Monogram May: When Strangers Marry AKA Betrayed (1944)
The Columbus Moving Picture Show staff are big fans of little movies from little studios, whether that means small studios or those that received little respect in their day. In May, we’ll be turning the focus on a trio of films from Monogram Studios, a studio that managed to be both of those things.
RODNEY BOWCOCK: Millie Baxter (Kim Hunter) arrives in New York full of youthful exuberance; see she’s just gotten married, and she’ll be meeting her husband Paul (Dean Jagger) very soon. Only thing that’s peculiar is that she’s only actually met with Paul three times. This may seem unusual to us, but it was at least a little more common during war-time when quickie marriages, while maybe not the order of the day, were certainly at least a little understandable as people got married sometimes days before someone was shipped overseas, or maybe married during a furlough. Anyway, if you feel it’s odd, you’re not the only one. So do the people that Millie encounters on the train, but nothing can dampen her enthusiasm.
SAMANTHA GLASSER: Hunter is very young and unglamorous in this film. Her acting abilities are on full display even if her polished star persona hasn't been chiseled yet. Visually she is rough, unsure, pretty but inexperienced. Although I've seen her in other movies, like Deadline USA and her most famous performance as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, I didn't recognize her as the respected chameleon actress she would become. She looks like a burgeoning ingénue which come at a dime a dozen.
RB: Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, a wealthy businessman (Dick Elliott) who has had seven or eight too many, generously invites a businessman to stay in his room to catch some sleep while he is carousing around the city. The next morning, said businessman is found dead in his room, missing ten thousand dollars, but with the addition of a pair of silk stockings wrapped around his neck. What do the two events have in common? Well, as it turns out, the police suspect Paul Baxter (remember him?) of committing the crime, as it appears he was in the hotel that night.
SG: We meet Mr. Prescott as he galivants around the bar in a papier mache lion head. There is a nice visual of the back of the killer's head flanked by the bartender and his victim, although the focus is off so the foreground is blurred. Cinematographer Ira Morgan made an attempt, though it was only partly successful. Elliott is very good at playing good-natured loud-mouth characters.
RB: While waiting for Paul to arrive in New York, several days late for unknown reasons, Millie meets up with an old flame, Fred Graham (Robert Mitchum), who seems protective and worried for her. Convinced that Millie has gotten herself into trouble with her involvement with her new groom, he sets out to protect her from getting in any deeper. Or does he? We’re treading a perilous line of spoilers here, and I don’t want to dig myself into a hole… Let’s just say that a lot happens in a little bit of time and there are seemingly countless twists and turns.
SG: It is loads of fun to see people who went on to become big stars in their first efforts. Mitchum needs no introduction to Picture Show audiences, although the other day at work I saw a police officer who bore a striking resemblance to the actor, but I hesitated to say anything to him, assuming he likely wouldn't know who I was referring to, or would and would then think I was hitting on him. He has an impressive amount of confidence even in the beginning of his career. Jagger is excellent as the ambiguous husband playing his part with both menace and charm. Even Rhonda Fleming makes an appearance at the end.
Sara Hamilton reviewed the movie for Photoplay magazine and said, "Neil Hamilton is excellent as the chief of the homicide squad and both Kim and Jagger override the inadequacies of the material."
RB: Betrayed was originally billed as When Strangers Marry, a more sensationalistic (ripped from the headlines!) title, but one that I prefer. After Mitchum (whose previous parts included supporting roles in Tex Ritter and Hopalong Cassidy films and uncredited parts in slightly more prestigious films like The Dancing Masters with Laurel and Hardy) started to gain fame, Monogram, never one to miss out on an affordable marketing opportunity, printed up some new titles and press material and tossed the film back out on the market in 1948 titled Betrayed. This is the widely available version that we screened for this piece.
SG: Motion Picture Daily said, "Here is a neat number in the mystery classification... Principal elements contributing to interesting and effective values in suspense are taut and firm direction by William Castle... and highly competent black and white photography by Ira Morgan."
RB: Castle also had a bright future ahead of him to say the least, now known as a household name among monster kids, but at this time, he was slogging along turning out respectable Boston Blackie, Whistler and Crime Doctor programmers for Columbia (I know…he disagreed that they were respectable, but they’re well liked around here, that’s for sure). He shows a real flare for direction here, as some of the scenes have a surreal nightmare-like tone to them, which adds to the atmosphere and unsettling nature of the entire film, adding his own brand of camerawork to other bits cribbed from Val Lewton and Alfred Hitchcock. We even get to see one of his later gimmicks on full display as he gives himself not one, but two cameos.
Speaking of cameos, I’d be hard pressed to downplay my delight at seeing Picture Show favorite Byron Foulger show up in an uncredited cameo as an axe murderer. Pretty sure I laughed out loud.
SG: Albany, New York's Ritz Theatre had some fun by pairing this title with Three Is a Family so the marquee read "Three Is a Family When Strangers Marry."
RB: You do have to suspend belief a little bit to roll with all of the plot twists here, which sometimes seem pretty inconceivable upon reflection, but this movie is still a wild ride. Don Miller in his indispensable book B Movies called this “unquestionably the finest B film made”. Well, I do kind of question that, but none other than Orson Welles felt that “it isn’t as slick as Double Indemnity or as glossy as Laura but its better acted and better directed”, so I may be wrong in that estimation. Either way, I fully enjoyed this film and bestow upon it an enthusiastic four stars.
SG: I loved the many twists and turns; I didn't see them coming. For a low budget programmer, this film contains interesting photography, high quality acting and an exciting plot. I liked the characters a lot and was happy to be along for this ride. Four stars.