The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

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Directed by William Wyler
Written by Robert E. Sherwood from a novel by MacKinlay Kantor
1946/USA
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Repeat viewing; DVD in collection
#194 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Fred Derry: How long since you been home?

Al Stephenson: Oh, a couple-a centuries.

I have seen this coming home story so often it seems like an old friend — one that it is always a pleasure to catch up with.  I can’t think of a single thing I would change about the  film.

By chance, de-mobilized service men Al Stephenson (Fredric March), Homer Parrish (Harold Russel), and Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) hitch a ride on the same military plane to their home town of Boone City.  The men could not be more different.  The highest ranking of the three is Fred, who is a captain and ex-Air Force gunner.  Al was a sergeant in the infantry and Homer is a lowly seaman returning home from the hospital after having lost his hands during the bombing of his ship.  They are all united by their war experience and their common anxiety about what awaits them at home.

As the men return to their homes we learn that they are as different by class as they are by rank.  Derry comes from the wrong side of the tracks and was a soda jerk before the war put him in a fancy uniform and allowed him to win his blonde bombshell wife (Virginia Mayo).  Homer is solidly middle class and all-American returning to his family who live in a house with a white picket fence.  Al is an ex-banker who is dropped off at a swanky apartment to reunite with Milly (Myrna Loy), his wife of twenty years, and two children, Peggy (Theresa Wright) and Rob.

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All three men are troubled by their reception the very first day.  Al gets a lecture from his son, who is sympathetic with the Japanese after the atom bomb, and he has trouble breaking the ice with the women folk.  Fred finds his wife has moved out of his parents home and gone back to work at a nightclub.  Homer can’t bear the pity of his family.  All of the men end up drinking away their sorrows at the bar owned by Homer’s uncle Butch (Hoagy Carmichael).  Al has dragged Milly and Peggy along and Peggy and Fred are drawn to each other.

The men’s readjustment is slow and painful.  Al develops quite the drinking problem as he tries to get used to being a conservative banker.  Homer has trouble opening up to anybody and it looks like he will let his engagement to Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell) slip by the wayside.  Fred, lacking any applicable skills, is forced to take a job working under the man who formerly assisted him at the drugstore.  His wife has little use for him without his uniform or money and Al puts the kabosh on a budding extramarital relationship with Peggy.  We follow the men until each gradually comes to terms with civilian live.

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I have absolutely no complaints about anything in this movie and I love it as well so I guess I can call it perfect.  It is amazing how fast the three hours flies.  It seems to just take that long for us to get to know the characters well enough for their fates to matter.  I always cry at different points.  It usually begins with the scene where Milly is serving Al his breakfast in bed, carries on through Wilma putting Homer to bed, and culminates in a big way when Fred is sitting in the war surplus bomber.

Myrna Loy amazingly was never even nominated for an Oscar.  She is the equal to the Oscar-winning Fredric March in this film and was robbed.  There was never anyone better at playing a well-loved wife and she exceeded all expectations here.

The Best Years of Our Lives won Academy Awards for:  Best Picture; Best Actor (March); Best Supporting Actor (Russell); Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Hugo Friedhofer).  It was nominated for Best Sound, Recording.  Harold Russell won an Honorary Award for: “For bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in The Best Years of Our Lives.”  I agree with all these awards, though it would have been nice if the Academy could have been satisfied with giving Russell the Honorary Award and saved the Supporting Actor statuette for Claude Rains in Notorious.

Trailer

Canyon Passage (1946)

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Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by Ernest Pascal from the novel by Ernest Haycox
1946/USA
Universal Pictures
First viewing/Netflix video

 

Logan Stuart: A man can choose his own gods, Cornelius. What are your gods?

I was expecting a bit more from this Jacques Tourneur-helmed Western. It’s perfectly serviceable, though.

