Assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall falls for the mysterious Thelma Jordon when she seeks help solving robberies of her aunt's estate.Assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall falls for the mysterious Thelma Jordon when she seeks help solving robberies of her aunt's estate.Assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall falls for the mysterious Thelma Jordon when she seeks help solving robberies of her aunt's estate.
- Dolly - Cleve's Secretaryas Dolly - Cleve's Secretary
- (as Laura Elliot)
Like her Martha Ivers, Stanwyck's Thelma Jordon has a wealthy old aunt (Gertrude Hoffman, who the next year in Caged would steal that movie from some very tough competition). One evening the niece strolls into the District Attorney's office with a story about prowlers and burglars (explaining that she bypassed the police because `My aunt is eccentric, and uniforms upset her'). She tells her tale to an inebriated assistant D.A., Wendell Corey, who's drinking to escape his embittered marriage. Stanwyck lends a sympathetic ear, and they start seeing one another on the sly.
When the aunt, inevitably, is found shot, Stanwyck calls not the police but Corey, and in a tense and extended scene of panic, he helps her cover up evidence that may incriminate her. When she emerges as the prime suspect, he also arranges for his boss to be disqualified, so he can sabotage the prosecution. Stanwyck (after a beautifully orchestrated processional from jail to courthouse) is acquitted. But her past has begun to catch up with her, complete with a shady lover who keeps turning up and who shoves the compromised Corey out of the picture. But never trust a duplicitous woman, particularly if she's within easy reach of a dashboard cigarette lighter....
Siodmak (with Ketti Frings, who wrote the screenplay) starts the movie so slowly that it looks like it's going to shape up into a routine, adulterous triangle. But he's just laying his groundwork. He keeps Stanwyck behind ambiguous veils, too, stripping them off one by one. Corey proves just right as the dupe, the fall guy (as Fred MacMurray proved right in Double Indemnity); a skillful character actor who always submerged his own personality in the roles he played, he tended to look a little pallid in leading-man roles he took next to the female stars against whom he was pitted.
Siodmak may be the most ruminative of the great noir auteurs he eschews flash for solid, patient construction. But when it's time for the big set-pieces (the nocturnal panic in the dark old mansion, the perp walk, the shocking flourish of violence at the end courtesy of Stanwyck and that cigarette lighter), he does them full justice. The File on Thelma Jordon falls just short of the summa-cum-laude distinction of his The Killers, and maybe of Criss Cross and even Christmas Holiday, too. But with Stanwyck's drawing upon the full fetch of her talents, it's an indispensable moment in the noir cycle.
- Oct 21, 2002