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Noel M. Smith
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>
Major noir classic with a spectacular Audrey Totter performance
This is in a category of its own. The central role of a bad, bad girl is played by Audrey Totter with such spectacular power and intensity that you would think it would break the projectors in the cinema. She was like an earthquake on screen. She was also well supported by superb performances from Richard Baseheart as her husband, Barry Sullivan as a sardonic detective, and the elegant Cyd Charisse who exerts her powerful charms in a non-dancing role. This film does not conform to any strict formulae of noir construction, is almost quirky, but is a genuine classic of the genre by breaking so many of the rules. There is no murder for absolutely ages, but we forget that we are waiting for it, so mesmerised are we by Totter. The balance of attention shifts from character to character, and there is a lot of misdirection of attention to keep the audience guessing. This is absolutely not a film about a murder, which in itself is incidental. This is a powerful psychological study of extreme character types. There are absolutely superb minor touches of direction throughout, and John Berry, the director, would have had a future as one of the top directors in Hollywood after this if he had not been blacklisted. William Conrad (later 'Cannon' on TV for 102 episodes) was just as fat a cop then, and Barry Sullivan actually pulls a bag of popcorn out of his hand, gives it to a passing stranger, and pats Conrad on his bulging stomach to admonish him. The film is full of little things like that which are creative embellishments added by a director with his imagination and his eye both in top gear. The best touch of all is the stretching of a rubber band throughout the film by Barry Sullivan, who says 'everybody has his breaking point', and snaps the band. In the scenes with the greatest tension, the band comes out and gets stretched and stretched. In one amazing scene, Sullivan and Totter even stretch the rubber band together with their fingers both entwined in it absentmindedly, while the psychological tension builds. This use of the rubber band throughout the film as a motif actually works, because it is done so well and with such extraordinary subtlety. All the suspects are under tension bigtime, hence the title. There are many good lines, such as Sullivan saying to Totter: 'I've got a file on you going back as far as you can remember and into the future as far as you dare imagine.' They end up kissing. This film positively reeks of classic noir elements, while being put together in an original manner. We have irrational passion, greed, amorality, lust, love, betrayal, selfless devotion, murder, as well as an inability to kill despite wanting to. It's all there. Just add DVD and stir.
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