Logan Stuart (Dana Andrews) is a business man in frontier Oregon.  His loyalty to friend George Camrose (Brian Donlevy) seemingly knows no bounds.  It extends even to covering the compulsive gambler’s debts for him.  It is obvious that Camrose’s girlfriend Lucy (Susan Hayward) is actually carrying a torch for Logan.  Logan, however, opts to propose to another, more conventional, farm girl.

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The story is composed of elements that did not exactly hang together well for me.  Along with the love triangle, we get an epic brawl with bad guy Honey Bragg (Ward Bond), an Indian attack, and a lynch mob organized by townsman Johnny Steele (Lloyd Bridges) against George Camrose.  With Hoagy Carmichael providing homespun wisdom and a song or two.

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I don’t have much to say about this movie.  It was nothing remarkable but Western lovers could certainly do much worse.

Hoagy Carmichael and Jack Brooks were nominated for Best Music, Original Song for “Ole Buttermilk Sky”.

Clip – Final scene with “Ole Buttermilk Sky”

The Locket (1946)

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Directed by John Brahm
Written by Sheridan Gibney
1946/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Warner Archive DVD

 

Norman Clyde: I really didn’t mean to be offensive.

Nancy Monks Blair Patton: That hardly seems possible.

Laraine Day makes for an overly wholesome femme fatale in this film noir but Robert Mitchum and Brian Aherne are sufficiently doomed to make up for it.

This film uses the flashback within a flashback within a flashback technique.  It is less confusing than it sounds.

The story begins on the day Nancy (Day) is to wed John Willis (Gene Raymond). Psychiatrist Dr. Blair (Aherne) asks for a rush audience with the groom right before the ceremony.  Blair tells Willis that his intended has already wrecked the lives of at least three men until now.  Blair says he should know because he was one of them, having been married to Nancy for five years.  This is the first that Willis has heard of Nancy’s marital history.  He has a hard time believing his ever-smiling bride-to-be could lie to him.

Blair begins to tell the whole story.  Here we flashback into Blair’s meeting with Nancy’s ex-boyfriend Norman Clyde (Mitchum).  As Clyde tells Blair his own sad story, we segue into another flashback with voice-over narration by Clyde.  It seems that he caught Nancy with a very valuable diamond necklace in her handbag after a party during which the jewels went missing.  Nancy admits to stealing the gems and begins to explain the roots of her kleptomaniac tendencies to Clyde.

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Segue into still another flashback.  As a child, Nancy lived in a wealthy household where her mother was housekeeper.  She became friends with the daughter of the family.  On the daughters birthday, she gave little Nancy her own gift, a locket,  in compensation for being left out of the girl’s  party.  The girl’s mother abruptly snatches the locket, a valuable family heirloom, back.  Nancy reacts badly to losing her prize to say the least.  Then the locket goes missing.  Nancy is the prime suspect.  Even though Nancy’s mother eventually finds the locket in the folds of the daughter’s dress, her boss forces Nancy to confess to stealing it.  Clyde buys this tale of childhood trauma, mails the necklace Nancy took back and says no more about it.

There is another jewel theft at a party Nancy attends, this time under circumstances Clyde cannot so easily overlook.  Nancy cannot deal with Clyde’s suspicions and the pair breaks up.  Blair, who buys the childhood trauma story hook line and sinker, refuses to believe his wife erred a second time.  I will spoil no more.  Suffice it to say that Nancy eventually drags Blair through hell.  With Lillian Fontaine, mother of Joan Fontaine and Olivia DeHavilland, as a British countess.photo-Le-Medaillon-The-Locket-1946-2

It would be hard for anyone not to be fooled by Day’s all-American good looks and Junior League manners.  In that regard, I suppose she suited the part nicely.  I would have liked a few glimpses of evil in her personality along with her wicked actions, however.  Everybody else in the film is just fine and it is an entertaining mystery.  RKO’s resident noir greats Nicholas Musuraca and Roy Webb did the cinematography and music.

