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A mousy drugstore manager turns killer after his conniving wife leaves him for another man. He devises a complex plan, which involves assuming a new identity, to make it look like someone else murdered her new boyfriend. Things take an unexpected turn when someone else commits the murder first and he becomes the prime suspect. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <email@example.com>
"Tension" was shooting at about the same time in 1949 as Side Street (1949), and the latter film utilizes the pharmacy set and its phone booth to allow Farley Granger to make a phone call. See more »
Near the end, Warren Quimby puts both his hands in his pockets while facing the camera and talking. Then, in a reverse shot from behind, he is seen with his hands out of his pockets and putting them in again. See more »
Two of its four stars are staples of the noir genre: Audrey Totter and Barry Sullivan. Sullivan opens the movie with an introduction to himself and some excellent voice-over. And Totter! She was always good, but here she plays the archetype of the evil woman. In some ways she's more plausible than Ann Savage in "Detour," because she's put in a clear context and her character is developed.
That's not all about Totter that's developed. She is curvaceous and then some: It seems as if in some scenes she has been costumed in clothing at least one size too small. She thus appears not only alluring but also a bit overweight. That handsome Richard Basehart, the third star, is crazily in love with her anyway is all the more poignant.
Totter has voracious appetites. She likes to eat desserts at the soda fountain in her husband's drugstore. She sneers at the nice suburban house he has picked out for them: She wants something much bigger and fancier.
And she gets it when she hooks up with a somewhat older customer who has a snazzy car and a house on the beach.
(Here as in a few other places, it seems as if the editing was a little messy -- or that something was cut out. The guy appears in the drugstore, she and Basehart already seem to know him and know him by name, at that. But we aren't sure who he is.
That the Production Code allowed what happens next is really surprising. It's pretty blatant, in-your-face adultery.
Basehart was a superb actor. Here he is excellent in an understated way. He gets fitted with contact lenses -- surely a novelty when the movie was filmed. But even with glasses on, he is exceptionally handsome. Barry Sullivan is handsome too and he is a fine movie performer. But Basehart was the real thing. To me, for example, he is the best part of "La Strada," renowned for its two other leads.
As to the fourth lead in "Tension," we have Cyd Charisse. She doesn't dance; she acts. She isn't exactly bad. But, though she's playing a somewhat thankless good-girl role, she could have been more interesting.
This is a hard, cold movie. One of its characters is despicable. Another is not very admirable. There's a little romance but it doesn't really soften the movie. The movie is tough and mean: Just what we want in film noir.
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