A novelist aided by his future father-in-law conspires to frame himself for the murder of a burlesque dancer as part of an effort to ban capital punishment.A novelist aided by his future father-in-law conspires to frame himself for the murder of a burlesque dancer as part of an effort to ban capital punishment.A novelist aided by his future father-in-law conspires to frame himself for the murder of a burlesque dancer as part of an effort to ban capital punishment.
An early wide screen black and white drama that marks the end of Fritz Lang's American career and also shows the winding down of two great stars, Joan Fontaine and Dana Andrews. The film is no send off, exactly, but it is slightly tired, as if the formula of movie-making needs a twist and it isn't here.
That's not the point, of course. This is now the mid-fifties, crisis time for Hollywood, and with widescreen (and widescreen color) movies making a final jab at the rise of television. The plot is sensational, and not too far from what an extended early television drama might try, with mostly interior shooting and a staged (sometimes stagey) presentation. In all it's not Lang's best, and he was a master at both noir/expressionist drama and at getting to the human dilemma of fate and murder.
Andrews and Fontaine are not a bad pair—both are matched in calm and sophistication, and beauty, even, though Fontaine seems like an accessory until the very end. Andrews rules the plot, which makes him out to be a writer desperate for a new story. So desperate he's going to pretend to commit a murder just to test the justice system.
It's all so outrageous you want to believe it, though your mind says it just wouldn't happen. It's too convenient, and one man's suggestion from the newspaper turns out to be the other man's reality. Enough said!
Oddly enough, this is an RKO distribution even after the studio's demise (I don't know the reasons there) but it might point to a less than perfect crew. Certainly the cinematographer, which Lang relied on greatly in earlier films, is no one with credentials. Likewise the editing and writing are fairly routine, even lackluster. And so if a movie that depends on some psychological intensity is really a bit of a grunt effort, whatever the star power involved, it's a bit doomed.
So watch this if you are curious about any of the parts. I'm a fan of all three of the principles here, and so had to watch it. But I didn't walk away impressed.
- Mar 17, 2014