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The Stranger (1946)

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Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Anthony Veiller, Victor Trevas, and Decla Dunning
1946/USA
International Pictures/The Hague Corporation
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant Video

 

Mr. Wilson: Well, who but a Nazi would deny that Karl Marx was a German because he was a Jew?

Orson Welles showed he still had what it took, particularly in those clock scenes.

Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) has a mission in life – to apprehend and punish Nazi war criminals.  He has one released from prison, though, to entrap a bigger fish, one Franz Kindler (Orson Welles).

Wilson follows the released man to Harper, Connecticut, where Kindler is hiding out as Professor Charles Rankin.  “Rankin” is to marry Mary (Loretta Young), daughter of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.  By chance, Mary is in Rankin’s house hanging curtains when the ex-Nazi comes calling.  Rankin manages to take care of the man that very day amid the festivities leaving Mary the only witness who could tie him to his victim.

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It doesn’t take the canny Wilson long to see through Rankin.  More difficult is to get Mary to believe that the man she loves could be such a monster.  Mary seems to be headed for a nervous breakdown protecting her husband and Rankin won’t risk his cover for anybody.

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Edward G. Robinson is absolutely fantastic in this film.  I put his performance up there with his portrayal of Keyes in Double Indemnity. Loretta Young is very good as the torn Mary. I wonder why I have stopped seeing much of her during my journey through the 40’s.  I like Welles in this, too, though nobody could possibly believe his Rankin had ever been to Germany.  A lot of the film is fairly straight forward but Welles gets some beautiful flourishes in in some menacing scenes in a clock tower.

Victor Trivas was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story.

Trailer

Black Angel (1946)

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Directed by Roy William Neill
Written by Roy Chanslor from a novel by Cornell Woolrich
1946/USA
Universal Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

All that anyone needs to imitate me is two soft-boiled eggs and a bedroom voice. — Peter Lorre

This solid little noir was the last film made by Sherlock Holmes series director Neill before his death.  The otherwise sterling cast is let down by a too-earnest performance by the heroine.

Mavis Marlow dresses to meet a mystery man as the movie opens.  Kirk Bennett discovers the body, wearing a heart-shaped ruby brooch.  Before he can call the cops, the brooch disappears.   The song “Heartbreak” is playing on the record player. Since Bennett was the lady’s blackmail victim and ex-paramour, he is the most likely suspect and is arrested and sentenced to death.

Despite Kirk’s adultery, his wife Catherine (June Vincent) makes it her mission to exonerate him.  Her investigations eventually lead her to Mavis’s rummy ex-husband Martin Blair (Dan Duryea), composer of “Heartbreak”. Martin tells June that it was he that sent Catherine the brooch. They decide to combine forces.

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Martin falls in love with the good and beautiful Catherine and stops drinking.  A clue leads the pair to a nightclub owned by Marko (Peter Lorre).  Martin remembers seeing him outside Mavis’ apartment on the night of the murder.  Martin and Catherine, an ex-singer, put together a nightclub act to get closer to Marko.  Then Catherine resorts to using her favors to get closer still …  With Broderick Crawford as a homicide detective and Wallace Ford as Martin’s friend.

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It’s nice to see Duryea in a sympathetic role for a change and he makes a good drunk. Lorre is more restrained than usual and the better for it.  Whether it was the writing or her acting, June Vincent milks her role for every last bit of pathos.  Her performance weakened the picture for me and the ending didn’t do it any favors either.  That said, this is worth viewing for Duryea, Lorre, and Crawford and kept my interest throughout.

Trailer – not a good representation of the movie

 

Gates of the Night (1946)

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Directed by Marcel Carné
Written by Jacques Prévert
1946/France
Société Nouvelle Pathé Cinéma
First viewing/Hulu Plus

 

Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny. — Bob Marley

Carné returns to the dark side in his follow up to Children of Paradise. As a film noir this is just odd. We do get to witness Yves Montand’s film debut, however, and that is a good thing.

