Cornered (1945)

Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Written by John Paxton from a story by John Wesley
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Warner Film Noir Classic Collection


Perchon, German Banker: The gun is unnecessary, this is a friendly meeting.

Laurence Gerard: Just want to be sure I’m chairman.

Dick Powell is at his grimmest in this post-war noir which takes his character deep into a Nazi enclave in Argentina.

Canadian flyer Laurence Gerard (Powell) has just been released from a POW camp.  He is deeply traumatized and his one remaining aim in life is vengeance on the people who murdered his French wife of 20 days.  He returns to France to confront her father and pump him for information on the murderers.  The father, reluctantly out of concern for Gerard’s sanity and safety, says that Vichy official Marcel Jarnac was to blame.

But the father also has papers stating that Jarnac is dead, his life insurance having been paid to wife Madeleine. The father believes the files fell into his hands too conveniently and tells Gerard that he might learn more from Jarnac’s Vichy associate.  Of course, at the exact moment Gerard arrives to confront the man, he finds his office in a smoldering heap. The associate burned all his papers before committing suicide.  But, of course, within about two minutes Gerard finds an unscathed page which is the cover sheet of a dossier the man was keeping on Jarnac. For some reason, Gerard takes this as proof that Jarnac is alive.  He decides to follow the trail of Jarnac’s “widow”.  It takes him to Switzerland and thence to Argentina.

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Melchior Incza (Walter Slezak) meets Gerard on arrival.  Incza seems to know way too much about Gerard and offers him his services.  Failing to rid himself of Incza, Gerard finally accepts his offer to attend a party where the widow may be present.  The remainder of the story follows Gerard’s pursuit of Jarnac to its bloody conclusion

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I have related perhaps twenty minutes of the more coherent portions of the exceptionally convoluted and improbable plot.  The film keeps playing with the audience’s perception of the true identities of the many players and I still was not quite sure of some of them by the end.  The confusion made the film seem longer than its 110 minute length.  The dialog, on the other hand, is pretty great and certainly the performances cannot be faulted.  Both Powell and Slezak shine.


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