In the charming community of Balboa 50 miles from Los Angeles, middle-class housewife Lucia Harper travels to Los Angeles to meet scoundrel, Ted Darby. Her seventeen year-old daughter Beatrice is in love with Ted. He asks for money to leave Bea, but Lucia refuses to give any. Bea does not believe her mother when told and during the night she sneaks out to the boat garage to meet Ted who admits that Lucia told the truth. Bea pushes him and Ted falls to his on an anchor. The next morning, Lucia finds the body and assumes that Bea has killed her lover. She decides to get rid of the corpse and puts it in her boat and dumps it far from home. When the police find Ted, a stranger, Martin Donnelly, visits Lucia to blackmail her on behalf of his partner, Nagel who has several letters Bea had written to Ted. Donnelly wants $5000 for the letters. The desperate Lucia tries to raise the amount. Martin falls in love with Lucia and tries to help her too. The dangerous Nagel wants to receive the ... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Ignore the awful title, which put me in mind of some portentous period drama and you'll find a tough little mid 40's thriller. The BBC showed it this Christmas in a series dedicated to film noir, although I didn't detect too many noir-ish attributes in either the plotting, characterisation or cinematography.
That's not to gainsay its charms, however, as this taut tale of accidental death and blackmail takes you from start to finish in the seeming blink of an eye, underplaying, thankfully, any tendency to melodrama in place of character development and pace of narrative.
Joan Bennett is very good as the protective mother hen, who'll stop at almost nothing to protect her wilful teenage daughter from a disastrous affair with a nefarious older man to the extent of covering up said daughter's accidental killing of her now-revealed blackguard of a lover. James Mason comes onto the scene as the "human" half of a blackmailing duo, intent on extorting $5000 from Bennett (her husband conveniently abroad at the time), whose outlook towards both her and himself changes as his admiration for her grows.
To be fair, I'm not sure enough time was devoted towards Mason's near-Damascene type conversion to Bennett's side, making it seem a trifle improbable and unexpected, certainly Bennett rarely has a polite word to say to him as she strives valiantly to raise the necessary funds to buy back her daughter's offending letters. No, for me the strength of the film is in the depiction of Bennett as a typical 1940's American matriarch, not too proud to take the whole problem on her shoulders, dirty her hands or even pawn her best jewellery to protect her precious family. The conclusion, involving a self-defence murder and car crash which sees Mason conveniently clear Bennett with his dying breath, does run counter to a lot of the realism that has gone before but I suppose some concessions had to be made to the audience of the day in delivering thrills and absolution for the heroine.
The best acting is unquestionably by Bennett. Mason's "Oirish" accent comes and goes a bit with the tide and he also struggles at times to convince you of the sincerity of what is, admittedly a trickily written part, but his marvellous speaking voice will convince me of most things, even as a cheap conscience-stricken blackmailer as here.
The direction by Max Opuls is crisp, occasionally making good use of exterior locations and is all about moving the story along within its brief screen-time.
In the end, the movie comes across as what it probably was, a superior B-picture, not strong enough as a main event, but one you'd enjoy on a double-feature.
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