One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
Feeble mystery film, cast wasted, Gail Russell looks lost
This film was clearly based on a rather feeble story about an empty house, mysterious lights in the cellar, vicious murders committed by a shadow in an alley, and so on, and although Raymond Chandler was brought in as a screenwriter to try to give it some muscle, that effort failed. The direction by Lewis Allen is clearly hopeless. All the cast look ill at ease, as if they had no idea what the director expected of them, and they found the story unconvincing. Herbert Marshall is stiff, and we can see him thinking: 'I'm getting too old for this kind of thing,' and his body language suggests he is resenting the weak direction. It is tragic to see the soulful, velvety-eyed 21 year-old Gail Russell looking so sad and so lost in this film. As for Joel McCrea, not only was he miscast as the grumpy widower whom Russell is meant to fall for, he looks even more lost than Gail Russell does, and flounders around not knowing how to behave. Lewis Allen had the previous year directed the delightful OUR HEARTS WERE YOUNG AND GAY (1944), where Gail Russell played the young Cornelia Otis Skinner with charm and conviction. And it was only two years later that Russell made what was probably her finest film, ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947, see my review), which is one of the greatest classics of the screen and captures all of her magical charm. So what went wrong this time? How did the rapport between Russell and Allen collapse? Why does everyone look so uncomfortable? Russell died of alcoholism at the age of only 36 in 1961. By 1950, her drinking was already so serious that she was becoming unemployable. But surely she cannot have become an alcoholic already by the age of 21, in 1945, so that cannot be the cause of the malaise seen in this picture. We know that Russell received a lot of moral support from John Wayne in ANGEL AND THE BADMAN, so that would have pulled her through. In this earlier film, the lack of even the most rudimentary chemistry between her and Joel McCrea is palpable, and it must have thrown her into a depression that she could not relate to him at all, and he refused to relate to her. And, as already noted, Herbert Marshall was 'getting too old for this kind of thing' and probably did not have the energy to try to prop up Russell as he might have done when younger. The two children in this film do very well, and Phyllis Brooks is excellent as the venomous, scheming Maxine. Maybe it could have worked. But it didn't.
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