The action takes place on one night in Paris after the liberation of the city but before the end of WWII.  We are introduced first to a street musician whose role will be to play “Autumn Leaves” at key points and to represent Destiny.  The coincidences will flow fast and furious.

Jean Diego (Montand) arrives at a Paris tenement to tell the lady of the Lécuyer household that his friend, her husband, was killed in a reprisal on resistance workers.  It turns out that Raymond is alive and back at work after some torture.  At the same time we meet the Lecuyer’s grasping neighbor, whose son Guy is off being a “war hero”, and Monsieur Quinquina (Carrette) and his brood of 15 children.

Jean and his friends go to dinner at a nearby cafe to celebrate.  There, Destiny tells Jean he will meet a beautiful woman, predicts the drowning death of an inebriated gypsy, and plays “Autumn Leaves”.  Jean finally remembers that he heard the song once in 1939 while he was in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

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Sure enough, we are introduced to the beautiful Malou and her husband, a war profiteer (Pierre Brasseur). Malou has apparently been attempting to leave her possessive spouse for some time.  She breaks free and returns to her childhood home.  Guess what?  Yes, she is the neighbor’s long lost daughter!  Jean and she are linked by the song she sang on the radio and by some overlapping time on Easter Island.  They fall in love.

Then the “war hero” comes home.  I won’t spoil this further but the coincidences just don’t stop coming.  Despite Destiny’s many warnings to all concerned, tragedy is inevitable.

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Carne and Prevert probably intended a grand allegory on post-War retribution on collaborators but it just felt very forced to me.  One of the problems is that the realism of the style does not fit the abstraction of the concept.  No denying that there are some very beautiful shots in the film, though.

Yves Montand got his big break when Jean Gabin and Marlene Dietrich, who were to have starred, pulled out of the picture.

Clip – no subtitles but a chance to see a very young Yves Montand and listen to him sing a phrase or two of “Autumn Leaves”

The Harvey Girls (1946)

The Harvey Girlsharvey girls poster
Directed by George Sidney
Written by Edmund Beloin, Nathaniel Curtis et al from a novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams
1946/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

H.H. Hartsey: Now wait a minute Ms. Bradley. I wanna marry ya, I wanna marry ya somethin’ like all get-out. I wanna marry ya somethin’ awful ma’amm. But please ma’am, please say no.

The best part is in all those clips. Who would not thrill to Judy Garland singing “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” with a cast of thousands? Sadly, the rest of the movie, while pleasant enough, never reaches that height.

An opening title informs us that Fred Harvey and his train station restaurants, with their “Harvey Girl” waitresses, civilized the Wild West.  Our story begins as a bevy of these beauties heads to Sandrock by train to open Harvey’s latest.  Traveling with them is the feisty Susan Bradley (Garland) who is going to Sandrock to become a mail order bride. When she arrives, she discovers that her intended is a middle-aged rube (Chill Wills) whose letters were ghost written by saloon owner Ned Trent (John Hodiak).  Susan gives Ned a piece of her mind and then becomes a Harvey Girl herself.

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The Sandrock powers that be have no interest in seeing the town civilized.  In addition, music hall headliner Em (Angela Lansbury) is mighty jealous over any rival for the attentions of her beloved Ned.  Efforts to frighten the girls away are followed by more serious threats. But the girls are up to the the challenge.  With Marjorie Main as a cook, Preston Foster as a baddie, Cyd Charisse as a Harvey Girl and Ray Bolger as the town’s new blacksmith.

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This is an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours but the songs, other than the Oscar winner, and laughs are not such as to make it one of the top musicals.  The DVD I rented had a very interesting commentary by director George Sidney.  The story spent many years in pre-production as a straight Western intended for Clark Gable.

