After a wild night, wealthy Michael Reston's adulterous wife Charleen comes home with her ripe young body barely concealed by a dress in rags; murder results. Top defense lawyer J.G. Blane, whose own marriage exists in name only, arrives in Desert View, Nevada to find the townsfolk and politically powerful Sheriff Hoak distinctly hostile to the Restons. In due course, Blane discovers he's been "taken for a ride," and that quiet desert communities can be deadly...Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
After a member of the town upper crust Michael Reston and his wife get mixed up in a surly murder they reach out to top shelf lawyer James Gordon Blaine (Jeff Chandler) for defense. Blaine blows into Desert Nevada with his major rep that rankles the local common folk who see money buying Reston out of the rap, especially the local sheriff, Nick Hoak (Jack Carson), a friend of the murdered one time football hero gone town drunk. When Blaine gets Reston off the vitriol flows and the lawyer is accused of bribing a juror ( Gail Russell) on trumped up charges orchestrated by the sheriff and when that comes undone he resorts to more brazen tactic.
The Tattered Dress is a sensationalist piece whose selling point (coming attractions, lobby cards) centers around the sluttish opening scene presence of hyper tease Charleen Reston luring the boozy dumb jock to his demise. Things get staid after the fireworks though Ms. Reston likes what she sees in Blaine when his estranged wife (Jeanne Crain) shows up for support. The script remains perfunctory most of the way and Jack Arnold's direction is lax though Bernie Guffey's lensing lends visual support especially in the early moments where the Restons' throw the has been halfback for a final loss. What does give the film authority is the the unsympathetic surly Reston's cynicism and the fact that he walks on what is no more than an execution. Instead Arnold wastes time on Blaine's tenuous marriage with a wasted Jeanne Crain and a heavy handed finale.
Chandler offers a decent lead and the supporting cast of Jack Carson, Gail Russell and Phil Reed with Elaine Stewart turning the heat up make their presence known but it is Edward Andrews in one brief scene as a lawyer about to defend Blaine who has the best moment, once again coldly cynical.
In the hands of a more daring director and with tighter script and dialogue Dress might have made for a nice dark noir but given its cinemascope first run backing it wastes it's time with lookers Chandler and Crain in clinches when a similar scene between the weighty shirtless Carson and the dissipated Russell resonates with far more power. Then again Hollywood film remains a business before artistic consideration in most cases and it does so to the detriment of this picture aesthetic possibilities in favor of box office. Sounds logical.
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