each represented a perversion from Huxley's "golden mean." To develop the movie out of such a story it became necessary to make al the characters just a bit more human than they had been originally. Thus the film lost some of the story's meaning as the murder plot became an end in itself.
In the humanizing process, Charles Boyer developed his part of the self-continued husband who had no purpose in life other than proving his prowess of seduction into that of a warm, likeable person. His interest in Janet Spencer, a spinster who had retreated to an aesthetic world, arose from an intellectual affinity he had never found in his invalid, self-pitying wife. Miss Spencer poisoned the wife assuming that she thus freed the husband for herself. It actually freed him to marry an eighteen year old girl with whom he had been having an affair.
Miss Spence started a whispering campaign that led to exhuming the wife's body and a charge being placed against the husband as his wife's body and a charge being placed against the husband as his wife's poisener.
At this point the film elaborated on the story considerably and gave Jessica 'Tandy, as Janet Spence, and Sir Cedrie Harwicke, as Dr. Libbard, an opportunity for some superlative acting as they both struggled with Janet's conscience during the trial.
The doctor's cleverness finally caused Janet to reveal that she had actually poisoned the wife and the picture closed on a more melodramatic note than does the story.