Harry Warren and John Mercer won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe”.  The Harvey Girls was nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

 

Trailer

 

Anna and the King of Siam (1946)

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Directed by John Cromwell
Written by Talbot Jennings and Sally Benson from the biography by Margaret Landon
1946/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Kralahome: Mem, I cannot promise that it will ever be easy for you. We have proverb here: “Go up by land, and you meet tiger. Go down by water, and you meet crocodile.” But for you, it will be place to put your life.

I can’t imagine the filmmakers realized just what an effective critique of colonialism they were making. Nonetheless, this is a solid, entertaining telling of Anna Leonowen’s fictionalization of her own life.

The setting is 1862 Bangkok. Anna Owens (Irene Dunne) has been hired to teach English to the many children of King Mongut (Rex Harrison).  On arrival, she asks to be taken to the house the King promised her but  Prime Minister (Lee J. Cobb) informs her she is to live within the palace.  This turns out to be private quarters in the harem. Anna is unable to meet with the King or start teaching for several weeks.  The King continues to refuse her the house.

When Anna finally does begin teaching, she wages all out war via songs and sayings taught to her pupils (“There’s No Place Like Home”, etc.) until she gets her way.  This is not successful until she also begins assisting the King with his correspondence with Westerners.  Having proved her point, she prepares to leave but the Prime Minister persuades her that the King, who is struggling to preserve Siam’s independence, needs her counsel.

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Anna becomes the beloved teacher of not only the King’s children but his wives.  She becomes friendly with first wife Lady Tiang (Gale Sondergaard), the mother of Crown Prince Chulalongkorn.  She spars with the feisty Tuptim (Linda Darnell), current favorite of the King’s many wives.  Anna is unaware that Tuptim was ripped from her beloved fiancee as a gift by her father to the King and is miserable.

The highlight of Anna’s career in Siam is her whirlwind success in Europeanizing the court in time for a visit by the British Counsel General from Singapore.  Siam recently lost Cambodia to the French and the King fears losing is whole kingdom to the British unless he can establish he is not a “barbarian”.  She dresses all the wives in the latest fashions, teaches the King to eat with a knife and fork, and convinces him to widen the gathering to include representatives of other European nations.   The event is a smashing success.

But, when Tuptim escapes the harem to join her lover in a monastery, the King meets out the traditional punishment and only a personal tragedy can prevent Anna from fleeing in horror.

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In the wake of the devastation following WWII,  Americans were questioning the whole idea of Empire.  The film reflects this in Anna’s many speeches about individual freedom, rule of law, and national independence.  At the same time, however, the story contains all the worst aspects of colonialism.  Anna has picked up the White Man’s Burden of civilizing the ignorant and showing them the light.    She makes little to no effort to understand the Thais ancient culture or beliefs.

That said, I liked the film.  I was a bit worried about Rex Harrison but I needn’t have been.  In a part that so easily could have been a caricature, he never once steps over the line. He and Dunne have excellent chemistry and their scenes sparkle.  Lee J. Cobb is the least likely looking Asian since Walter Connelly in The Good Earth.  Poor Linda Darnell. She was Zanuck’s favorite beauty and kept being cast as ingenues or in sex pot roles that simply do not suit her, ignoring her true flair for comedy and cynical bad girls.

The DVD I rented contained an excellent biographical documentary on Anna Leonowens, a woman who continually reinvented herself to get her gig in Siam and later to sell books.  She was a young widow without family in a man’s world.  You can’t help admiring her pluck, really.

Anna and the King of Siam won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Arthur C. Miller) and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White.  It was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Sondergaard); Best Writing, Screenplay; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Bernard Hermann – beautiful evocative score).

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The Yearling (1946)

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Directed by Clarence Brown
Written by Paul Osborn from the novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
1946/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Penny Baxter: [on the ocasion of the burial of Fodderwing] Oh Lord. Almighty God. It ain’t for us ignorant mortals to say what’s right and what’s wrong. Was any one of us to be doin’ of it, we’d not of bring this poor boy into the world a cripple, and his mind teched. We’d of bring him in straight and tall like his brothers, fitten to live and work and do. But in a way o’ speakin’, Lord, you done made it up to him. You give him a way with the wild creatures

I spent most of the movie thinking it was way too folksy for me. I ended up crying like a baby by the end anyway.

