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Olivia de Havilland,
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Will Rogers Jr.,
Lon Chaney Jr.
'You see that building over there, Marsh? That's where I grew up.'
This is a superb film noir directed by Michael Curtiz, which has never been officially reissued in video or DVD format. The film introduces three new lead players, Carol Ohmart, Ton Tryon, and Elaine Stritch, who here all appear in their first feature film. This was clearly a conscious decision by Paramount to try and create new stars. They took an excellent script and entrusted the project to the capable hands of Oscar-winner Michael Curtiz, who is of course most famous for directing CASABLANCA (1942). Carol Ohmart is the femme fatale. She has a low dusky voice and moves, speaks and acts like Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck was twenty years older than Ohmart, and perhaps it seemed time to try and reinvent her. Ohmart does an excellent job and there is nothing to complain of about her performance except for one thing, and that is that she did not possess the natural magic of a true star. In this film she is highly effective, but we are not entranced. What is there that makes one woman spellbinding and another not? We will never know the answer. Young Tom Tryon as the earnest, love-crazed male lead is very good, though at that age he looked a bit weird, and he was much more effective and better looking when he was older and had developed a bit of gravitas, as for instance in THE CARDINAL (1963). Elaine Stritch is given a substantial supporting role, and she makes the most of it, stealing plenty of scenes (though apparently without meaning to do so) and showing what stuff she is made of, as the decades which followed have proved. Michael Curtiz does his usual excellent job of directing, and the story really does have some surprises and twists. This is no B picture, it is the real thing. Ohmart is a gold-digger who has married a rich older man (played by James Gregory) for whom she has no affection whatever. But then, her affection is reserved for herself. She does however have a mad passion for Tryon, and must have him. 'I want you,' she says to him repeatedly, like a Roman Empress deciding to conquer Cilicia before the week is out. They can't keep their hands off each other, and their mouths are glued together and they simply can't tell whose arms are which. A slight problem! Tryon works for the husband. Also, the boss's secretary, played with doe-eyed devotion by Jody Lawrance (who retired from acting only 12 years later at the age of 38, and died aged only 55 in 1986), is hopelessly in love with Tryon, who does not notice. This film is notable for an appearance by the singer Nat King Cole, who sings an entire song, 'Never Let Me Go' (composed specially for this film), standing and smiling in a nightclub into which Ohmart briefly goes before slipping out on one of her sinister errands of passion. The film begins with Ohmart and Tryon sitting in an open convertible on a warm summer night on the hills overlooking the lights of Los Angeles. They have been necking passionately and suddenly two other cars drive up nearby, which do not see them. Men get out of each car and a rendezvous takes place, in which a jewel robbery is planned, and the couple overhear all the details. Who is the mysterious and genteel man who is organising it? Later in the film we get a real shock when we find out who he is. (No, it is not Ohmart's husband. Try again. Give up, you could never guess.) Ohmart wants to run away with Tryon, who 'has no money' (at least not enough for her), so she browbeats him into robbing the robbers and taking the $350,000 worth of jewels from them as 'running away money'. When Tryon protests, Ohmart ruthlessly scorns his comparative poverty, and says 'I've been poor before.' But of course, this being a film noir, things go terribly wrong. And go on going wrong. And go on going even more wrong. And everything becomes impossibly tense, so that sweat practically breaks out upon the celluloid itself. And then more surprises come, and yet more tension. The screenwriter has no mercy on us. And Ohmart is relentless, as greedy and passionate as Stanwyck in DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), a role on which she clearly modelled her own performance. This really is a good one. I would say don't miss it, but first you have to find it, and that is even more difficult than solving the plot. Type it into Google with the word 'buy'.
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