On New Year's Eve 1946, Sheila Page kills her husband Barney. She wishes that she could relive 1946 and avoid the mistakes that she made throughout the year. Her wish comes true but cheating fate proves more difficult than she anticipated.
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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
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Sheila kills her husband at the start of the film with a smoking gun. We don't know how or why. All we know is men are banging on her door and she escapes. There is a notable dialogue as she makes her way to a New Years celebration with Richard Basehart as the poet William William. As she goes up the stairs to John Friday's apartment (her producer) she wishes she could relive the year and undo what she has done. William William, in an offhand remark, states he wishes he was the one who shot Barney, her erstwhile husband. We see that Destiny is not too happy with making changes to her plans. Written by
Buried treasure a surprising hybrid of sophisticated soap opera, sci-fi and film noir
Repeat Performance needs urgent rescuing from the black hole it has somehow fallen into. A superior Poverty Row production from Eagle-Lion Studios, it's imaginatively scripted, played with gusto and never less than fascinating a curio, film noir in a sci-fi time loop.
On New Year's Eve, 1947, Joan Leslie shoots and kills her husband, Louis Hayward. She wishes she hadn't, and her wish comes true suddenly she's back in New Year's Eve, 1946. This proves to be no mere shuffling around of the narrative; she's been given the year to live over again in hopes of a happier ending. But of course the gimmick serves as a flashback, too, retracing the sequence of events that led (or will lead?) up to the shooting.
The title also drops a clue about the picture's fang-and-claw milieu, New York's theater world. Leslie's a star on the Rialto, having come to prominence in one of her husband's plays. He turned out to be a one-shot wonder, however, resorting to the bottle in resentment of his failure and his wife's success (there are parallels to A Star Is Born and to All About Eve). Other characters in this backstage story include Leslie's producer, Tom Conway; Virginia Field, as a haughty English playwright; Richard Basehart (looking, in his debut, like a young Harrison Ford), as an unhappy poet but loyal friend; and Natalie Schafer, as a viperish patroness of the arts.
When Leslie suddenly finds herself in last year's gown, she tries to renegotiate her way through the year, this time in possession of an advance copy of the script, gingerly avoiding its fatal pitfalls. She comes to learn (as do we all) that destiny writes in cement. Luckily for her, it hasn't quite hardened.
On the first New Year's Eve, Howard's resolution not to drink doesn't even make it to midnight; he turns sullen and abusive. A spring sojourn to sunny California, while shopping for a new vehicle for Leslie, doesn't improve his moods. Her next prospect comes from the pen of Field, and Howard browbeats her into accepting it; he, meanwhile, takes up with its author. Basehart finds himself in the clutches of Schafer, who ends up having him committed to an asylum, while Howard suffers a drunken fall that paralyzes him. As the year winds to its close, Leslie desperately tries to extricate herself from what she knows is to come....
Despite being an unlikely hodge-podge of noirish, soapish and paranormal elements, the movie never seems stretched or thrown together. The less than luminous cast rises to the occasion, with each member allotted a place in the spotlight. Accept the flaw in the warp or weft of the fabric of time, and Repeat Performance zips along smoothly and convincingly. It's buried treasure proof, albeit obscure, that rough magic could sometimes occur even on the outer fringes of the movie industry.
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