The weather is unfriendly, the skies get dark early, and the world is a scary place. Join us this month as we embrace dark, gritty movies in the film noir genre.
SAMANTHA GLASSER: A man (Edmond O'Brien) with a troubled past, a heroic but problematic military record, and a small-time gig cheating in the gambling racket gets approached by a glamorous blonde (Lizabeth Scott) asking him to impersonate the missing heir to a large fortune. He lets her seduce him and agrees to her demands, often finding himself getting less than he bargained for.
The film begins rather dark, dwelling in the squalor of a man's past, using sex to manipulate him, all for the want of a big payout. It lightens up considerably as he begins his mission and is introduced to the many kind-hearted, understanding and intelligent people he wants to scam.
RODNEY BOWCOCK: Lefty’s sudden turn into having a conscience provides what is likely the most interesting twist in the film. While he feels no real qualms about conning this family out of their fortune, he also appears to be genuinely fond of them and their acceptance of his past. When they discover that their plot will not work, his remorse at being involved in the entire affair is heartening to see.
SG: After Michael has the tip of his finger removed, it is cleverly photographed. O'Brien covers it in frontal shots, and we see it when his back is to camera or when seen from the chest up when another hand could be inserted from the bottom of the shot.
RB: I didn’t notice any of that, but on retrospect, you’re completely right. What I did notice is how much I squirmed during the scene where his finger was injured. Really well done. You totally feel the pain.
SG: O'Brien is not a traditionally handsome man, but he has an undeniable magnetism that makes him a favorite of mine, especially in noir. He has an expressive face and an everyman quality that draws us in immediately. This film was made when he was a freelance actor after his contract with Warner Brothers expired. It was there that he made possibly his best known movie White Heat.
RB: This also would’ve been around the time that O’Brien was starring on CBS radio in the first iteration of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Now, I love old-time radio more than most, but I’ll also readily admit that it doesn’t generally bode too well when an actor goes from starring in films to appearing on a weekly radio show. Those sorts of things were generally regarded as quick and easy money. Although, considering that he won an Oscar in 1954 for The Barefoot Contessa, and was later nominated again for Seven Days in May, I’d say that things worked out pretty well for him overall.
SG: I'll bet it had to do with him going freelance. Maybe he wasn't able to do radio before because of his contract and he did it because he could. Maybe it was easy money.
Scott must've had the same voice coach as June Allyson. They both have similarly gravelly voices and pronounce their A's the same way. She was a frequent face in film noir, playing a range of nasty characters, this one being one of the nicer ones. You can always count on her to give a good performance.
RB: She certainly does give a good performance, but it’s a leap of faith to see exactly why Lefty would agree to go in with her on a deal that seems destined for disaster. Yeah, yeah, I get it. You kind of have to suspend your sense of logic when you watch a film like this, and I’m pretty good at that, but this one was a lot, even for me.
SG: I don't think he had a lot to lose. He was making table scraps at his gambling con and saw the chance for a bigger payout and a sexy blonde too.
I have a fondness for Terry Moore because of how energetic and fun she was when I met her at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in 2015. She displays the same vibrancy here. Her character is an independent, modern woman who drives men around rather than taking the passenger seat when they're with her and who isn't jealous of her romantic rivals to the extent that she considers them friends. She is rich but doesn't flaunt or take advantage of her money, opting to paint her house than pay someone else to do it. She also drives a wood-paneled station wagon, not a glamorous sports car. This is a fantastic and rare character in the history of classic cinema.
RB: Terry Moore is positively radiant in this film. Not only is she beautiful, but her role, as you point out is such a breath of fresh air, in stark contrast to the icy Lizbeth Scott who would resort to anything to have what she has. If I had seen this film when I met Ms. Moore at the same event you did, I’d certainly have asked her about it. It’s a very memorable role on her part.
SG: I'm not sure she would have had much to share. I brought up Peyton Place and The Great Rupert and she kept changing the subject.
Motion Picture Daily's review said, "The dialogue is generally crisp and smart and Henry Levin's direction is well balanced. The love-making, incidentally, is rather intense since Miss Scott portrays a quite uninhibited vixen."
Harrison's Reports reported, "The acting is competent, and the photography rich..." and unusual for a noir, "unobjectionable morally."
Although this movie isn't one of the standouts of the noir genre, it features a great cast and an unusual playout of the main con and is worth watching. Three stars.
RB: I’d love to be able to give you some reports of how the trades reported things went in small towns, but I couldn’t find anything at all. The film seems to have been pretty unceremoniously released and then shuttled to the next town 2-3 days later without as much a as a blip of publicity. While this is an average 3 star film, with the pedigree of the cast and the quality of performances, one would think that it would’ve been more well regarded than it was.