After discovering the dead body of her teenage daughter's lover, a housewife takes desperate measures to protect her family from scandal.After discovering the dead body of her teenage daughter's lover, a housewife takes desperate measures to protect her family from scandal.After discovering the dead body of her teenage daughter's lover, a housewife takes desperate measures to protect her family from scandal.
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.
- Jan 3, 2010