Eleven-year-old Jody Baxter (Claude Jarman, Jr.) lives with his kind but rugged father Penny (Gregory Peck) and no-nonsence mother Orry (Jane Wyman) in pioneer Florida. Father and son are close and enjoy working and hunting together.  Mom lost all her other children to diseases and, as a result, is distant and rather hard.  An only child, Jody longs to adopt a forest creature as a pet.  Mom is adamantly against this idea and Penny backs her up.

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The day comes when Penny is bitten by a rattlesnake.  He shoots a doe in the belief that its organs will help draw the poison out.  Jody runs for help.  When Penny recovers from this close brush with death, Jody begs to adopt the doe’s baby fawn in gratitude for the sacrifice of its mother’s life.  Although Orry is concerned about the amount of milk the animal will take from the family, Penny agrees and tells Orry he doesn’t want to hear a word out of her about it.

Jody is inseparable from the fawn whom he names Flag.  The year cycles around again and it is time for planting.  Penny has decided to try a cash crop of tobacco to get the money to dig a well so Orry won’t have to walk a mile for water. The whole family pitches in with all the hard labor this involves.  Meanwhile, Flag has grown and developed an appetite for greens.  With Chill Wills, Margaret Wycherly, Henry Travers, and Forrest Tucker as friends and neighbors.

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This is heavy on the paternal folk wisdom, all in dialect that sounds pretty funny coming out of the mouth of Gregory Peck.  But it contains so many lyrical moments that somehow I got caught up in it anyway.  Jane Wyman was the standout for me.  She is not afraid to make Orry generally unsympathetic with beautiful flashes of the woman within.  The ending might wring tears from a stone.  Its work was easy on a soft touch like me.

The Yearling won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Color and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color.  It was nominated in the categories of: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Actress; Best Director and Best Film Editing.

Kiddie matinee trailer

 

The Dark Corner (1946)

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Directed by Henry Hathaway
Written by Jay Dratler and Bernard C. Schoenfeld; story by Leo Rosten
1946/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

Hardy Cathcart: Lovers of beauty never haggle over price, Tony.

Pretty nifty film noir with a haunted private eye hero.  Lucille Ball fills the gap left by the missing femme fatal with her fine portrayal of his loyal secretary.

P.I. Brad Galt (Mark Stevens) is trying to start anew in New York City after mysterious circumstances caused him to leave San Francisco.  His secretary Kathleen (Ball) clearly has a big crush on him, motivated in part by the urge to mother his troubled soul.

But soon Mark is being followed by a man in a white suit (William Bendix).  When caught, the man tells him he was hired by Mark’s former associate Anthony Jardine (Kurt Krueger). Mark had to fire Jardine for his womanizing, blackmailing ways back in San Francisco.  Mark’s life is apparently in danger from this quarter.

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In the meantime, we follow the story of art collector Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb).  He dotes on his trophy wife, the much younger Mari (Cathy Downs), who reminded him of the woman in his most treasured portrait.  Mari is in love with the slimey Jardine.  Push comes to shove and Brad finds himself neatly framed for Jardine’s murder.  He knows far less than the audience at this point and must scramble to discover the murderer and the motive.

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This thing is supposed to be a Raphael!

Here we have another sterling performance by Clifton Webb in a part that is not so different from his role in Laura, perhaps a bit more restrained.  Though Lucille Ball reportedly hated everything about making this movie (MGM loaned her out as “punishment”) for trying to get out of her contract), none of that shows in her performance.  She is very appealing as the smart, practical secretary that bosses dream of.   The writers gave her and the other actors the snappy dialogue worthy of them and the story.   It’s a thoroughly enjoyable movie.

Trailer